2. Into the Desert

There is still some challenge left in getting to the desert.

I leave Marrakech for the Erg Chebbi dunes outside of Merzouga with my backpack and no real hurry. I stop first to the Boudum de Dades and take a few days to hike through the gorge and spy on some shepherds. I climb up some rocks, I fall down some others, I get brought home for tea and couscous.

When it is time to keep moving, I check out of my auberge, buy some bread and cheese and sit on the side of the road at seven am waiting for a bus that never comes. Eventually, I start to thumb down anything that rolls by. Sadly, wealthy French tourists seem particularly petrified by hitchhikers. After an hour or two, all the guys on the block are flagging down trucks, vans and tour buses seeing if anyone is going to Rissani or Merzouga. Eventually a little red Fiat full of Spanish kids from Madrid picks me up and the adventure begins.

It's Fete de Mouhammed and the day only gets stranger from there...

 

climbing on rock cliff near Todra George

 

The road is good and clear and we stop once for petrol, once to visit the Todra Gorge, once for a freak hailstorm that threatens to crack the windshield, twice for sandstorms, again for directions and tajine kalia.

We stop for tea at an art deco cafe in Risani. In ten minutes we have three new friends all offering in good faith to be our guides. la shukran. la shukran. Abdoul tells David about his tent camp and tries to make him name a price for a camel trip that we're not interested in. Hassan goes on and on to me about a girlfriend of his in DC that he met on the internet.

It's the Prophet's birthday and all the shops are closed and people are in the streets. Suddenly, there are shrieks and yells. Right through all the sunshine and mild breeze, big fat raindrops begin to fall. The boys leap to their feet. A car skids, an old man dances in his slippers in the middle of the intersection, little children turn their palms and mouths to the sky. Someone begins to sing. A boy crashes his bike in front of us. A policeman sits and drinks his tea slowly as his uniform changes color.

And then it's over.

I take another sip of tea. Hassan turns to me, "It hasn't rained in this town in two years". Maudé points to Delia, "It always rains wherever we go. Promise". Delia chimes in, "500 dhiram and we'll give you some more rain. Just 500 dhiram".

 

Black sand en route to Merzouga

 

We drive on across an ocean of tiny black pebbles. By dusk we reach the dunes. We dust our selves off, stretch a bit and wait for the camels to take us to a tent camp. There is a loveliness about riding a camel in the dark.