Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Our Trip to Merzouga

For our last Moroccan adventure before he leaves for home, we decided to go big and head to the Sahara desert. On Friday evening we boarded a train to Meknes (standing room only) and then caught an overnight bus to Merzouga, a small town in the Sahara near the Algerian border. 

We stayed in a small little hotel called Auberge du Sahara, where we were treated somewhere between royalty and family. Everything we did was met with a marhaba, or "you are welcome" from hotel staff.  We arrived during a strong wind storm, which gave us the morning to recuperate from our long journey. When the weather settled down, this was the view we enjoyed from the back patio:

On Sunday morning, we grabbed a grand taxi from the nearby village and headed to the town of Rissani, which has a large bustling souk on Sundays. On the way, we passed the ancient town of Sijilmassa, a site embedded in historical significance. It dates back to the 8th century and was once a major destination of caravans coming from Sub-Saharan Africa to trade gold in exchange for Saharan salt. 

While most of the commodities being sold and traded in the marketplace was familiar to us, the product pictured below was new to us: buckets and baskets made out of recycled tires. 

A view of the center of Rissani from the rooftop café where we had lunch:

In the afternoon, we returned to our hotel in Merzouga eager to explore the sand dunes.

Sand for miles and miles...

Camels waiting patiently in the dunes to take a French family on a sunset camel ride

We decided to hike up one of the largest dunes in Merzouga. Above is a photo from about 3/4 of the way up (35 minute hike)

View from the top! 

Though not fully visible in the photo, just beyond the horizon is a mountain range on the Algerian border.

We ran all the way down. 

When we told our English students that we were heading to the desert for the weekend, they told us that the sand is very good for one's health, and that it is customary to bury yourself in it as a way of healing whatever ails you. If this is true, then we must be in very good health. Even after a thorough showering I am still finding sand on my body. The surreality of our environment made the weekend feel dream like. Maybe it's the sand, or maybe something a little less tangible, but it is undeniable that there is something very therapeutic about being in such a beautiful and remote environment. B'sahah!