Thursday, June 30, 2016

ERG CHEBBI, MOROCCO: SAHARA DESERT TENT CAMPING

When Bob told me he wanted to stay a few nights in a tent camp in the Sahara, I was not quite as excited about it as he was. He assured me that it would be nice, but "tent," "camp," "Sahara," and "nice" didn't go together in my mind.

After about eight hours on the road, our driver delivered us to the small village of Merzouga, located about 30 miles from the Algerian border and on the edge of a section of the Sahara known as Erg Chebbi. ("Erg" means "desert" or "dune.") We were met there by a man named Hassan, the young, energetic owner of Merzouga Bivouac Experience. We got into Hassan's four-wheel drive, and he headed straight into the dunes in a crazy Mr. Toad's Wild Ride style, bouncing and sliding all over the sand, then climbing steep grades and skidding down the other side. Bob loved it.

Hassan pointed out our tent camp in the distance but didn't stop:

Instead, he deposited us at the bottom of a tall dune and told us to climb to the top and wait for the sunset. A nice wind had kicked up, and anyone who wears contact lenses like I do understands that wind + Sahara Desert sand + contacts + no sunglasses = misery.  I made it to the top, but I didn't stay long. I headed down the sand cliff far enough to miss the worst of the wind, but Bob stayed up on top:


Even after another week of traveling, I still found sand in my shoes when we got home:

Note how the wind swept away our tracks as we got higher up on the ridge:

At the bottom of our dune ridge sat two camels and a young man who was colorfully robed and easy to see against the coral sand:


The view in the other direction was of an undulating sea:

As promised, the sunset was spectacular.

The sand and sky turned a thousand different colors:



Bob on the ridge
The final burst of color was like the show-stopper at the end of a 4th of July fireworks display. I half expected a brass band to start playing. Here's a sampling of the 500 pictures (more or less) I took of the event:




Wow. Just Wow.

It was amazing how quickly the temperature dropped after the sun went down. Hassan came back for us and took us to our accommodations in the "luxury camp" (not to be confused with the "standard camp" he owned next door). Our camp was just a year old. Hassan and his brother built the standard camp first, then used their profits to build this luxury camp and to buy their very nice 4x4 vehicle. They must have done quite well during that first year!

Our luggage had been delivered to our tent-room and looked embarrassingly large in this setting, but I was relieved to see that we had a real bed, a carpet covering the sand, and electricity. It was as large as any hotel room.

Behind the curtain at one end of the tent I found a flush toilet, a sink, and a shower (of sorts). I think the attached bathrooms are what made our camp a "luxury" camp. In the standard camp, there is a separate bathroom.
Okay, okay--you win, Bob. It was hard to complain about a tent like this. If you can set one of these up for me, I'll go camping with you anytime.

After freshening up, we made our way to the dining room, also in a tent. Bob was like a kid in a candy store.

That night for dinner we had, among several other dishes, a very good lamb and prune tagine:

We were tired from our long day of travel and went to bed early, lulled to sleep by the sound of drums and chanting that was part of the evening's entertainment in the central area surrounded by the tents.


In the morning we got our first really good look at our camp: about ten large tents in a U-shape with connecting sidewalks made of rugs, a communal fire pit in the center and the dining hall at the far end.

We took our turns posing in front of Home Sweet Home:


Although there is some argument about whether or not camps should be allowed in the dunes (almost all of them are on the edge of the dunes rather than IN the dunes, as ours was), Hassan and his Merzouga Bivouac Experience clearly intend to stay here a while. They've even planted a few trees to create their own oasis:

After a tasty breakfast of fruit and bread, we set out on a day of Sahara exploration, ready to take on the vast dunes, but also paying close attention to the tiniest of details, from bug tracks . . .


. . . to bird tracks:

. . . to camel and people tracks:


3 comments:

  1. Yep, those sunsets are spectacular!
    I am quite amazed by the tents. Even I could be talked into camping at a place like that.

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  2. One of the more exotic adventures we've taken. I loved the dunes.

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