Early on Sunday morning (today is Tuesday) I found myself sitting opposite Mohammad in a small Location de Voiture (car hire) office in Er Rachidia, southeastern Morocco. Finding such a place was a chore but, & as it turned out, that was the easy part. I wanted to hire a car & Mohammad wanted me to hire a car so it was never not going to happen; we just had to clarify the details first. Mohammad didn’t have a word of English & it was obvious from the outset that my rudimentary French was always going to fall well short when tasked with ironing out the intricacies of a Moroccan car rental agreement. At one stage I resorted to mimicking a driving motion (rocking hands at the 10-2 position etc.) while motioning a crash and using the word ‘accident’, a word Mohammad understood all too well (it’s the same in French). He was looking at me rather worryingly when I attempted to ask,
“Accident. OK. No problem, right?”
Mohammed glared at me & leaned forward putting his elbows on this desk before quietly replying,
“Accident. Big problem.”
Of course Mohammad was right, an accident would be a big problem. What I was trying to discern was whether insurance was included in the hire rate (yes I know, it was a piss-poor effort). We eventually ironed out that and other details. Insurance was included in the price which, at 1,200 dirhams (€110) for 3 days, was more than I expected to pay but was still happy to do so. Shortly thereafter I was starting out on the 120 kilometre journey south from Er Rachidia () to the Erg Chebbi sands of the Moroccan Sahara with an assurance to Mohammad that I’d have the car back in one piece in three days’ time.
— davidMbyrne.com (@ByrneDavidM) May 18, 2014
Palmeries & The Southern Oases
This region of Morocco, the pre-Sahara, is not sand for the most part – more a wasteland of rock and scrub, which the Berbers call hammada. Wasteland it may be but it is still a powerfully impressive landscape. About one hour out of Er Rachidia I got my first glimpse of one of the region’s lush belts of date-palm oases, long ribbons of deep-green palmeries resting in vast southern river valleys and seemingly stretching out towards the Sahara itself.
– The Rough Guide to Morocco
– The Rough Guide to Morocco
Continuing south on the R13 and rolling through crumbling mud-brick villages and past valley oases, I eventually arrived at the dunes I’d initially set out to visit. Unfortunately the conditions weren’t great.
Erg Chebbi || The Moroccan Sahara
Erg Chebbi (‘erg’ meaning sand dune), not too far from the (closed since 1994) border with Algeria, are Morocco’s most impressive dunes & one of the country’s biggest draws. They are small – only some 30 kilometres north to south and 7 kilometres wide at their widest point – and although not as imposing or as expansive as dunes found elsewhere in North Africa east of here, they still give an impressive taste of the Sahara’s grandeur. Hotels/resorts line the edge of the dunes, some of them a bumpy 15 kilometre detour off the main R13 via an unpaved desert road, no problem for a Dacia Logan. Various levels of comfort are on offer, from simple canvas tents, that see you sleeping beneath the twinkling Saharan stars, to luxurious Berber pavilions complete with soft beds, rugged floors and handcrafted furniture. All offer both easy access to & super views of the sand, the region’s star attraction.
Desert Day 2
I rose early, up for sunrise. Conditions had much improved. The moon was lingering, slowly giving way to the rising sun. The red desert sands were fetching.
Reflections in the desert. Well I never.
Down South || Merzouga
After one night up north I hopped back in my Dacia Logan & headed further south to my present location by the dunes just outside the village of Merzouga. It didn’t take long to get here. After all, the dunes only stretch some 30 kilometres north to south.
Although geographically close, the sands down south were very different to what I experienced up north – the southern Erg Chebbi sands are more like the golden sand one might associate with true desert. Shortly after finding a base for the next few nights, a gorgeous room again situated right on the edge of the dunes, I was out among all that golden goodness, not to mention up to my old tricks with my sunglasses.
I sat up high above the surrounding landscape as the last light of the day slowly disappeared. The shifting shadows on the warm desert landscape below me was a sight to behold.
Desert Day 3
Today, day 3 in the desert, started out nice enough but then things took a turn for the worse.
Delayed Desert Departure
It’s almost 8 p.m. on day 3 among the Erg Chebbi sands. There’s not a lot happening right now. The sandstorm is still raging outside. There’s sand everywhere; the pool outside my Hotel Haven la Chance/Auberge La Chance room as seen better days. I didn’t get to gallivant among the dunes this evening. I’m not too happy about that. I had initially planned on leaving tomorrow but I’ll be sticking around for an extra day in the hopes that the conditions improve. Best get someone here to call Mohammad to square that with him; he’ll be expecting the Dacia back.
Desert Day 4
The sandstorm blew through. The clear skies of day 4 were a welcome sight to wake to. I had breakfast by the pool, did a bit of work and generally took it easy. I didn’t take my camera out much, deciding to give it a rest after subjecting it to the sandstorm of the previous day. I did take it out to get a quick capture of my room, once the maid had been & gone of course.
I got to amble among the dunes this evening. Again I sat on high lording over all around me, watching the shifting shadows creep across the dune contours, and eyeing far-off camel trains. I didn’t bring my camera. It was peaceful for the most past, that was until my iPod piped up to signal an internet connection, a Wi-Fi signal somehow reaching me far out among the vast dunes of southern Erg Chebbi.
Desert Day 5
I finally let the desert today and I got the Dacia back to Mohammad in Er Rachidia, although only after completing a loop of the Circuit Touristique outside Rissani en route. But before I left Merzouga I had to say goodbye to this guy, number 2375.
– Reproduced from a panel ‘The Camel’ on display in the Dubai Museum, Dubai, UAE.
Damn Desert Dust
I enjoyed my time at the desert, enjoyed it immensely. But I’ll be the first to admit that sand, because it has a tendency to get everywhere, gets testing after a while. Of course the winds that whipped it up over the last few days didn’t help & I’m hoping the few buttons on my mirrorless camera that are having subtle difficulties depressing fully right now will free up over time.
So yes, Mohammad eventually got his car back in one piece, & compared to when I received he also got it back with more dust on the dash, more petrol in the tank, & 398 more kilometres on the clock.