Sun 13th - Mon 14th September 2009
Atlas Mountains – Sun 13th September
We leave co-driver Darren behind in Fes as he has to get the train back to Rabat to sort out his Mauritania and Mali visa’s. He will be unable to catch us up in a few days due to the remote areas we are visiting so we wont see him again until Marrakech on 18th. Back to one crew.
Today is a fairly long driving day and the weather is very changeable. We are in the Atlas mountains which are barren and beautiful at the same time. The angry sky creates a moody backdrop for our regular photo stops and the temperature drops enough for us to get out the fleeces. Tonight is supposed to be our first bush camp experience (ie not on a campsite but in the middle of nowhere) and our interest is waning fast due to the weather. We are supposed to be camping alongside a lake but when a Hotel sign comes into view we decide to stop and see if we can camp in their grounds, or maybe even upgrade to a room! There is no one else staying there, it’s in the middle of nowhere and no one else is likely to be checking in now so they bend over backwards to accommodate us. We can set up in their kitchen, sleep on the sofa benches in their two large lounge rooms and eat in their dining room. The wine and nibbles are out again and the hotel owner and staff play drums with us after dinner once they have broken their Ramadam fast for the day.
Unfortunately around 11.30pm, several hours after going to bed, sickness and diarrhoea hit the ‘girls’ room... and it continues for several days!!! I am the first to get it and I feel dreadful but at least a few pounds will be shed. Maybe I will be able to get into my trekking trousers sooner than planned!
Merzouga, Morocco – Mon 14th September
The landscape towards the eastern border is now flat, rocky and sandy. We stop in Erfoud for supplies from the market consisting of mainly dates, hanging skinned goats and stray cats. Pretty town but no time to linger. We are headed for Erg Chebbi, the sand dunes that separate Morocco with Algeria. Our campsite is indicated by a lone sign post on the road side and we turn left across the soft sand towards the end of the earth. The camp ground is at the foot of the dunes and we pitch our tents beneath the few palm trees.
As I’m still feeling weak and feeble I decide to have a sleep while others swim or walk in the dunes. All of a sudden I am woken by the most incredible roar and the sides of the tent being beaten by a very strong wind. I open the zip for a split second but long enough to be sand blasted as the wall of sand hits like a Tsunami. Suddenly the sand turns to sand and rain and the wind is frightening. I am lying star fish on the bottom of my tent with arms and legs desperately trying to hold down the 4 corners while the sand and rain are whipped up and forced through the mesh windows, thoroughly covering everything inside, including me. I can hear shouts from the rest of the group as they battle with the kitchen awning and the semi-prepared food. Just as I become airborne and the tent finally loses it’s shape I hear Grant hanging onto one side of my tent while Jason is desperately trying to peg the 4 corners – they didn’t realise I was inside!
After a good 10 minutes battering, the storm stops almost as quickly as it started and we are exchanging our stories among the camp debris under a blue sky. After pouring the water from our tents we relocate all our wet possessions and the half cooked meal indoors to a very handy redundant ‘sun room’. You would never know it had happened apart from the spectacular electrical storm that continues to light up the distant sky for the rest of the evening.
Our sunset camel trek was understandably cancelled but 3 of our group had already left on camels for an overnight stay with the Tuareg. We could only hope they would be ok and will return as planned for breakfast the following morning. They did but had had to take shelter between camels and under thick Bedouin blankets when the sandstorm hit them in the open dunes.
Kasbah Tomboctou take pity on us and we sleep indoors again on the bench sofas in their lounge area.