Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Morocco: Into the Sahara

Dinner at our encampment in the Sahara was followed by Berber music, enthusiastically performed by
camp workers. All the other guests here were members of a tour group from Finland. Like us, they had
brought their own wine and could out-drink and out-dance just about anyone. 
The Sahara is such a place of mystery and fascination that when you're in it, it's hard to focus on what it really is: an amazing landscape of shifting dunes, strong winds and clear skies.
     We had been in a desert at Ait Benhaddou, but it was a rocky landscape with a hard stony surface underfoot.  When we arrived at the edge of the Sahara, at our hotel Riad Madu, we found the flat landscape similar to that at Ait Benhaddou, more stony than sandy, but a few hundred feet away were Saharan sand dunes.
     We stayed one night at Riad Madu, enjoying a fairly posh room with a great shower, and enjoying the hotel's large pool, though in March the water was a bit chilly for swimming. Late in the afternoon the next day, we were driven in an SUV a few kilometers to a staging area for camel treks arranged by Riad Madu. We climbed aboard our beasts -- they're sitting on the ground and then stand in two lunging movements that threaten to send the rider flying -- and were led into the desert by our guide. There would be a large tour group of Finns with us at the encampment, but someone thought we'd be happier by ourselves and not traveling with the other group.  Nice idea.
     The encampment consisted of two groups of tents, each made  of wool with Berber blankets serving as door flaps. Berber rugs were inside and outside the tents, used as sidewalks connecting guests' tents with the large dining tent. Dinner, a host of preliminary dishes followed by an avalanche of lamb, was served at nine. Afterward camp workers formed a band to play Berber music and to encourage dancing, in which some of the Finns participated with great energy.
     Our tent was equipped with an en suite bathroom complete with a hot-water shower, and there were even electrical outlets for recharging phones and cameras. None of the furniture was what anyone would associate with camping. We had a real queen-size bed, comfortable chairs and ottomans, and plenty of room.
     The next morning, we awoke at dawn along with everyone else to walk out and see the sun rise over the dunes. The air is too try for the sunrise to be spectacular, but what was spectacular was the way the low-angle rays spotlighted the dunes. After breakfast, we chose an SUV rather than a camel to get us back to Riad Madu, where a driver was waiting to take us  to Meknes, our next destination.
The pool at Riad Madu. The weather in March was fine for wading and sunbathing, but the water was too
cold for swimming. We're looking east here, toward Saharan sand dunes.

Jane, Queen of the Desert, finds a bit of shade during a walk near Riad Madu.

Riad Madu is near the town of Merzouga, but we
did not go into the town.
Great saddles make for a comfortable camel ride. My camel was Bob Marley. Jane's was called Jimi. 

SUVs as well as camels make tracks in the desert. 

Our camels get to rest outside our encampment.

Sunrise in the Sahara.

Berber rugs keep the sand at bay. Like the rugs, the tents were made of wool.

Our tent was outfitted with Berber textiles.

In the foreground, the whitish stony surface that's seen just west
of the Sahara. In the background, dunes of golden sand are the Sahara
itself. The tall and darker dunes in the rear are really Saharan golden
sand, but in the shadow of a cloud.

Below, on the road for the seven-hour drive to Meknes. The first part, here, was
desert. Later there were rivers and forests. 

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