A Night in the Dunes

Running short of time in Morocco, we had to choose where to go for our last few nights – head to the beach, or spend some time in the east of the country near the desert. We’d met an American Rotary Scholar studying in Rabat whose family was visiting. They’d been out to Merzouga and spent a night in the desert, and they spoke so highly of the experience that we decided to try and make the trip to the edge of the Sahara from Khenifra in one day.

With a hodge-podge of 3 rickety buses and 3 grand taxis, we made it to a Tuareg-run auberge that backs right up to the dunes just in time to catch two camels to the Berber tourist camp about an hour’s ride away. Though it felt like a bit of a movie set, with the string of similarly placed hotels that had the Sahara in their backyards, the dunes themselves were very real, stretching for miles in nearly every direction.

At the Berber camp, we met a charming French family who loved Anne-Claire and were patient with my paltry French. We shared a dinner of lentil soup, a delicious vegetable tajine, and melon as the sun set and a few stars started to pop out from behind the clouds. It was still warm when bedtime rolled around, so we all had the brilliant idea to sleep on the sand, instead of taking shelter in the heavy woven-blanket tents set up around us.

Almost immediately upon lying down, hot winds from the east began to kick up the fine orange sand onto our mattresses and into our ears, noses and mouths. I looked down at my sheets at one point during the night, which I’d remembered being white but now were swirled with dark patterns that shifted as I moved my hand over them. The sand was everywhere – eyes, ears, hair, elastic bands in our clothing.

Forget the hamams (the traditional Moroccan bathhouses where you’re exfoliated with grainy soap by a masseuse or close friend). A night of sandblasting left us with little unscrubbed skin. I didn’t decide until halfway through the night that sweating under a sheet to cover my face was preferable to being hosed by the Sahara. To say the least, it was a long night.

We awoke the next morning, commiserated with the French family over the night’s lack of sleep, and boarded our camels for the trek back to the auberge. The showers they had waiting for us were certainly welcome, though I still feel like I’m sprinkling Moroccan sand all over West Africa, even several weeks on.

After breakfast, the French family took us on a tour of their ‘camping-car.’ We said goodbye, wished them well, and promised to keep in touch. We set out on foot from the hotel to catch a taxi, but just as we were reaching the road, Mael (the young boy) came running after us yelling, “Anne-Claire! Anne-Claire! Where are you going?” in French.

We told him we had to get to Rissani, a nearby town, to catch a ride toward Ourzazate. It turns out Mael’s family was also headed that way, so we all piled into the camper. Though it was a quick trip, it saved us a lot of time, as we didn’t have to wait for a taxi to fill up before it left. Transport from Rissani on was pretty straightforward, if not altogether easy. So for the 30-km ride, we flipped through the pictures of the family’s vacation in Morocco in perhaps the most comfortable ride we’ve had since leaving Europe.

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