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Merzouga, Moroccan Sahara: One hump or two?

Posted by Squiffy on March 29th, 2008

Before I tell you all about our experience in the Moroccan Sahara desert, I need to clarify some animal facts. I’m sure you’re all aware that there’s no such thing as a camel in Africa. Camels, for the record, have two humps and are only found in Asia. The desert ships that we rode were dromedaries – they have only one hump and live in Africa. Or so we’re reliably (?) informed by our camelteer (though I can’t explain why he’s not called a dromoteer). For ease of writing and so I don’t feel too pompous, I shall refer to them as camels.

After all the hassle in Er-Rachidia we were relieved to get to our lovely kasbah just north of Merzouga, which seemed like a real oasis of calm in an otherwise crazy world. At the foot of the Erg Chebbi sand dunes, it had amazing views from the roof terrace and we looked forward to our camel trek into the dunes the next day. After a fabulous buffet dinner we had an early night in preparation for our adventures.

Can you imagine our disbelief and disappointment when we awoke the next day to puring rain – pouring rain in the desert for goodness sake! The day before had been beautifully hot and sunny and we just couldn’t believe our bad luck when the trek was cancelled, especially after the mission we had to get to the desert. Fortunately however, we didn’t have any onward plans so we were able to sit out the day of rain (in a mud built hotel not made for bad weather) and take the trek the next day, when the sun reappeared.

Along with about 15 other people we dubiously mounted our camels, which were tethered together in small groups so they didn’t run amok. After initial giggles and complaints about how uncomfortable these desert creatures are, the chatter subsided and we enjoyed the silence and beauty of the dunes. As the sun began to set, they turned a golden colour. Two hours and a break to stretch our legs later, we arrived at our desert ‘camp’. This consisted of a few square tents with mattresses on the floor and a porter loo.

We sat together in the largest tent, perched on stools to eat a feast of tajine and mint tea served by candle-light.  Everyone in our group was great and we had a very sociable evening.  Before retreating to bed we admired the clear night sky and managed to identify Orion and the North Star. Bizarrely we could hear techno music pumping away from behind one dune, so perhaps our fellow campers were having a rave in the desert??

The next morning we were up at 6am to watch the sun rise, before riding our camels back to the kasbah for a buffet breakfast, over which we compared our levels of camel soreness. Altogether a novel and great experience, if perhaps not the most authentic one.

Comments

Comment from Sista
Time: March 30, 2008, 6:57 am

Useful tip for making camel-herder friends: compliment them on their excellent specimens.

‘Jamal’ is Arabic for camel and you can then add a friendly adjective on the end, such as ‘zein’ (good) or ‘mumtaz’ (excellent) on to the back of it.

So the next time you want to make friends with a camel herder, point to his camel (with an open palm – never the pointed finger, that’s rude), give him a thumbs-up and say ‘jamal mumtaz!’. You will have a friend for life…

But also be aware that in this part of the world, a camel’s life is often prized more highly than a human’s (financially speaking). So be careful on any quad bikes etc!

Sxxx

PS – hope you like the camels, we have wild ones wandering just outside the city limits!

Comment from claire
Time: March 31, 2008, 6:14 pm

Thanks Sarah, my arabic stretched as far as tellig him he had jamal jemeel (beautiful camels, I hope!°

Comment from Mum N.
Time: April 1, 2008, 5:43 pm

Great photos especially the shadow ones. They would make good posters – perhaps you could sell them to Athena and make lots of money !! xx

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