We continued our journey to Dades Gorges where we stay the night in a Riad built into the side of a mountain. It is low season here so we were the only guests in the Riad and we enjoyed a lovely dinner and breakfast on the terrace.
The views from our Riad
The next morning we visited Dades Gorge. Dadès Gorges, is a gorge of the Dadès River and lies between the Atlas Mountains and Anti-Atlas mountain range.Berbers built many kasbahs in vicinity of gorges with defence purposes. These many kasbahs with combination of natural beauty contributes to high tourist attractivity in recent years.
From Dades Gorge we were to make our way to the erg chebbi Sahara desert in Merzouga. With Berber villages scattered along the way we passed through Tinjdad, Jorf and Erfoud where we started to feel the heat rising (to about 46 degrees) as we came to the beginning of of the Saharan oasis of Tafilalet.
Erg Chebbi is one of Morocco's two Saharan ergs – large seas of dunes formed by wind-blown sand. The dunes of Erg Chebbi reach a height of up to 150 meters and altogether spans an area of 50 kilometers from north to south and up to 5-10 kilometers from east to west.
On the roads you will often see police check points but until this point we had not been stopped. Then in the heat of the desert our luck ran out and the driver asked to get out of the car. There was my lot of Arabic spoken, a lot of walking around the car and pointing topped off with lots of head shaking. Mag and began to think we might not make it to our desert adventure - and a moroccan jail was not on the itinerary. Finally our driver got back in the vehicle and said they were trying to extort money from him but he would not give them anything, he just kept talking and wore them down (not hard to do in this heat).
Along the way we stopped at a fossil factory. The country of Morocco is rich with fossils such as ammonites, orthoceras, trilobites and dinosaur teeth. A portion of the Sahara Desert, which once was an ocean, is contained within Morocco and holds many remains of creatures that once inhabited the earth. Skilled artisans have taken great time and care to prepare and polish some of the fossils.
The young man who should us around the factory was very knowledgable and explained that when they find rocks or pieces of slate from the mountain that they believe have fossils they split open the rock or piece of slate. Depending on the size and their ability to preserve the fossil, they make everything from tables to soap dishes to beautiful works of art, then they begin the polishing phase until the piece is ready for sale. The young man we met had this craft passed down from his father - it is rather a new craft as they only discovered the fossils in the 1970's. There were some truly exquisite pieces for sale. We did make a few purchase and I am so glad we did, to date we have not seen anything like these pieces elsewhere in morocco.
We reached Merzouga about 3pm in the afternoon and where met by Mohammed at his desert hotel. Our biggest surprise was the swimming pool in the desert of all places but it was a welcomed relief from the heat. Mohammed gave us a room to rest and leave our baggage while on our overnight desert adventure.
View of Merzouga from hotel
Merzouga is a small village in southeastern Morocco, about 35 kilometres southeast of Rissani, about 55 kilometers from Erfoud, and about 50 kilometers from the Algerian border. The village is known for its proximity to Erg Chebbi, a Saharan erg, and it is for this reason a part of the itineraries of many tourists visiting Morocco. Merzouga has the largest natural underground body of water in Morocco.
Upon returning from the desert we were greeted at the hotel with a hearty breakfast and able to get showered and cleaned up before embarking on our 8 hour journey back to marrakech. Back through Berber villages , Tinjdad, tenghir todra gorges, Quarzazate where we stopped for lunch and Boumalene-du-Dades.
Scenery on the journey back to marrakech
We have seen incredible scenery and this has been an experience of a lifetime - will never forget. One disappointing thing about morocco is the amount of garbage even in the desert. It may be some of these areas have been used as landfills which is very unfortunate but people think nothing of throwing garbage and bottles out their car windows. Such a shame as this is a beautiful country.