Playing in the Moroccan Sahara with camels and kasbahs and Bedouin hosts used to seem remote and unlikely, also exotic and potentially dangerous. I’m sensitive to what a difficult environment for humans this desert has presented historically, so my experience in the Erg Chebbi seemed somewhat unreal, a little like being on a huge film set.
After a hearty breakfast at the kasbah, we set out in a 4×4 vehicle caravan for the dunes. The drivers treated us to some fast turns and sand sprays as we sped over low dunes and around brush, the occasional camel herd in the distance. Amazing what camels find to eat out here!
Bedouin woman’s tent
Through an interpreter, we visited with the Bedouin owner of this tent. She told us that her son who lived and worked in Fes had coaxed her to come to the city and live with him, which she did for a while. But essentially she found city life not at all comfortable. Life in the Sahara, despite all its extremes, suited her sense of values and freedom far better than what Fes had to offer.
The Bedouin woman had woven by hand and done the wool felting for all the tent materials. Her shelter from sun, sand, wind, and both heat and cold came as a direct result of her skill and labor. By contrast, it gives one pause to think how much direct impact our own daily labor has on our individual well-being and comfort
Picnic in the Sahara oasis
In just a little while the brush on the rocky plain turned to palm trees emerging through sand, the signs of an oasis. We descended a little more until tent structures marked the spot for our lunch picnic.
When I think of a picnic I envision sandwiches, watermelon, and an army of ant visitors. But this “picnic” involved no uninvited critters and turned out to be a full-on, delicious hot lunch.
Oasis village at the bottom of the Erg Chebbi
After lunch we continued through the Sahara in our 4x4s to Tisserdimine, an oasis village at the bottom of the Erg Chebbi. Again, it felt like we were on a film set, partly because the design of the place lends itself to use as a movie set, and partly because of the “hurry-up and wait” pattern of our early morning call to this desert experience.
Similar to a shoot, we were waiting for the light over the dunes to soften. There is a moment in the desert at sunset that creates an aura of the sublime. A physicist from Space Systems/Loral once explained it to me as a real, measurable event. Our visit to the Sahara dunes, however, followed several days of rain showers in Morocco, which made our trip atypical. We infrequently saw the intense blue skies for which the country is famous. Instead, we most often experienced heavy cloud cover. We waited long into the evening, but the clouds did not lift.
Camel ride in the Sahara
The only alarming part about riding a camel happens after you’ve said a respectful hello to the beast and then scrambled onto the saddle. The fear happens when the camel begins to rise to its feet because the hind legs go up first. This pitches you forward and downward at a 45 degree angle toward its head. You can easily imagine a nose plant in the sand about then. Finally, however, the camel pulls his front feet up under its body and you’re level again.
The exotic kasbah
In addition to the musicians and dancers who greeted us in the lobby with a short performance, the hotel provided a silver slaver full of moistened and chilled towelets for a refreshing wipe for hands and face. They also served hot mint tea, ubiquitous to any social event throughout Morocco.
I loved how the kasbah-style hotel, Xaluca Maadid, continued the traditional themes of desert beauty and hospitality throughout the environment.
When we entered our rooms, the tv displayed a short film about the area, which was useful. We bounced on the beds a bit just to make sure (don’t want you to think the maids left them like this). But what most amazed us were the authentic fossils embedded into the huge bathroom sink. This photo shows only 1/3 of its actual size.