The desert

Posted on January 6, 2015

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The actress and I parted early on Monday morning. I am now flying solo for my next leg, the Sahara. I’m used to travelling by bus, the longest journey I did last year was across from Uganda to Rwanda roughly 10 hours.

Yesterday I smashed that. I left Marrakech on a Superatour bus headed for Merzouga. It is the closest town before you hit the desert properly.

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The landscape has to be some of the most magnificent I have had the pleasure of seeing. Think Nevada meets the French Alps. Deep red clay and desert rock everywhere and jutting out behind them snowy capped peaks. It is like another planet. A juxtaposition I would never have imagined.

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The roads all have tarmac but some of the mountain passes are tricky and you have to be one hell of a skilful driver to negotiate the bends when articulated lorries are coming at you.

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The bus made several stops in various towns en route picking up locals who I am sure pay a significantly lower price than tourists for the ticket. One man who joined late on the journey and works on the buses checking that luggage tags (you have to register and pay for your bags for security reasons!) and your ticket number match before collecting you bags, turned to me and said:

“India? Yes?”
“Erm, no English but heritage is Indian yes.”
“I have a camel and a hotel,you stay with me in Merzouga Miss India?”
Well that’s an offer I’ve not had before. Despite his charming tea stained toothy grin, handlebar moustache and oversized leather jacket, I declined. Arriving in the dark in the middle of the desert without a clue where I was, was hardly a good starting point for then adding a complete stranger to the equation.

I had already arranged to be picked up by a guide who i’d conversed with several time on the phone. He is taking me on a two day trek through the desert to Erg Chebbi.

According to folklore and The Lonely Planet guidebook when a wealthy family refused hospitality to a poor woman and her son, God was offended and buried them under the mounds of sand called Erg Chebbi. These majestic sand dunes rise between the towns of Merzouga and Hassi Labied. It is supposed to be what an Arabian desert dream looks like. I’ll tell you if stands up to that description. Here’s hoping.

I arrived in darkness so had no idea what my surroundings were like. The sand feels like silk under my feet even in boots. I’ve spent the night is a delightful auberge with huge dunes on my doorstep. I woke up to witness a beautiful sunrise, crawling out from layers of blankets, throwing on my hiking boot, wool hat and fleece and grabbing my camera.

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Breakfast was spent supping hot coffee watching the dunes. Mid morning I was taken to meet the owner’s family – a lovely Berber woman and her brood who fed me hot bread straight out of the oven with salty olives, coconut sweet pastries and hot mint tea. I swear the Moroccans drink more tea than the Brits.

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In the next few hours I will be off grid, stretching my legs up some tough sandy hills and camping overnight under a canopy of stars. Camel riding tomorrow as I watch the red sun dip behind the golden sand in Erg Chebbi. I’m not sure how much more I can be impressed!

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