03 January 2016

Meandering in Morocco: The Sand Dunes of Erg Chigaga

Going to the desert was the highlight of this trip. Before visiting Morocco, I personally haven't explored deserts before, so this was definitely a first time. I was looking forward to it. We decided to do a 3-day/2-night excursion as a first taste of the desert. After all, it will be a solitary experience, and who knows, we might end up bored to death, wanting to go back to urban living.

Anyway, as I said before, we were picked up by our tour operator at 14:00 on the first day. Then we did a camel trek, which was pretty fun. After riding the camel, we reached the sand dunes of Ouladriss. These are impressive sand dunes, but are nothing compared to what we will see in the following days.

The pictures above were taken during sunset, after riding the camel for several hours. It was an interesting experience to be with sand all over you, but the beach is not there. It definitely perked up my interest in geology again (as an aside: if I could reverse time and go to university all over again, I probably would study geology this time).

The second day, we left the first camp, where we spent the night, and rode the 4x4 to go to the big sand dunes further west. Our destination was Erg Chigaga. We rode for several hours, and it also gave me an interesting perspective with respect to the Sahara. As you can see in my photos above, not every part of the Sahara is filled with sand dunes. Most of it are barren flat spaces that are rocky. This is called hamada, and most of the Sahara is actually like this. We drove through kilometers after kilometers of hamada, until we reached an oasis, where we had lunch. But before that, we came across a nomad who was letting his camels drink. Watching the camels drink was actually interesting, and we spent almost half an hour watching these amazing animals drink. They drink a lot!

Finally, we reached Erg Chigaga. This is one of the two largest sand dunes in Morocco, the other being Erg Chebbi near Merzouga. These sand dunes are high, reaching up to hundreds of meters above the ground. Climbing them takes some skill, and sometimes it is easier to do it barefoot than with sandals. The pictures I took above were taken mostly during sunset, as otherwise the sun would be very harsh indeed. It definitely reminded me of the book The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. Read it if you are interested, or better yet, watch the movie.

Overall, this was an amazing excursion. It wasn't cheap, but it was definitely worth it. Spending the night in the desert was definitely a memorable experience, as I have seen the Milky Way quite clear, spread across the night sky. This is perhaps the most remote place I have been to so far, as it definitely isn't an easy place to get to. Knowing that you're alone in the wide expanse makes you think of profound things, while you're grappling with yourself in solitude. It surely is a very interesting and recommendable experience.

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