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Excursion in the Sahara Desert  

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Reviewed by: Daniela
Duration: 10 days
Departure date: from 16/1/2007 to
Travelers: 2
Name of travelers: Daniela


Following our trip to Morocco in June 2006, the longing for Africa, and in particular for the desert, became by and by stronger.


Following our trip to Morocco in June 2006, the longing for Africa, and in particular for the desert, became by and by stronger. The sand and the sky, there is not much more than that. They are two very simple elements, but at the same time so strong. The immense open spaces of the Sahara, and the strength of Nature reaching its extremes put into perspective my state of human being. The sand creates an ever-changing landscape, it colors the world in gold, it tires the limbs, and it offers a soft bed. The sky is vast and crossed by the wind, which is visible in the Sahara due to the sand sucked up in its vortex. The sky is painted in brilliant colors, it can reach extreme and opposite temperatures by day and by night, and it offers the magnificent view of millions of bright stars, which are able to make me feel ever smaller and never lonely. 
This time we chose to experience the desert by full-immersion. We set out on dromedary-back, heading beyond the tourist bivouacs, to discover new landscapes and new sensations. Carlo and I landed in Marrakech, where Lahcen, the guide we met in our previous visit, came to pick us up. Unfortunately, his 4x4 broke down, so we went to Ouarzazate by bus, and we then headed for M'hamid, the so called desert door. 
We spent the night in a bivouac close to M'hamid. Friends gathered from the village and nearby bivouacs. Everybody sat around the fire singing and playing music, and we felt at home in that magical atmosphere that we had experienced in our previous trip. The only difference was that it was very cold during the night, and close to the fire you can burn your hands while freezing your back. We had to sleep under cover, in a tent, in a sleeping bag, and under dozens of blankets. On the other hand, during the day the temperature was warm and pleasant, perfect for the long excursion we had planned. 
The next morning, Lahcen and Alí, our guides, prepared three dromedaries: two for the tents, the food and water supplies, and the luggage, one for us to ride if we were too tired to walk. We left early, leaving civilization behind. The outline of M'hamid disappeared in the horizon, and we couldn't see any other living being besides the four of us. At lunch time we stopped for a rest, we had our meal and we drank the traditional tea. In the evenings we hitched up the tent and we went to search for dry wood (not that you could find damp wood in any case…). We then built a fire and had our dinner. For dinner I mean a delicious and complete meal, usually tajine or couscous! In fact, Alí, who is a funny and good-natured man, is also a great cook, and with two old pots and a gas burner he creates wonderful dishes even in the desert wild! The amount of food that they had loaded on the dromedaries was extraordinary: we had meat, vegetables, cheese, and even two dozen eggs! Besides, with all that walking my appetite was ravenous! 
In contrast to what is commonly believed, the desert is not at all monotonous, and very different sceneries gently flow one into the other. At first we crossed the palm grove, where the palms grow in small copses and provide some shade. As we headed South, the few Tamarists and dry bushes that adorn the landscape became all the more sparse, and the dunes became sandier, softer, higher and more mobile. 
One of the most memorable days spent in the desert was when we went to Erg Ezahar, the so called “Howling Dune”. It is by far the highest dune in the region, and when it blows, the wind makes a howling noise up there. It was situated five walking hours away from where we had camped the previous night. Before heading towards the dune, Lahcen wanted to show us the ruins of an ancient village and the tomb of a “Marabout”, or wise man, which were in a different direction. While we went to the ruins with Lahcen, Alí slowly started towards the Howling Dune with the dromedaries and everything else. Lahcen and Alí agreed that we should meet at a specific dune, not too far away, so that we could walk together for the rest of the journey (I trusted that they knew exactly which dune they were talking about… to me they all looked the same!). At the ruins, Lahcen told us the story of the wise man and the village. There was not much more to see than rubble and stones, but Lahcen's story filled it with life, the legend became almost real, and so the time passed. 
When we finally arrived at our meeting point with Alí, he was not there… Nor did we find him further on, in case he had meant another dune. The problem was that we were left with a half empty bottle of water to share between the three of us, as our water supplies were on the dromedaries! In the end, we walked the whole five hours without ever catching glimpse of Alí. We headed towards the Howling Dune that stood clear at the horizon. It didn't seem that far away, but Lahcen explained that that was an optical effect due to the dry atmosphere. While walking in silence, I tried to imagine what had happened to Alí. What if he had felt ill, and had never reached neither the meeting point, nor the Howling Dune? How could we have survived the cold night at the Howling Dune without shelter, water or food? After four hours of journey, I started to make out something white moving on a dune not far from the Howling Dune. This was reassuring. Whatever it was, somebody must have put it there, a human trace… I just hoped it was recent. As we got closer, we could tell that it was a long white cloth tied on a stick like a flag. When we finally reached and climbed over that dune, we were confronted with a surrealistic scene. At the foot of that dune there was a circular opening, where our tent stood already hitched, the dromedaries were at rest, and Alí was busying himself without his shesh (the typical turban hat that Berbers wear) because he had used it to make the flag! Around the opening, high, majestic, golden, soft and clean dunes rose towards the sky. That place was pervaded with a deep harmony that I had never experienced in any other part of the world. 
Alí explained later that he had stopped to wait for us at the appointed dune, and he had fallen asleep. He was convinced he had woken up a long time afterwards, and not seeing us, he thought we had left him behind, so he hurried off to catch up with us! Instead, he probably had slept only 5-10 minutes, but since he didn't have a watch, he thought it had been longer. To make up for it, that evening Alí prepared a delicious couscous, and hungry as we were, we appreciated every mouthful, and so decided to forgive him. 
The next morning at dawn, Carlo and I set out to climb the highest peak of the Sahara, the Howling Dune. It didn't seem so difficult in the beginning, but it took us over an hour to reach the top, because the slope is very steep and at every step we would sink knee-deep into the sand. But how satisfying to see the desert extending for kilometers in every direction and to feel part of it so deeply and strongly! 
During the following days, the landscape changed again: we crossed the rocky desert and the dusty desert. In the latter we found a puddle of water where the dromedaries could drink. Further on, when we were only a day's journey away from the village, we even came upon a well where we topped up our cooking-water tanks and splashed some water over our heads… the closest we could get to a wash. 
The last evening we had run out of bread, so Alí decided to make some himself, and bake it underneath the sand! He made the dough and built a fire on some clean sand. When the sand underneath was hot, he put the ashes aside, lay the bread on the hot sand, covered it with sand and ashes, and he checked the firmness with a stick. It was ready in half an hour. He then dug out the bread, brushed off the sand, and served it to us with the tajine. It was fabulous! Warm fragrant bread, with not even a grain of sand in it, simply fantastic! 
The morning after, we crossed a plane covered in flowered rocket. In the distance we began to see a few goats and a shepherd. Finally, we reached the village. I felt melancholy leaving the desert behind, but at least, back to civilization, we could take a shower at last! Lahcen invited us to his house, where he introduced us to his family and offered us a most delicious lunch. 
We spent the last three days of our trip to Morocco in the nearby mountains, visiting the Todra and Dades Gorges. The scenery is rocky and dry, with a few green valleys here and there. There too, people are kind and welcoming. Before returning to Marrakech, we spent a day at the Fint Oasis, close to Ouarzazate. It's a beautiful and peaceful place, with a tiny river and plenty of vegetation, perfect for relaxing a bit after the desert. 
I strongly recommend visiting these marvelous places to everyone who loves traveling and adventure in the wilderness. My experience in Morocco, and particularly in the Sahara Desert, touched me deeply down within, and changed my perception of nature and of myself. If you are interested, you can visit the following web site and contact Lahcen to organize  your own trip: www.desertdor.com.
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