Morocco 2017 – The Red Dunes – a Sea of Sand

We end our too-short stay in the exquisite Kasbah Moyahut, and find a young man in a white turban and blue caftan waiting for us out front.  It’s Moha, our guide and camp concierge, who would take us into the Erg Chebbi dunes, the tallest in Morocco.

We drive a few short blocks through one- and two-story mud brick buildings, to the “Camel’s House” where Mohamed will rest up while we’re away. Brenda and I check out the shop next door, filled to the rafters with local handcrafts.  I find a small woven pouch to carry my camera in,  a simple ring that I think is fashioned from wood, and a turquoise caftan.  I still lack the knack for bartering, but as an artist, I know the value of handmade, and consider my lack of bartering skills to be of benefit to the local economy.

Our camels have arrived, so we grab our overnight satchels and mount up.  My back complains a little, until I sync with the sway of the camel, which makes the ride much more comfortable.  And we’re off!

Not quite an hour later, our camp comes in to view … a cluster of dark oblong tents surrounded by a reed fence enclosure, nestled in a depression between some dunes. We dismount and are shown to our rooms – individual tents surrounding the carpet-strewn courtyard.  My tent is lined in synthetic silk, with a tidy twin bed made up with sheets and blankets, and a mosquito net canopy draped over the end.  

We are shown to the ‘restaurant’  – a tall circular tent draped on the inside with several colors of ‘silk’, gathering at the top with the ends twisting around the center support pole.  We are seated on the low couches that line the walls, and enjoy a kefte and egg tagine, accompanied by a beautiful Moroccan salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and green pepper, garnished with orange slices and the tasty green olives I have come to favor. We ask what type of meat is in the tagine, and get a description of how the meat is processed (chopped vs ground) but not what animal the meat is from.  We suspect that most of the kefte here is beef or lamb, or a combination. Dessert is presented as two platters of sliced oranges, one sprinkled with cinnamon and one without.  And tea!

I am told there is internet reception here, so after lunch I take my laptop to the top of a nearby dune to see if I can “Facebook from the desert.”  I don’t get a signal.  What I do get is a lot of sand in my keyboard as the wind picks up.  I close up my laptop and climb a taller dune for some photography. It’s incredibly beautiful, and my bare feet are rejoicing in the hot sand.  

Back at the camp, I try to wipe sand that looks more like ground cinnamon, out my camera and keyboard, and hope that I haven’t damaged every electronic thing I own. I find a spot to repose in the ‘reception’ tent, and  watch a pair of finches as they build a nest a few feet away, and three dung beetles as they skitter across the sand, while the rest of the camp sleeps…

Soon it’s time to wake up and saddle up for a sunset ride. It’s a really great ride, zigzagging along the edges of dunes, watching as Moha and Hassan pick out pathways that offer the least amount of vertical climbing.  It’s the same theory as mountain climbing – you don’t go straight up, you zig-zag, which takes longer but is safer and more energy efficient. 

We reach our destination and park the camels at the base of the dune. We climb up to our vantage point, and Doug sets up his camera and tripod for a live Facebook feed. It’s still warm but the wind is really kicking up, so I pull my scarf over my face as I watch the dunes start to change colors with the sun’s setting rays.  Moha and Hassan allow me to photograph them, and Hassan captures the photo of me (at the head of this post) that would become the talk of the town back in Seattle.

The next hour is nearly indescribable. The sun sets, the dunes continue to shift and shadow and the landscape becomes surreal. After the sun sinks beyond the horizon, we start our return to camp.  

I keep looking back at the dunes, trying to embed the red landscape into the deepest recesses of my brain. When I can no longer distinguish the sand from the sky, my attention is drawn upwards to a canopy of blazing stars… 

You are closer to the stars on the back of a camel…

Back at camp, it’s dinnertime, and we are joined in the restaurant by a Chinese tour group.  After tagines, tea and fruit, we are invited to a bonfire and drum circle.  Once the fire is raging, our Berber hosts launch into a Chinese song they have learned.  The Chinese group sing next, a folk song which the Berbers pick up on quickly and soon join the chorus. Back and forth – the Chinese clapping and the Berbers answering with their drums, both singing the same song. It was a pretty cool thing to witness.

The Chinese are going out for a sunrise camel ride, so they turn in for the night. Doug and I remain and it is our turn to engage, so we are handed drums and accompany our hosts as they sing. Then Doug starts a conversation with the three camel men, asking a question in his Egyptian Arabic, which I think is being translated into Moroccan Arabic by the first camel man, which is then translated into Berber for third camel man who does not speak Arabic. Doug takes out his phone, pulls up a video, and hands it around the circle.  The stars are bright and the fire backlights four men, in turbans and caftans, t-shirts and jeans, with no common language, as they share a video on a cell phone in a camel camp in the Western Sahara.

I am suddenly overcome by the sensation of having walked into a “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial…

As the fire dies down and the stars lull me to sleep, we retire for the night to our respective bedchambers.  What an incredible day…

3 Comments on “Morocco 2017 – The Red Dunes – a Sea of Sand

  1. It is such a treat to vicariously enjoy your adventures as you GROK Morocco!

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