0304. Morocco's Famous Sandsea (Mor 137--new)

Merzouga Travel Blog

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After crossing the Sahara four times, I'm not a huge fan of sand dunes.  For me, a sand dune is something that blocks the road when you're trying to get somewhere, not something you travel across the country to see.  But, after being asked 20 times "have you been to Merzouga?  You have to see Merzouga!" by folks in Casablanca, I figure I'd better make the sand pilgrimage.

I reach Rissani with no problem. But in this dirty, scruffy town, there transportation to Merzouga seems to elude me.  I get sent from one end of a long stretch of miscellaneous transport vehicles to another and back again, but no one seems to be going to Merzouga.

  Oh, sure, there are plenty of taxis that'll take me there personally, but there's no way I'm taking that route.  So I just sit on the dusty curb and chill for a while... If it weren't for all the questions I'm gonna get when I get home, I'd probably just skip it. 

Finally a guy comes by and asks "Are you going to Merzouga?" and leads me over to a scrappy van...

So it looks like I'll make it to Merzouga after all...

We head out into the desert following a long train of Europeans in SUVs... and soon see the peaks of the highest dunes in the distance. 

The van veers off at the edge of town to drop some people off, so I go ahead and hop off and scurry off towards the dunes to hopefully take some pictures right at sunset.  Hey, I'm here, so I might as well do the Merzouga thing.

..

A cloud covers the sun right at sunset, so don't get any spectacular photos--maybe I'll try sunrise instead...

Not very impressed at first.  There are so many ATV and dirtbike tracks that it looks like some sort of sand theme park rather than a place of utter solitude and desolation.  Not a whole lot of tourists around.  I guess they just spread out all over the region...

As I head back into town, I debate whether or not I should stay in a hotel, or just sleep out on the dunes.  It would be sort of an adventure to spend the night on a dune--but I figure I'll check to see if there's some real cheap hotel first.

Not a whole lot of substance to the town--or rather village--just a handful of shops and one cybercafe.  Fancier hotels and bungalows are scattered all over the countryside--very few actually in town.

  There's a small wedding procession going through town, and that's about it...

I do find a hotel that I can negotiate down to a cheap price, so I decide to stay in town. 

Nothing to eat in town really, so I settle for fried eggs and a greasy doughnut...

Next morning, I figure I just have to do it--I have to get up before dawn and watch the sunrise over the dunes.  It just wouldn't be right to leave Merzouga without following this tradition. 

I set my alarm for 5:30--but then I hear the call to prayer at 4:30 so I go ahead and head out...

I just head out hiking up and down over the dunes using a distant mountain as a reference point.  At the first light of dawn, I figure I should climb a nearby high dune for my video clip so I do.

  I try climbing the steep side--which is pretty difficult...it takes about 10 steps to advance 1 step! but I'm determined and I finally make it to the top. 

Suprisingly, there's no one else out there.  So I guess I could say that there is a feeling of solitude.  However, from that vantage point it becomes obvious how small this sand sea actually is.  I guess I had the idea that the sand dunes just went on forever and ever--in reality they just go on for a couple of kilometers, then it goes back to flat, ugly desert again...

But it is a memorable experience nonetheless... There are no footprints on my particular dune so I take some nice pictures and videoclips... And running down the steep side of a dune is pretty fun...

I now I can tell everyone “I’ve been to Merzouga”.

 

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Merzouga
photo by: vvicy1