Merzouga Dunes

 

The Kasbah Panorama sits on the edge of Merzouga with a spectacular view of the Erg Chebbi sand dunes undulating into the distance across the setting sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived at night, and had no idea of the view awaiting us in the morning, and we were surprised to discover that in the car park our neighbours are revealed as three Dromedaries or Arabian camels. They stare at us through thick eyelashes, curiously chewing away at the hay laid out in their enclosure, a mischievous glint in their eye.

 

 

 

 

If you approach slowly, they appear friendly enough, but not entirely - one of them waits for you to be within reach for a bite and you have to be quick to avoid it! Camels, it seems, do invariably have the hump for most of the day – and who can blame them? They are waiting for their heavy load of tourists and their daily treks across the hot dunes.

 

 

 

On closer inspection, the three camels are all carefully tied by the leg to posts; each kept apart by just inches, perpetually out of biting distance from each other’s ornery teeth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“They do not like each other”, their keeper tells me in hesitant French as he brings another load of fresh hay, “She likes to bite him”. He points at the most attractive of the camels, who is staring at us and chewing; the hay disappearing down her throat and her big eyes blinking – she almost seems to be grinning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the entrance to the Kasbah, several elderly men sit on the sand playing an ancient game called ‘Alkarhat’, similar to noughts and crosses. They do not look up as I take my bucket to the water tap and fill it up.

 

Dale is warming up his KTM 530 for its first ride through the dunes – and offers to take me on the back down to the edge of the sand – it would be my first ride on a motorbike ever, and I was a little nervous! I needn’t have worried though; Dale is very experienced; he worked as an outrider in Afghanistan whilst in the SAS and spent years enjoying Motor X at the weekends when living in New Zealand.

 

We ride down the hill, across the stony tracks

towards the start of the dunes. It is approaching dusk and the warmth of the sun has baked the soft sand to a deep shade of gold that melts underfoot.
There are no pegs for my feet on the KTM, so I have wrapped my legs around his and cling on tightly with my arms – as we speed up, the tension eases and I enjoy the ride. Dale and the bike make easy work of this terrain, skimming expertly over the rocks with ease. I can feel the wind in my hair and begin to understand why people have such a love of riding on motorbikes - you feel instantly free.

 

We can’t continue further into the dunes with two people on the bike, it would be too heavy, and so I get off and watch as Dale disappears into a valley of sand before emerging a few seconds later at the top of one of the biggest dunes, waving back at me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the desert, your sense of touch is heightened – there is not much to hear, or smell, and the view remains unchanged and this means you are more aware sensually of what surrounds you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My feet sink deep into the yielding sand, which has been carved so elegantly by the wind, spines and sweeping walls, each dune seems to breathe gently, moving slowly like an enormous whale on land, my hand pats them gently as if they are the hide of a gentle beast. I am afloat in a sea of dunes, all connected in their swaying, back and forth.

 

 

 

 

I watch Dale in the distance, riding up and down over the peaks on the bike – loving every minute of it, effortlessly climbing to the highest point in seconds and then back down again, leaving tracks like paintbrush strokes over the flawless landscape.
He pauses for a few minutes on top of the highest dune – I wonder what it must look like from up there; I discover the answer the next morning.

 

 

We climbed the dune from the other side on foot to watch the sunrise, it is a difficult climb, the sand is not firm and the spine seems increasingly to stretch further above us the higher we go. Whilst I am struggling, Dale encourages me onwards; I am determined to follow and make it to the top in time to see the sun. I know that Dale could climb twice as fast and don't want to hold him back, he tells me to walk in his prints behind as it will be easier, I focus on the ground, on one step at a time and Dale's feet and put every ounce of effort into the last few steps. We finally make it to the top, just in time as the sun appears in the east and the view is breathtaking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a strange feeling, like standing on the crest of a motionless wave in an ocean of stillness; your feet feel as if they are on land, and yet fluid – as if in water, and the golden silence reigns over everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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