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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 23 Apr 2016

Location: Sahara desert, Morocco

MapFollowing Mike to our Agdz riad, we were wondering what he was leading us into. Off the main street into a small laneway, then into an even smaller alley that the van was only able to negotiate due to Xavier’s precision driving. Maybe a centimetre to spare from both side mirrors. Through a high double gate into a small car park, we then walked through a door into the hotel grounds. Pathways wound their way around resplendent rose gardens, and a central fountain with its own resident tortoise. The owner was an ex-pat Frenchman who had renovated his old place by adding rooms and daubing them in the traditional adobe mud and straw. It was such a surprise to find down the alley to nowhere.

There have been several memorable days on this trip. The day after leaving Agdz will be one of the most memorable. Our destination was the large town of Arfoud. We stopped at a very opulent hotel called the Xaluca, but didn’t check in – this will be our accommodation for tomorrow night. Instead, we each filled a day pack with some overnight essentials, and stored the rest of our luggage in Xaluca’s storage room. We all piled into three 4WDs, were driven about an hour out of Arfoud across a very barren and rocky plain (no roads) to another hotel, behind which we could see large orange sand dunes.

Waiting for us out the back were camels, one for each of us, tended by men wearing traditional blue Berber robes and colourful head scarves. They helped us mount our camels, and we headed toward those large orange sand dunes. Within minutes, we’d been enveloped by hills of sand, and we were in the Sahara desert. Rising to the top of each dune revealed a sea of other dunes disappearing into the distance, indeed it was like being in a mountainous sea of orange water, frozen in time like a huge photograph. It was after 6pm, and the setting sun was changing the hues of the sand around us. The sheltered sides became darker in shadow, while the sunny sides became a deeper red-shade of orange. It was an ever-changing alien world.

Our destination a couple of hours later was an oasis, quite literally, at the foot of a mountain of sand. We socialised beneath an open-air canopy until being called into the dining room, ah – dining tent, for the delightful Moroccan meal that our camel drivers had prepared over a gas stove. The lighting was from solar panels, and water was from a well that only needed a depth of three meters to reach the water table. The evening finished with our Berber hosts playing drums for us, singing in their traditional Berber language about living in the desert, just as their ancestors had done for thousands of years. It was an honour for us to be invited to also bang a drum with them. It was nearly midnight when we retired to our own tent made from camel hair and a carpet floor. A full moon made the middle of the night look like a cloudy day, and it was eerie how much light was shining from the heavens above.

I woke the next morning just in time to see the sun rise. The actual event only took 30 seconds for the entire sun to poke its head above the distant mountain range, and then to be fully visible. The light, however, made the desert an ever changing picture show for an hour. It will be something I’ll never forget.

In contrast, we will quickly forget our tender behinds from riding the camels. They don’t believe in stirrups in Morocco – we should apply economic sanctions until they do. We also saw hundreds of others doing as we were, and of course they all require hotels to stay in. No wonder that Arfoud is supposedly the tourist gateway to the Sahara desert.