It was late in the afternoon as our caravan rolled up to a small, shabby hotel outside Merzouga. Our driver had forewarned us to buy water and snacks at the gas station two hours prior, as there would be no stops until we reached our destination.
This was the second day of our tour from Marrakech, and the group had grown weary of so much driving time: the van had no seatbelts and the armrests and reclining mechanisms worked variably. Our guide and driver seemed primarily qualified in the latter aspect of his work, leaving some details to be desired as we’d passed through Morocco’s Kasbahs and villages. In short, it had thus far been a long trip.
After scrambling through the trunk of the van for toothbrushes and other necessities for the night, we then made our way to the rear exit of the hotel. This is what we’d traveled over 300 miles through the back roads of Morocco to reach: the gateway to the Sahara.
We were greeted by our new guide, a quiet, young Berber man who never shared his name. We began the process of mounting the camels. Watching Westerners get on a camel must provide Moroccans with no end of entertainment: we simply aren’t used to the way a camel stands up. First, it raises its back legs, causing you to do a bit of a nose dive; then it stands on it’s front legs, propelling you in the opposite direction. It definitely makes a novice camel rider cry out from vertigo. After the adventure of getting on the camel, I liked mine just fine — I called her Shaq for her height.
We rode for an hour before arriving at our campsite just as the sun was beginning to sink. Using only propane tanks and local supplies, the guide set about making a tajine for dinner, a traditional dish of couscous, chicken, potatoes, and pickled vegetables.
Meanwhile, the sun continued to fall lower in the sky, and my husband and I set about finding the highest point from which to watch it set. What looked like a short uphill trek, ended up taking us the better part of an hour. (Our guide had made walking through the dunes look deceptively easy during our camel ride.) Huffing and puffing, we reached the top just in time.
The shift in colors as the sunset was nothing short of amazing; the sand turns from a golden brown to a deep red. In fact, everything on the ground was bathed in red light. Meanwhile, the skies go from blue to gray and purple.
Heading back to the campsite, our group had already gathered for dinner in the main tent. After some goading from the other travelers, the guide agreed to play some music for us (there were an assortment of local instruments in the tent). A natural musician, my husband joined in.
After dinner, we lingered outside, again to take in magnificent skies. As lifelong city dwellers, the Milky Way is something my husband and I are used to seeing in pictures or through telescopes, not just by simply looking up. While we were able to pick out a constellation or two, our guide knew them all, sharing their stories as they passed across the night’s sky.
Reluctantly, we turned into our own tents. We knew the next morning would come early, and it did. The sound of our guide clapping outside our tent at five in the morning served as our alarm clock; he wanted us to be up in time to watch the sunrise. With slightly more grace than the first time, we mounted our camels and headed back to the hotel, back to the caravan, and back to Marrakech.