Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Erg Chebbi - Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Day 6 (Part 1)

As I lay half asleep, I was roused by a fellow camp mate at around 4am in the morning. Everyone in the camp had agreed to wake up early together and climb to the top of Erg Chebbi to watch the sunrise over the Sahara. It was cold and windy in the morning, and I was surprised to see a thin layer of clouds overhead, which fortunately evaporated before sunrise. Learning from our experience last night, Felix and I walked around the dune to follow a ridge to the top, which proved to be much easier and faster than climbing straight up. Sitting on the ridge at the top of the dune, me and my fellow campers watched as the sun rose up over the desert, turning the sand around us a shade of rosy pink, then a warm orange followed by a pale yellow.

After sitting around for a while chatting on the top of the dune, I suddenly realized that it had reached the time in the morning when I had to do my business. Looking around and seeing no one else around, I walked around the top of the dune and found a steep indentation away from the others. I slid down, dug a hole with my hands, did my business, and covered up the evidence. I have to say, this was my most interesting "bathroom" experience, going in a sandy ditch on the top of the tallest dune in the Moroccan Sahara Desert.

Climbing back out of the ditch, I rejoined the group. After a few photos, we headed back down to the camp for breakfast. As an experiment, I tried taking a few photos by holding out my headscarf to let it flutter in the wind against the backdrop of the desert. Afterwards, I hoped that it wasn't a signal that can be interpreted as a declaration of war or anything like that!

Breakfast was waiting for us as we returned to the camp, which consisted of bread with jam and orange juice. After breakfast, we made preparations for departure, during which I held a Berber's headscarf with my left hand and dropped it in the sand, which I later realized was probably very disrespectful there. After breakfast, I took a quick tour of one of the tents in the encampment. The low tent roof and the courtyard walls were made of a similar material - a worn burlap-like material so thin that you can see the sky through it. The tent walls were made of a slightly sturdier material, what appeared to be old and worn carpets. The entire structure is held up by thick wooden sticks tied together, forming a comfortable soft pastel space inside. The tent floor, like the courtyard of the encampment, was made by covering the sand with rugs, with thin mattress pads placed on top of that.

As the day warmed up, we mounted our camels again and rode back out of the desert. Along the way, there were some spectacular scenery and sand erosion patterns in the pale yellow of the desert morning. Once again, my camel was acting up, being impatient, and looking like it was nibbling at the camel in front once in a while, much to the annoyance of the unfortunate camel being nibbled on.

After returning to the kasbah, we walked around to view the camels. All of them seemed pretty nice and let us pet them, with the exception of my camel. Every time someone reached out their hand to pet him, he would shift his body away and look mean. We decided that it was better not to mess with him. Jakob, the Slovenian on the camel in front of me in the convoy, said mine looked like a bad-ass, as the hair on my camel was in a rough mohawk shape.

Meeting up with Mohammed again, he took us through the garden in the inner courtyard to our rooms where we had a nice shower. I later discovered that I left my blue shirt in the hotel room. I guess I ended up losing my shirt to a Moroccan after all, even if it's not to Mohammed! After the shower, we met up with some of the other travellers who were looking for passage back to Ouarzazate. We though it would be a good idea to charge them a hundred dirham each to share our taxi. However, Mohammed refused to let them in the car unless he was paid extra per person, which had Felix and the others quite angry.

After a few rounds of negotiations and discussions, we agreed that they will pay Mohammed 100 dirham each and we'll just get some company for the ride. We also agreed to make a stop at the Dad├Ęs Gorges, located in the southern foothills of the High Atlas range, known for the small Berber villages, spectacular rock formations, and the famous views of the dramatic valleys in the desert foothills with the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas in the backdrop. Luckily for me, I didn't know anything about the gorges and which one we were going to, as we ended up going to Todra Gorge instead, which once again angered the other passengers in the car quite a lot. In any case, Felix, some Slovenians, and I piled into Mohammed's car for a long day of driving and touring sites on the way back to Ouarzazate.

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