Cross the Middle Atlas Mountains. 4WD sunset excursion to the Merzougan sand dunes.
28.07.2016 - 28.07.2016 43 °C
Hotel - Kasbah Xaluca Erfoud - Room 112
Today is our biggest road trip from Fes to Erfoud, 600 kms. We left Fes at 9am and finally, after a very long day, checked into our hotel at Erfoud at about 9.30pm.
We are heading for the desert and crossed the Middle Atlas and the High Atlas Mountains. We are tavelling on a one lane winding road and it is quite slow. There is not a lot of traffic around but enough big trucks to get stuck behind and slow us down. Abdou is a very careful driver, which is good. He doesn't take any risks which is good for us. The road rules are beyond us so I am VERY glad we have a driver who knows what he is doing.
The scenery has changed and there are a lot of sheep and goats grazing by the road. We stopped for morning tea at Ifrane and bumped into the Belgian couple again who we first saw at the Roman ruins at Volubilius. Ifrane is a 16th century town situated in the Middle Atlas and was re-established by the French Administration in 1929 as a hill station for people working in the hot cities. In winter, the temperature gets down to -9 and the area is covered with snow. We are noticing the pitched rooves on the houses which enable the snow to run off and not cause any problems.
There is a statue in the park of a lion that Atlas is supposed to have killed. I can't find any documentation to support this theory or even to say who did sculpt it but here is the photo anyway.
Just after we let Ifrane, we came across a colony of monkeys and the Belgians were there again! This is becoming a habit!
I usually nod off in the car but the scenery is so fascinating, changing at every turn, that I have stayed awake all day.
This writing appears on the hills all around here. It says - God Homeland King.
We stopped for lunch at the Taddart Restaurant and guess what? - the Belgians were there too! Their names are Michael and Maria Doutier at they come from Ath in Belgium.
We were able to order a light lunch - Phil had soup and I had a tomato and mozzeralla salad. That is all we need, especially sitting in a car all day.
On the road again, and we have to keep Abdou awake as after lunch he feels like nodding off, so we are playing a CD of American Marching Bands. It is very stirring music and keeping us all awake and happy.
There are an awful lot of donkeys tied up to rocks all along the edge of the road, in the middle of nowhere. This is mystifying us and Abdou told us that farmers come from everywhere out of the mountains to go the local markets. They catch a taxi back to the donkey once they have their provisions, load it up and off they go back to their homes.
We are now in the High Atlas and the scenery is stunning. It reminds us of the Grand Canyon in America.
Finally we arrive in Erfoud but continue on driving another 40 kilometers to the Merzougan Camel and Sand Dune Sunset Viewing area. It is now really hot - 43 degrees and it is a pretty remote area, on the edge of the Sahara Desert. My first view of the Saraha is so memorable. These beautiful pink sand dunes. Phil bought a couple of beers and as no glass was offered, I drank my beer, for the first time in my life, straight out of the bottle. This is the place where people can stay overnight in tents. Phil didn't want to do that but I did, but he won that one, and now I am glad he did. It is SO hot and a night in one of those tents would be hell!
Next we start negotiating the camel ride to the top of the dunes to witness the sunset. Phil doesn't want to go on a camel. He hates camel rides, but I desperately want to go and our driver and the owner shame him into coming with me. The price is dropped from 400 dirhams per person to 300 dirhams, but he is still moaning.
Because it is the off season, there are only us and another couple so we go off alone with our two camels and their driver. It is great to have all this to ourselves. I was holding on tight and trying to lean backwards as my camel stood up, but nearly fell off, head over heels. Just as well the driver was there to catch me.
We went about five kilometres to the bottom of the second highest dune and then we walked to the top, the driver laid out a blanket and we sat in the peace and quiet and the beautiful surroundings of the pink Saraharan desert waiting for the sunset. Unfortunately, it didn't come as a huge cloud bank rolled in on the horizon and blocked out the sunset.
Never mind - we scrambled back down the sand dune, me with a bottle of Saraha Desert sand (I wonder if I will be allowed to take it into Australia), mounted our camels and rode back to the camp. It is very hard riding a camel. When they are on the flat it is okay, but going uphill and downhill is very uncomfortable. I almost fell off again when the camel went down on his front legs for the dismount and once again, the driver caught me just in time.
Riding our camels we were thinking of Nicole Kidman starring as Gertrude Bell in Queen of the Desert and wondered how Gertrude Bell could ride through the desert like this for years. She must have had an ample backside to soften the ride!
We then drove back to Erfoud. How Abdou found his way out of the desert without a road, I'll never know, but we arrived safety at our hotel after a very long day and Phil had a "small discussion" with reception about changing our room to one with a bath. Reluctantly they did and we freshened up and went for dinner at 10pm! We are turning into locals!
The welcoming committee!
The hotel is quite different from the Riads we have been staying in. It is very rustic and looks a bit run down and dusty, BUT remember, it is on the edge of the Sahara Desert and trying to keep it pristine and free from sand dust would be impossible. It reminded me of an oasis in the desert.
Off to sleep after a very long, but totally enjoyable day.