This past weekend was our last empty weekend, where there was nothing scheduled by the program, so we took the initiative and asked the program to set us up on a trip to Merzouga, which is about 40 kilometers from the Algerian border. Because of the distance from Meknes, which we originally thought was about 5 hours by car, we left from the medina at 6 am on Saturday morning. One of the administrators, Taha, from AALIM came with us since none of us had any experience in organizing camel safaris. We stopped at about 7:30 in Azrou for a quick breakfast. And then got back in the car. We stopped randomly on the side of the road to take pictures from the mountain, and then continued on our way. Stopping at a roadside hotel for lunch, we found out that it would be several more hours until we reached Merzouga. What we originally thought was a five hour car ride, was actually about eight total hours.
Much of the time we were driving, the terrain was more like a rocky flatland or mountains, than desert, and our first sighting of sand dunes was very exciting. We finally arrived on
Riding on a Camel?
Headscarf + Camel = ???
the outskirts of Merzouga, and stopped at a small collection of huts to hear some traditional music. The musicians were the descendent of central Africans who had been enslaved by Arabs and brought to north Africa. They played drums, and bazook, like a guitar, and an instrument which mimicked the sound of clanking chains. The dance movements were similar to the restricted movement of being chained together. They got us all up and dancing with them for a song.
After the music we drove into the 'center' of Merzouga, which is really just a few shops and a cafe. We all bought scarves to cover our heads, necks, and faces while we were in the desert, and we learned how to wind them around our heads to protect our skin, and how to use the end to cover our mouths and noses in the event of a sandstorm. We then stocked up on water and headed out of town to the hotel that runs the camel tours.
At the hotel we checked into our rooms, one for boys and one for girls, where we would leave all of our stuff for the night. A few of us had
a quick swim in the pool, which was a great way to get all of the travel grim off and then we regrouped and made our way towards the sand dunes. We joined our camels and guides at the edge of the desert and divided into groups, because only five camels were joined at a time. We all immediately noticed the weird way in which camels legs fold, as if they have two knees, and how jerky getting up off the sand was. We made our way out into the sand, but still in view of the phone towers, which made it less exciting than we had thought. Riding camels is not a comfortable experience, and we all took sometime to figure out a good way to sit, especially since our camels did not have stirrups the way a horse does. I settled on cross legged and then just sat astride when we went down a dune, to balance better.
Once we got out into the dunes, the stars wars jokes, particularly those about tatooine and Tusken Raiders started. We saw a skeleton, but it looked like something put there for tourists, since the skeleton was so close to
the edge of civilization. We finally went around a dune and lost sight of all civilization. We rode for about an hour and a half, at which point we stopped to sit on one of the dunes and watch the sun set. We then rode for about another half hour until we reached the oasis where we stayed the night.
After dinner, when the sun had set completely, most of our group set off to climb the sand mountain, and the rest of us stayed to lie on the mats outside and look at the stars. The moon looked incredibly close, and staring up at the stars I had the same feeling as when I was walking barefoot on the Taj Mahal at sunset. Indescribable. Because the weather was so nice, we dragged our mattresses out of the tents and slept under the stars. It didn't get cold until about two or three am, and the blanket on each bed was more than enough to stay warm.
We all woke up just before sunrise and climbed partway up the sand mountain to watch the sun rise over the dunes. We packed up and left as the sun was
climbing in the sky in order to avoid the hottest part of the day. We made good time back, and since riding a camel the second day is much more uncomfortable than the first, that was a great thing. We had breakfast back at the hotel and snuck in a quick swim before getting back in the car for the drive back to Meknes. We stopped at a store on the side of the road to see trilobytes from the Sahara and ate some delicious tangine at a gas station. Throughout the car ride to and from Merzouga we must have seen every type of terrain in Morocco. From mountains to desert to forest to hills that reminded me of Switzerland. We finally arrived back in Meknes around 7:30, and scarfed down dinner before falling into bed in hopes of getting some rest before class in the morning.
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