3. More Questionable Nomads

I fall so much in love with the desert at Merzouga that I cannot stay there. I am in Epcot Sahara and it hurts even more because its more beautiful than anything I have seen. I look out the window of my little room at Auberge Le Petit Prince and it is nothing by rolling waves of sand, a fluid horizon without distance, proportion, reference points.

I drink some water, take off my sandals and walk into the ocean to be alone for three or four hours. There is nothing to see but light, nothing to feel but your body, legs and thighs and calf muscles straining at the urge to slide, energized with the new uncertainty of whether or not the ground will choose to hold you.

I feel completely alone. I can scream here. I can dream here. I can die here. I can walk for hours following the sun. But it is all an illusion. Virtually all deserts are these days. The Erg Chebbi Dunes run due north south for about 30-40 km. But they only spread about 7 km wide. They are not the Sahara or even the "doorway to the desert". They are a puddle. But they seem limitless and it makes them lovely. All this illusion, all these Berber men dressed up like Touregs, all these fake nomad camps with toilets and wells hidden by palm fronds, perfect paved roads to a desert sunset.

Much of Morocco strikes me this way. It is stunning, but never seems real. Tourism has a way of turning everything into a caricature of itself. There are always some Spanish tourists doing circles on their 4x4s over the next dune or a tour bus full of French couples snapping identical photos of a veiled woman carrying water.

I talk to Brahim, a guide at the auberge for a while about life in the desert. He tells me he can take me to a "nomad" family that lives at the edge of the dunes. I ask why they would live there when there is no food for animals there. Eventually he tells me they don't have any animals, that the auberge dug a well for the family and asked them to stay there so tourists could come visit a real nomad family. It all strikes me as rather bizarre. He tells me that it is like this all over the world. That there are no real nomads left, no one still lives from the land in the desert. We talk about families that I have visited in India and Mongolia and he looks at me like I am full of well-crafted lies.


Sand Dunes at Merzouga