We left our Maison d’hotes Dar El Haja before the busses with tourists were dropped at the gate of this World Heritage ancient Aït-Ben-Haddou. It was nice to wander around during sunrise, while slowly the salesman were opening there caves and set there stalls.
During the day we left the mountains and the snowtops of the High Atlas behind us and were heading more towards the South, to Mhamid. I had chosen this village and the desert in this region in stead of the far more famous Merzouka and the Erg Chebbi desert, I can highly recommand this to anybody. Much less tourism in this piece of the Sahara because you have to drive for 2 hours in a 4WD (which we didnot have) from M’hamid into the desert. M’hamid is the last village South from Zagora, the paved road ends here. Lots of Berbers try to make there living these days around tourisme. I see almost only old ruins as houses, poor people, unpaved streets, lots of donkeys, not all happy in front of a cart/chariot, but a very relaxed atmosphere, no clue how they survive here. Tourism has not got big here yet. That is a good thing for us travellers who want to see some authenticity, but the Berbers seem to struggle and suffer as well. There was one hotel outside the village who served alcohol (chilled wine!), I feel almost ashamed to tell, but we ended up there in the afternoon, in stead of staying in that authentic little garden of our Dar M’hamid slurping mint tea.
Our very exciting plan to go on our own into the desert with our Jeep was of course not possible without a Jeep. I will now never know if Paul would’ve succeed driving there, it would have been a challenge. We arranged a car-guide, the owner of our camp, who was easy reachable when we were in wifi-area. He showed up next morning pretty much on time, we did some shopping together in his homevillage, oranges, bread, some veggies, eggs, hello here and hello there, a lot of Morrocan (Arab?) talking and off we went. It was quite a bumby ride. I seriously doubt if we could ever have found our way to the camp on our own. Paul and I both get lost very easy, so we were happy with this guided ride. Maybe Hertz saved our souls!
The “dull desert” environment slowly changed into the “sandy dunes look”. A lot of camels walking around in the oases areas. He told us that he also owned one, but couldn’t find him anymore for already 10 months. That’s how it works, your camels wear your family brand mark, so they know which camel belongs to who. They walk around loosely, you have to get them back in any way, sometimes it takes days, you need help of other Berbers who saw your camel there or there. Haha, the fourth dune right…. can you imagine. Well, his English was not that good that he could explain precisely how it works, the fact was, he had no camel at the moment.
Our camp was above all expectations, really… I enjoyed the two days here véry much. Quiet, peacefull, charming, hot, windy, chilly in the morning, lots of teadrinking, lots of reading, climbing the dunes, watching sunrise and -sets…It was perfect. In our camp were a few more families, but you hardly noticed them. No loud parties in the evening, just silence. We slept in a little “house” made of sandstones.
Mohammed told us that the government was planning to build a tarmac road from M’hamid into the desert along these Erg Chegaga sand dunes. This would definitely means the end of the charm and the beginning of the noise and busses full with kwetterende Chinesen. Wifi will then be provided, such as electricity, toilets and showers (and wine). The Berbers themselves, who grew up in this area, are trying to stop this. My Berbercampguy said that they succeeded, the plans were stopped. They know pretty well that richer people will take over the camps, families from Marrakesh he said, rich families….They are trying already now. Well, I am glad we were there in time, I loved it, despite off all the sand in every spot. We did not have enough time to leave the camp on a camel and make a trip for a week or so, maybe i come back for that another year, I still would love to do that again. We did a little touristic ride on somebody’s else camels, meant nothing, was a stupid thing to do, the berberboy did not speak any word French or English, walked with us a few hundred meters and was highly not interested. We signed him to go back.
I loved being there, sitting in the mornings and evenings on top of the highest dunes we could reach, a pretty tough exercise though. In between reading and napping. One night was a sandstorm, i did not take my camera out that night, the sand was blowing through our hut. Big advantage: in the morning no footsteps and messy patterns anymore….all immaculate (smetteloos) and serene again.
After two days it was good to go again, for sure for Paul, enough sand he had (everywhere haha). Mohammed brought us back in his car to M’hamid. It was not such a deep intens experience as I had in Egypt with the Bedouin, but an excellent ingredient for this road trip. Stay at least two nights!