Along the way to the desert we are escorted by the peaks of the Atlas, watching us from the horizon, some of them covered in snow. A succession of valleys and mountains run next by our side, as the road meanders till it takes us to Ouarzazate. Just outside of town, we make a stop at the magnificent Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou, which was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1987 and has provided scenery for several movies, from the Sheltering Sky to Gladiator, passing by The Jewel of the Nile or The Living Daylights and many more. It´s not by chance that Ouarzazate is known as Ouallywood and that the most important movie studios in North Africa are located here.
While in town though, we spend most of our time in and around the Taouirt Kasbah, also acknowledged by the Unesco and also a site for many movies. It´s understood, since it looks like a dream of the 1001 nights, even if sadly it´s only partially restored.
From there we head to Merzouga, the jewel of the desert, nicely located at the feet of the magnificent Erg Chebbi sand dunes. For some reason sand dunes always look a bit surreal, like mirages in the horizon. I guess that it is to prove their material existence that we decide to climb the tallest dune, hopefully in time for sunset. The ascent is a bit tough, kind of two steps up, one step down on the loose sand, but I finally make it up, when Christian has already taken dozens of photos from the top 🙂 The light is quite magical, even if it fades away pretty rapidly. Happily the descent is much easier, but nevertheless by the time we have hiked back to the camping it´s pitch black.
Remembering the times we spend in the desert in Oman a few years ago, we decide that we cannot leave without sleeping in a bedouin tent, so we embark ourselves in a mini camel (dromedary) trek and head towards the heart of the sand dunes. After having travelled twice by camel in two different continents, I can say it´s so far the most uncomfortable means of travel I have experienced, and this includes being squeezed together with 6 other people in a little Fiat 500, several times when I was a child. It´s lots of fun though
We are welcome in the camp with some tea and after taking some sunset photos, have a nice berber tagine for dinner. After dinner we sit around the fire and listen to some live music interpreted by our camel guide. Before going to bed, we still spend some time watching the stars from the top of a dune. I recognise the total of 2 constellations amongst the abundant jungle of corpuscles, Orion and Ursa Major. The most famous I guess.
The sunrise over the dunes does not disappoint either.
We also have the chance to visit the settlement of one of the nomadic tribes that still live in the desert and also learn that the area is rich in fossils and had also abundant minerals that the French extracted. The testimony in the present day are the ruined mines that they abandoned when the minerals were exhausted.
The road leads us to cross the Atlas and is somehow surprising to be driving in the snow soon after leaving the toasty temperatures of the desert. In the mountain we also have a pleasant encounter with a group of berber apes that seem to enjoy living in the snowy cedar forest.