Far from the magical bustle of my home-away-from-home in the medina of Rabat lies a land that has a magic of its own. Here mountains made of sand replace the colorful shops. Unlike in Rabat, you don't hear the prayer call at sunset in this place. In fact, if you trudge to the top of one of these mountains you might be faced with nothing but the sound of the wind and the sight of one of the most spectacular sunsets of your life. The Sahara Desert holds a unique kind of beauty, one I will never forget.
There are a couple of ways to get to the Sahara from Rabat, the fast way and the slow way. Choosing to watch my pennies meant taking a 5 hour train ride to Marrakech followed by a 10 hour car ride to the desert. The up side to this meant getting to see a bit of Marrakech (deserving of a blog post of its own) on either side of the trip to the desert.
After getting into Marrakech on Thursday night, our private driver, Moha, came to pick up myself and my 3 travel mates on Friday morning. The drive wasn't bad with 3 friends and an entertaining driver, and included passing over the Atlas Mountains, through countless towns and villages, and stops every couple of hours (including a liquor store for wine since alcohol is hard to come by in the desert). We drove through the "Hollywood of Morocco" where many movies are filmed, and the "Valley of Roses," a town in a river valley that we were told would be in full bloom in May. Moha was a great guide telling us about the towns we drove through.
At around 6:30 we arrived at our hotel about 50 km north of the Algerian border on the edge of Erg Chebbi (the name of the area with the giant sand dunes you often see in pictures). We stayed at the Auberge du Sud and were welcomed in the traditional Moroccan way, with mint tea. After that we were led to our rooms which included a roof terrace. Soon we were brought a tray with olives, raisins, and wine glasses. The 4 of us enjoyed wine on the terrace while waiting for dinner.
The next day we met up with Moha for a driving tour around the Erg Chebbi. Although we were a little weary of getting in the car again, the 4-5 hour tour was well worth it. We popped in on women baking bread in a clay oven (and had a sample), had tea in a small nomadic settlement, saw rocks with fossils of sea life from when the desert was under water (!!!), had Moroccan pizza, and visited a community of immigrants from Mali and Sudan who played us their traditional African music.
We returned to the hotel and had a dip in the pool before setting out on camels for a luxury camp a few kilometers into the Erg Chebbi.
About an hour into our camel trek we stopped to watch the sunset. Our group of 16 splintered to find the perfect spot to watch. My travel mate Abby and I went up to the highest dune within reach. Our footprints blemished the untouched wind blown peaks. It was easily one of the best sunsets i've seen in my life.
We continued on the camels and arrived at camp. We were greeted with mint tea and cakes then showed to our rooms. These luxury tents had electricity, proper beds, and bathrooms. We enjoyed a large dinner before sitting around a fire for music and jokes. Sometime before midnight we set out to watch the moon rise, again trekking up some steep dunes for the best view.
After some hours of sleep, we woke up for the sunrise, followed by breakfast and our camel ride back to the hotel. We quickly packed up for the drive back to Marrakech to end an amazing desert excursion.