Morocco to Madrid 8: Erg Chebbi Sunrise

So I’m trying to write this while my brain is somewhat fresh.  We’ve been up since four this morning, after having fallen asleep at a semi-regular hour, and the day’s events have left me a bit tired.  It’s not even noon here yet, and we have more fun to come this evening,  So I’m going to get this out before a dip in a pool and a nap.

Erg Chebbi is absolutely mind-blowing.  Spanning fifty square kilometres and raising up to about 740 metres high, it’s one of Morocco’s two gigantic sand dunes (the other, Erg Chigaga, is larger, but would not have fit into the timeline of this trip.  Our morning trip out there was by 4 x 4, with a lovely guide/driver named Hassan showing us the way.

Like, at the earliest point, literally showing us the way.

We got out of the truck at the foot of the dunes, which again, are freaking massive (though we weren’t at the highest one for sunrise – that one will be tackled later) and Hassan walked us about half way up and basically showed us two paths.  He gave some advice on which to pick, and then went back to the truck to prepare a light breakfast for us.

Now, we’re generally pretty good with “go find a way to hike that.”  However, neither of us had ever experienced this quantity of sand.  There were times where it was like tile under your feet, and other times where you’d sink above your ankle, and in the dark, it was very tough to judge how steep the “drop” was from one side of the top of a dune to the other (usually, not very).  So our ascent was quite cautious and there were a few moments of “Does that look like a way we can go?”  However, went we did, and after some leg-busting minutes, we were atop the dunes!

It took a while for the sun to come up and, as it did, we saw other travelers start to make their way by camel, and a group of five was bold enough to make it all the way up to the top where we were, as was a young Moroccan kid who just seemed content to hang out and watch the sunrise.  It was a mildly cloudy day, but the sun started coming through as this giant ball as I wandered around to a different side of the dune to get a better look.  We each got some spectacular shots from different angles before making our way down.  On the way, a local kid came up and offered us some very obviously handmade camels.  They were ridiculously cute and totally made by his sister or mom or something, so I grabbed one with the 15 dirham I had in my pocket.  Then, it was off to Hassan and some coffee, juice and biscuits at the truck.

From there, we were back in the 4 x 4, hopping along to different areas as Hassan told us the history of the area, the source of conflict between Morocco and Algeria, and waxed about global politics and the fact that, undeservedly, people view Morocco as this “dangerous” place because it’s part of the Muslim world.  Fact is, there are few countries I’ve ever felt safer in.

We stopped off at a prehistoric riverbed, where I was able to grab some new rocks to add to the garden at home.  We went by a couple of “fixed” (permanent) nomad houses, where Daina unloaded the remaining cookies that we didn’t eat to some local kids.  There were a couple more great views of the dunes, including one from some smaller dunes, where I managed to spot a “sand dam”, which has been built to keep sand away from the riverbed, so that rain doesn’t wipe out any villages or encampments (when rain happens, that is).  We spotted the Moroccan equivalent of a “prairie chicken”, saw jumping sand mice, ran across some kids with a fenec fox as a pet, and got a chance to see how the locals got irrigation from underneath the dunes to the palmeraie through a series of wells and canals.  Beautiful morning.

Then, back to the guesthouse for a huge breakfast, a dip in the pool, a write, and then a nap.

There will be more sand dunes to come this evening, probably in a .1 post afterwards.  Apparently, sunset is just as beautiful.

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