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2/22/09 Merzouga, aka Return of the Camels

Mmmm... Merzouga. (Pronunciation guide: Mer as in mermaid, zou as in zoo, and ga as in gumdrop.)

I'm told that it's the only true erg in Morocco. When I told some Berberville friends about my trip, their first response was usually, "Was it warm there?", but one guy surprised me by switching from Tam to French and sighing, "Sable d'or." Golden sand. Merzouga is justly famous for it; when you imagine the Sahara, you're probably imagining something like Merzouga.

Golden sand dunes reaching into a crystalline blue sky...until sunset, when rose-gold dunes kiss a flaming sky.

In my three-day, two-night trip there, my friends and I put in a lot of quality time on those dunes. There was the barefoot running towards the oasis, the hours throwing around a football (carried back from America after a friend's Christmas trip home), the camel ride under slanting sunlight, the bonfire under a velvet sky covered with diamond stars...

There's also a lake. The hotels are perched at one edge of the erg (and it really does have sharply defined edges, which surprised me), and if you walk 3-5 miles directly away from the erg, across a field of shimmering black lava-rock, you'll come to a huge body of water. Reports differ as to whether it's actually a lake, a manmade lake resulting from a dam, or just a really wide spot in a river. Regardless, it was a bit surreal to have a huge, sparkling pool in front of us and massive mountains of golden sugar-sand behind us. We'd been told that flamingos frequent the lake/river/whatever, but apparently we frightened them off. All we found were footprints. Thousands of footprints.

But I promised you details of the camel trip.

So here they are. :)

We were scheduled to leave at 4...but this was vacation, in an easy-going city, in an easy-going country, so the camels didn't actually show up until twenty or thirty minutes later. Two were placid and docile, as I always camels to be...but the third was having a fit. He howled, honked, roared, and generally made a big-mouthed nuisance of himself. I had approached another one of the camels, and was petting its nose...which apparently conveyed to the cameldrivers that I was the camel expert.


So they put me on the crazy one.

He lurched to his feet with even more awkwardness than I remembered from two years ago. I really thought I was going to be thrown off. But in moments, I was up, looking at the world from at least 9 feet in the air. Atop Cranky Camel.

Cranky Camel was the first to get his name. The second was Mr. Piggy, named for his habit of grabbing a mouthful of whatever vegetation we walked past. Ergs are virtually vegetation-free, of course, which is good, or else we'd never have made it out into the heart of the massive dunefield. The third camel to be named was dubbed in honor of Sir Lancelot, famed knight of the Round Table: Sir Farts-a-Lot. I regret to say, he truly deserved his name.

And I was riding behind him.

As our massive beasts strode out across the golden sand, I kept snapping pictures. I especially wanted one with our shadows stretched out across the dunes, so I took a dozen or two shadow-shots in hopes of landing a good one. It worked. :)
We rode for half an hour or so, then stopped to watch the sun set from atop a dune, then headed back to the hotel. It was a quiet way to spend a few hours...and created some genuinely beautiful memories. :)

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