Sahara Desert Camp and Dilshad’s birthday, Morocco

By Ali Karim
This post is part of a series called Morocco May 2017
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Sahara Desert Camp and Dilshad’s birthday

After sleeping peacefully that night, we spent most of the day resting and relaxing around the Nasser Palace Hotel pool area, as we were schedule to leave for the Desert Camp after 5PM. Below are some views of Nasser Palace hotel which was at the edge of the desert, literally.

From Nasser Palace

Nasser Palace, refreshing pool

Chilling

We then drove in the late afternoon from Hassilabied to Merzouga; about 3kms away. Both are small dusty, sleepy towns with little of interest in the towns themselves. The attraction of these areas is the various adventure tours into the desert from here. These towns have small buildings almost entirely made of mud and straw; that keeps them cool from the heat outside. When we drove this area, it was quite hot; must have been at least 90+F and due to the heat, you saw few people outside. See town scenes below

Merzouga

More Merzouga, everything constructed with mud and straw

We had a late lunch at the only place that seemed to have AC to get a break from the afternoon sun

Late lunch of Moroccan salad and soup. Salads typically consisted of different kinds of vegetables, including potatoes 🙂 . Every meal always started with olives and bread.

We had some laundry to get done, so found out where the local laundry place was, so we could drop off the laundry, and then pick up the next day when we returned from the Desert Camp. I went off to the laundry, found it; but it was closed. I was informed the owner was the Imam of the mosque, and so was off to conduct prayers at the mosque. Not clear when he would be back, if at all. Things move at a leisurely pace in the small towns in the backwaters of Morocco 🙂

On the way back, stopped at the only ATM / Bank in Merzouga to get some cash to pay Ali for the Desert Camp. The Bank was closed and the ATM machine had an error message on the screen. We were told then the next nearest ATM was in Rissani, about 30kms away. So rather than drive all that way and back, decided to pay Ali cash with US$’s that we had on us for the Desert Camp. Mental Note to carry some US cash always on all trips.

I am now 0 for 2. Hopefully, the Desert Camp will happen.

We then headed over to Ali’s place (everything is very close by; small town), and got ready for the Desert Camp trip. Mansoor, our driver, came to pick us up and got us prepared; below

Ready & kitted out for the Desert

The Sahara is a vast Desert, where hardly anything grows. A lot of the desert is just dirt and rocks/stones like the scene below; this is contrary to what we believe (desert should be sand dunes).

Sahara Desert and dustbowl from the wind; nothing but heat, dirt, & stones.

There are 2 areas in Morocco that have vast sand dunes within the Sahara Desert; and they are called Erg’s; literally meaning “shifting sand dunes”. Morocco has Erg Chebbi and Erg M’Hamid. Erg Chebbi is where Merzouga is, so that us where we were headed.

We piled into Mansour’s Land Cruiser, and our first stop was at a Gnaoua settlement outside Merzouga. The Gnaoua are the descendants of slaves that were brought to this region from all across the Sudan (Sub Saharan areas like Mali, all the way to Sudan & Ethiopia). These Gnaoua claim to be descendants of Sidi Bilal, an Ethiopian, who was Prophet Muhammad’s first Muezzin. We were treated to Gnaoua music, which is a form of Sufi music, where people go into a trance with the beat of the music, and thus get closer to god. The Turkish whirling dervishes are another example.

Gnaoua music

After this Gnaoua performance, we left and Mansour took us to the proper Sahara desert. Apparently. This part of the Sahara had been a sea a long time ago, and the rocks contained all kinds of fossils of sea creatures. You could simply walk around, pick up a rock, and most likely it had a fossil in it. Quite amazing. The stones in this area also have minerals so semi-precious stones are mined in this area in large quantities.

Mansour showing us the fossil rocks

Vastness of the Sahara Desert without sand dunes

Someone had to clown around 🙂

Mansour then drove to the Erg Chebbi, and took us over large sand dunes; at what looked like over 45 degree slopes; quite a scary ride.

Erg Chebbi dunes rising out of the barren desert

Checking out Erg Chebbi

Waiting for Lawrence of Arabia 🙂

After some more spirited driving over more sand dunes, Mansour finally dropped us at Berber Experience, which was our Desert Camp for the night.

Berber Experience Desert Camp; those are our tents in the back

They had proper western flush toilets and showers here in this Desert Camp; all very clean. They were not messing around

WC , shower stalls thru the open door, and sinks outside

I did not ask how they managed the waste 🙂

After settling in, since it was getting close to sunset time, it was time to climb the large sand dune below to view the sunset

Sunset viewing at the top of the large dune

Some people were arriving at the Desert Camp by a 2hr camel trek

Sunset time over the Erg Chebbi vastness.

It was very windy and sand was blowing hard; such that it felt like a microderm abrasion was taking place on all exposed skin areas. No wonder the local’s galabia is all-covering for a reason.

Selfie sunset. Head covering was necessary due to the sand, and sun

Back at the campsite, came across these camels after their land journey, settling for the night.

Camels and their droppings

After showering and cooling off; it slowly started getting slightly cooler; and the dinner at night was one of the best we had of traditional Moroccan Tajines

Getting ready for dinner

Moroccan Salad

And some of the best Tajine we had in Morocco

Soon it was time to light the campfire, and Berber music

Campfire

Chilling in the desert

Camp staff became Berber musicians at night

And dancing to Berber music

Dilshad’s birthday was celebrated at midnight, by the lively, mostly French crowd singing happy birthday in French

French Happy Birthday to Dilshad

At midnight

With local Berber musician who was quite intoxicated and very philosophical

We then climbed a nearby sand dune to lay on the sand and listen to the vastness of the silent Sahara, and stargaze. Was that Romantic enough? Then off to sleep

Desert Camp at night from nearby sand dune.

Todra and Dades Gorges next

This entry was posted in Africa, Morocco, Morocco May 2017

6 thoughts on “Sahara Desert Camp and Dilshad’s birthday, Morocco

  • Azeem Asaria June 19, 2017 at 9:09 pm Reply

    Its quite an adventure you have had. Of all the places you have been which was your favorite?

  • Firoz Dewji June 19, 2017 at 9:10 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us

  • Mahamoud Jinnah June 19, 2017 at 9:12 pm Reply

    Love it. Great trip. You took the easy way out getting there in an SUV. We took the rougher way by riding camels for 2 hours. And you think we are spoilt!!!

    Interesting about the fossils and the desert.

  • Zubeida Virani June 19, 2017 at 9:13 pm Reply

    Happy belated birthday to Dilshad…how exotic it must have felt to celebrate the day in Morocco and that too with close friends!

  • Myrl August 8, 2017 at 2:02 pm Reply

    Hi, Neat post. There is a problem with your site in internet explorer, would check this… IE still is the market leader and a big portion of people will miss your excellent writing due to this problem.

    • Ali Karim August 10, 2017 at 10:55 am Reply

      Thanks Myrl, I will check into this IE issue

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