March 2, 2009

On the way out of town, we made a run by the weekly market as this is the time to see all of the people who come in, to sell and buy necessities, from the surrounding small villages.  We stocked up on eggs, veggies and even some local dates and dried figs, but when we looked for a food stall to buy something quick for lunch, we were turned off by the extreme lack of hygiene.  We are usually accepting of most restaurants and food stalls, but these stalls were extremely small, very busy (a good thing) but the "chefs" were doing everything - from cutting the raw meat, to filling the sandwiches with the cooked meat, to taking payment and making change, all without washing their hands nor even with evidence of any water nearby.  Like I said, this was just pushing our luck too far and we didn't want to take the risk of getting ill.


Out front of the market was the parking area for the "bush taxis" that take as many passengers as can be squeezed into the interior, plus as much merchandise that can be tied to their roofs, and then race from village to village on dirt or pavement.  The bush taxis take the place of buses as they run more frequently (whenever they are full) and they are willing to go just about anywhere.  We have seen them on tracks that we would consider suitable only for 4x4 vehicles!  These taxis were waiting for the end of market when the villagers would be ready to return home.

Leaving town we decided to take the road less traveled, this one heading straight out into the desert.  After about two miles the pavement ended and the piste began.  The drive passed through great terrain, it varied from absolute NOTHING, to a path cut through rock, along desert washes and up across sandy hills with mesas reminiscent of the American Southwest.   Even with our maps and GPS we managed to lose the track more than a couple of times, but luckily we were always able to find someone - usually a herder - to get directions and get us back on track.  After a long day driving, we managed to reach pavement and find a quiet bush camp in the lee of an Acacia tree.

March 3 - 4, 2009

Taking what amounted to the back way in, we made our way to the site of the tallest sand dunes in Morocco - Erg Chebbi.  Along the way we passed through countless small towns and villages, most of which had beautiful, yet ghostly ruins of ancient citadels or kasbahs watching over them.  One thing that we haven't figured out yet however, is how it is that the women of the villages all seem to be very busy - washing clothes, tending the fields, herding the animals and harvesting crops, where the men seem to be found mostly at the cafes drinking tea. 

At the end of the day we came into sight of the massive dune field at Erg Chebbi and found a small camping area right at the base of the biggest dune.  The wind was up and blowing sand everywhere, but the sight was so magnificent that we covered ourselves up and headed onto the dune to watch the sunset.

In the morning we rose with the sun and hiked back out into the sand taking dozens of photos.  As the sun climbed higher the dunes changed color and texture, with the shadows constantly changing the look and the feel of the dunes.  We attempted to climb to the top of the highest dune, some 150 meters high, but the slope was so steep that we kept sliding back. You know the saying "one step forward two steps back", that was definitely written by someone walking on sand dunes.   

March 5, 2009

This morning we headed south to the end of the end of the road where we hoped to follow another piste along to some old ruins and some more rock art sites.  We located the piste but as we followed it into the river bed we found it severely washed out due to the huge amount of rain from the winter storms.  So we backtracked out of the wash and then found a great spot surrounded by lots of wildflowers - also due to all of the rain, where we stopped for lunch.  Looking for someplace different to spend the night, we followed some GPS coordinates that we had received from some other overlanders to a small camp at the base of another dune field, this one less touristy than Erg Chebbi.   After making camp we climbed deep into the dunes.  When we looked back towards camp we noticed that the distant horizon seemed to be getting fuzzy.  As we watched the sky turned from a rich blue to a dull brown and we realized that we were watching a late afternoon sand/dust storm heading straight towards us.  We had no choice but to run as quickly as possible down from the top of the dunes to the protection of the Fuso, getting back just as the edge of the storm hit!  Our luck held once again, as the storm had blown itself out before getting to us so we only had to deal with high winds that rocked us back and forth, but not the wall of sand that could have fallen on us.


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