I awoke a bit before 4:30 and wandered out into the pitch blackness toward where the camels are kept. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but the stars were amazing. It was like the sky was blanketed with not only the regular-size ones, but also tons of teeny ones you never see at home. Also, Mars was super-bright, and showed up in my pictures almost as much as the moon did.
As I walked out, I really hoped some of the others would make it, as I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into the desert with just me and a camal guy. The camel guys were young berbers, ranging in age from 9 to early 20s, and they do this only before they get married. Once they get married they do other type of work. Apparently, lots of Spanish tourists come to these resorts and have a VERY good time with the berber boys so they love the young women tourists (especially those who apprently never got the message that Morocco is a Muslim country where hot pants and bikini tops are not normal modes of dress). Me, I prefer men who bathe consistently, but to each their own.
Fortunately, one other person did make it. S, who is from Denmark, was already there. We waited about 20 minutes, but no others showed up, so we were put on our camels and led out to the desert.
Let me start by saying that camels are just about the most freaking uncomfortable animals in the world to ride. I horseback rode for 10 years so I know a little of what I speak. Maybe professional camel riders have decent saddles, but mostly we were on wood and metal frames with a thin layer of horse blanket between you and the metal. It sucked. We also later found out that some camels/saddles were worse than others, as S and I switched camels on the way back and discovered that the first one of the two was way less comfortable the second one. As we rode out, I once again thanked my lucky stars I had not gone for the 2-hour-each way trek into the desert the night before.
As it was, we rode the camel longer than I expected, about 45 minutes. Then we stopped at the base of a VERY tall sand dune. Apparently, we were to climb that dune to watch the sunrise. No one had mentioned the sand-hiking clause in the expedition. S and the Berber climbed up without a problem (S is a superb athelete despite her small size). Me, I huffed and puffed and was afraid of coming tumbling down the whole time. As you’ll see from the photos, we were WAY far away from our camels. The camels just sat down and never moving an inch until we returned. They are either very dumb, or very lazy.
We were on top of the dune about 45 minutes as the sky got lighter and lighter, and S and I took about 1000 photos each. Then, from far away we hear some noise and are dismayed to see a group of European tourists who were quite possibly the loudest people on the planet coming our way. Of all the sand dunes of all the deserts they could have picked, their guide walked them into ours. At least they walked past us and went to a different part of the dune, but they completely shattered the peaceful beauty of the morning with their loud, obnoxious, romping. Of course our guide was delighted to see them and immediately left us to go hang out with them. Of course, they were much better bedding prospects than either S or myself, so I suppose I can’t blame the berbers.
Eventually the sun came up, we took 1000 more photos each, insisted our berber rejoin us and and began the 30-45 minute trek home. We got back, showered and had breakfast. The others were to return from the oasis around 7am and then they’d eat and we were to be on the road by 9 am if we wanted to make the rock climbing site before dark. Rock climbing was another big draw of the tour that I had no interest in (though this one was optional from the get go). I packed up my room early as I knew one of my friends was going to be desperate for a shower and I’d loan her mine since they didn’t have rooms there.
When the group hadn’t arrived by after 8, we knew the day’s schedule was going to be shot. Eventually they arrived, and apparently my estimation of how much fun it would be to ride a camel for 2 hours there and back into the desert, and to sleep in a berber tent, was underestimated. Though most people who went were glad they did so, I don’t recall many who said they’d do it again in a heartbeat — or with a gun to their head. Quite a number walked back rather than ride a camel again. There were also some bruises and blisters in quite interesting places. Word of advice from the experience of others: Don’t wear a thong when riding a camel into the desert, it can only lead to disaster.
We hit the road by about 10am and made a stop along the way at a place in Erfoud that specializes in fossils. Apparently LOTS of fossils are found in Morocco. They were really cool, sometimes just the free-standing trilobyte, shell, mollusck, scorpion thing, but other times they were worked into plates, tables, jewelry, cups and whatnot. Lots of people bought things, but after Fes, I was pretty happy to be in a place where I had no desire to buy anything at all.
We had lunch, separated from those doing rock-climbing, and made some longish stops along the way including at a pharmacy for the sickies. We arrived at a very nice but a bit unfinished hotel in the Dades Valley called Auberge Panorama. The rooms had a bit of an ‘unfinished’ aura about them, and there was just something that invoked “The Shining” about it. For example, there was a wall hanging that was crinkled in this really weird way and we kept looking behind it to see if it was hiding something. One of our room windows opened really wide and had a sheer drop below it (‘the suicide room’ I called it). The small balcony was neat, but seemed just a bit not quite so secure. All in all, it felt like an Agatha Christey novel waiting for each of us to picked off in some different yet bizarre way.
Because the group was oversized we had to sleep three in a room. I walked into our room and it was like something out of Goldilocks: One bed was too large (a double), one bed was too small (the size of a small child) and one bed was just right. I took the smallest one as I was the smallest person of the three of us. It was just the width of my body and shorter than my height so e every time I turned over I was afraid of falling out. The bed was also the classic Moroccan slab of concrete with a sheet, but the views were spectacular and the food was quite good.
The rock climbers joined us later, and unfortunately were each only able to get in one climb because they got there so late. However, S, my sand-dune-speeding-camel-buddy climbed for the first time after dark using only a headlamp for guidance. Quite a feat according to the others…
Once again, I passed out early, though I did wake in time to see the sun rise over the valley.
Tags: Africa, Dades Valley, Merzouga, Morocco, Travel