After breakfast, we loaded up, checked the cars, and headed off towards Merzouga. Today would be a much shorter drive, around 280km or so, but the roads got narrower and cars got fewer as we headed away from Zaroga, following the river and acres of palm trees as far as you could see. I must admit I did not expect to see such greenery as the temperatures were rising the further we drove towards the desert.
One thing we were getting pretty good at was gauging when to stop for Anne, and also looking for the only trees in the area to shade under to have a break/snack/lunch. You could literally drive for miles and see nothing, then come across a few trees. The scenery changed all the time, from flat barren lands to mountain escarpments – it makes the drive very interesting.
This region is also famous for fossils and dinosaurs, so there are lots of small shops and vendors selling these artefacts along the roadside.
One thing you must be careful of is the plethora of speed traps. Every village seems to have an eager team of police wanting to get money off you. As I learned here long ago, the only way not to get fines is not to speed! If it is a 60km limit, drive at 55km. 1km over the 60km and they stop you, especially if you are European as this means you probably have cash and do not know how to work the system.
Marion is a serial speeder, so when we set out on this trip it was agreed that I would take the lead (despite my temperamental Sat Nav) and stick to the limits. This strategy saved us hundreds of Dirham in fines. We saw police literally laying in bushes, ditches, behind fences – you name it they were behind it.
They were so angry when we drove past them under the speed limit and always gave a happy wave – haha C’est Maroc!
We arrived at Merzouga and drove straight to the famous gateway to the desert to see the massive dunes right on the edge of the town. It’s so beautiful to look out on the dunes. We were a little earlier than expected, so spent a bit of time driving around and checking out the place, of course all the local guides came flocking to see us, offering all sorts of excursions.
We had booked into the Desert Berber Fire Camp for the evening. The Ladies had never done a desert camp before and it is a great experience. We pulled up at the reception, only to be told we must leave our vehicles and unpack what we needed for the night (for us it was a huge cool box filled with booze).
One thing to be aware of is that the booking does not include a transfer charge to the camp. Whilst you do not mind a charge, it is not acceptable to demand this on arrival – at 30 Euros per person its a lot! It really needs to be made clearer when booking – having checked it seems pretty much all the camps do it.
This really tripped the Ladies out (and me to be fair) so we ended up in a lively discussion with our hosts about this – let’s just say we came to an arrangement and all was sorted.
Marion was still fuming when we piled into the 4×4 for the transfer. As part of the arrangement we made, we got the guided dune tour at no extra charge. But things did not start off well and both the Ladies were so cross about it all and did not want to do it, but after driving up the first dune, they cheered up!
Our driver was really cool and had obviously been told to give us the full works – we went up and down all manner of dunes with great skill, getting to go up the largest one for the sunset views. The strategy is to go as fast as possible straight up until you stall – then get out of the car and walk the rest of the way.
For Karen and me, not a problem, but for the Ladies, it was a huge challenge to try and walk uphill in flowing sand. Poor Anne has terrible back problems, so had to sit it out, Marion on the other hand wanted to give it a go, so with Karen pushing from behind and a load of laughter, she made it!
The views of the desert and the sun sets are a memory forever – just stunning!
Once the sun had dropped, we headed off to the Berber Tented Camp.
What a lovely surprise we had – it was amazing! When we arrived, we were shown to 2 luxury double suites with ensuite bathrooms – the owner had upgraded us as well as sorting out our tour. Tents were huge inside, with high ceilings, and were actually extremely cool in comparison to the temperature outside.
Outside, the main avenue was carpeted and flooded with light from oil lamps, so as the sun dropped and it turned to darkness, a beautiful ambiance was created.
As we poured the pre-dinner drinks, the Ladies came out of their tent dressed in their Pyjamas and woolly slippers – it was so funny and could not have been more out of place! Everybody else thought we were mad as we just sat and giggled most of the night!
Once the crew had broken their fast, we were called to dinner. To be honest, we were expecting a really simple meal, but again we were pleasantly surprised at the 4-course dinner served. The quality was excellent and plenty of it, so after a long day, it was just what we needed.
After dinner and a few drinks, the crew gathered at the far end of the camp, lit a big bonfire, and sat down to entertain us with drumming, singing, and dancing – a perfect end to the day.
In the desert, the stars are so bright and it is perfectly silent, so after a long and happy day, we soon turned in and slept well.
In the morning, Karen and I got up just before first light to climb up the dune behind the camp and watch the sunrise. As always, the camp dog found us and wanted cuddles. Sunrise is pure magic, we had it all to ourselves as nobody else woke up and were treated to a spectacular sunrise.
After breakfast, again a really good spread, we packed up and were taken back to the reception house in the 4×4. Our driver could not resist going up and down as many dunes as he could – a perfect ending to our stay in the desert. The Ladies loved it so much – we were really happy that it all ended so well after-all.
So with goodbyes said and cars packed, we set off on a really testing leg and our stopover tonight at Ait Ben Hadou