Vast. Arid. Open. Landscapes. That’s how I would describe the bits in between the towns on our way to the dunes of Erg Chebbi on the edge of the Sahara desert. It was an easy drive. Not as dramatic as the Ziz gorge but with a few unusual things to keep us entertained along the way like camels and Renault 4’s.
Our visit to Erg Chebbi had coincided with the annual 4L trophy, a rally across the desert. The catch is you can only take part if you are a) student and b) you have a Renault 4.
As many as fifteen hundred cars take part each year driving the 6000km from France all loaded up with school supplies to deliver to schools in the desert region. Ah, what a bit of nostalgia it was for us to see them all. We had a Renault 4 many years ago and even though you could see the road through the rusty holes in the front footwells and through the wheel arches in the boot and it broke down a lot we have always had a soft spot for them.
We were spoilt for choice with campsites at Mezouga and most of them get good reviews.
We split our time between Auberge La Chance where we could park up right next to the dunes and Auberge Gazelle Bleu which is right next to one of the higher dunes. We had planned on walking up to the top of the higher ones so being close to them made more sense.
The whole area around Mezouga seems to rely on tourism now that the lead mines have closed and it is very popular. Camels lounge outside the campsites and hotels.
4×4’s, motorbikes, dune buggies and quad bikes whizz back and forth through the town and across the dunes. One of the things that you can do which costs you nothing is to get up early to see the sunrise over the dunes. Obviously Tim would have preferred a lie in but we aren’t in the desert every day of the week so it had to be done.
I’d read on some travel blogs about camel treks into the desert where you can spend the night sleeping under the stars in a Berber tent, wake up to the sunrise in the morning before riding back to your hotel just in time for a slap up breakfast.
I have to admit I quite fancied the idea. When we made our trek into the dunes to see the sunrise we could see a few of the desert camps not so far away. Unfortunately, seeing them so close to civilisation kind of shattered the romantic image I had in my head about the whole thing. They weren’t Berber tents either they were like those white marquee type tents you see outside gardens centres. I decided there and then that the €120 it would have cost for us to go on the trip would be better spent elsewhere. I’d rather sleep in my own bed than a marquee. I think Tim was just relieved he wouldn’t have to get on a camel. To be fair I haven’t seen inside the marquees and they may be totally sumptuous inside in a Harry Potteresque kind of way but I wasn’t prepared to find out.
Instead we teamed up with a Swedish couple and took a tour in a 4×4 around the desert. Ahmed, our guide was a bit of a wheeling dealing cheeky chappy but he did keep us entertained. He spends half the year in Spain wheeling and dealing in all things Moroccan where his family now live and half the year in Morocco doing tours. Like our guide, Wafi, in Fèz his English was really good but I still found it exhausting keeping up with his stories and lost the thread of them sometimes.
No matter we enjoyed the tour, the highlight of which was having tea with a Berber family and seeing their simple spotless traditional home.
The tour took us on the dirt tracks around the edge of the sand dunes not across them and there are a lot of new villages and schools being created presumably because of the increase in tourism.
We ended the tour back at the campsite/hotel where we had lunch with our Swedish companions Sonny and Ula.
Now they were an interesting couple. They are in their mid seventies now but they sold up in Sweden fifteen years ago to spend their lives sailing around various different seas dividing their time between marinas in the winter and the open sea in the summer. After selling the boat a couple of years ago they backpacked around some other far flung destinations before buying a motorhome to live and travel in. Fifteen years! It knocks our nearly three years into a cocked hat. Still, we’ve still got time. Inshallah. I’ve overheard quite a few French say that here……Oui blah blah blah blah blah…….inshallah…..oui blah blah blah blah blah.
We’ve hardly seen any other British vans in Morocco so far but like buses two came along at once when we decamped on the second night in Mezouga to Camping Gazelle Bleu. We spent a great evening with John and Julie and Peter and Carmel who were all also on their first trip to Morocco.
Most fortuitously for us it was Julies birthday and she had made a Victoria Sponge in celebration which we were more than happy to help scoff on the terrace overlooking the dunes. Tim played Happy Birthday for Julie and we were all Happy Campers.
After three nights on the edge of the desert it was time to head west towards Zagora.
الله يمسك علي خير!