The Sands and Ashes of Merzouga


Grab a tagine and a glass of mint tea and waste the whole afternoon.

Grab a tagine and a glass of mint tea and waste the whole afternoon.

We knew it was going to be a long day, but we also knew it was time to get out of Fes before the authorities caught onto us. So, as planned, we made an early get away with Abdellah heading for the desert dunes near the Algerian border. It was a clean break.

Now, those that know me also know that I’m NOT a good car person. Actually I’ve finally come to the conclusion that while I love “travel,” I hate “transportation.” But I must say that while our drive was long Abdellah peppered it with interesting stops and the destination was truly grand…Erg Chebi.

Barbary Apes.

Barbary Apes.

After leaving Fes ẃe climbed into the Middle Atlas Mountains which was a complete change of scenery from the medinas, souks, and alleys of the city. Here we found cooler air and completely different vegetation; lots of pines, hardwoods, and even pansies were in bloom. We stopped along the way at a refuge for the threatened Barbary ape. Abdellah was, as usual, thinking ahead by bringing a bag of fruit to feed them much to our delight—there were peals of laughter (pun intended).

After crossing the mountains we descended down into the beginnings of the Sahara and the landscape changed quickly and dramatically into what is called “reg,” or a stony desert with scrub type plants scattered about. It was here that we began to really encounter the Berber culture with their ksars and kasbahs. Up until this point I had always confused the meaning of Kasbah. I always thought it was the same as the medina, or old part of the city. And frankly, I’d never heard of a ksar before now.

Kasbah in Boulmane du Dades.

Kasbah in Boulmane du Dades.

The concept is really quite simple in that a Kasbah is a fortified home (very similar to the European gentry) of a rich family. The extended family along with their servants and serfs will all live in the Kasbah. A ksar (pronounce the ‘k’) is a collection of kasbahs with additional fortification. Most of the ksars and kasbahs are no longer occupied by the original families because of the constant maintenance they require. They are now typically lived in by the local population.

Typical Berber architecture, the ksar.

Typical Berber architecture, the ksar.

 

One of the highlights of the drive for me was when we stopped at an everyday, run of the mill ksar. We were promptly greet by the local children and Abdellah was totally ready with a bag of candy for gifts. We had friends for life and some of the smiles was worth the journey from Los Angeles alone.

 

 

The sheik of Mezouga and his harem.

The sheik of Mezouga and his harem.

Here’s where it gets interesting. From the ksar, we were just a short drive from our next adventure; a camel trek through the sand dunes (about 1 ½ hours on a camel!) and an overnight stay in the dunes. It was truly one of the travel memories that I will cherish always. Interestingly enough it just happened to be Wednesday. Hump Day back home!

The following morning the whole camp was up early to experience the sunrise over the Saharan dunes. It was here that I chose a beautiful and peaceful spot to leave some of Ray’s ashes behind. The list where I’ve left him is growing and growing.

Todra Gorge, part of the drive after the camel trek.

Todra Gorge, part of the drive after the camel trek.

Our guide, Abdellah, making new friends in the kasbah.

Our guide, Abdellah, making new friends in the ksar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our new kasbah friends

Our new kasbah friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the background is the kasbah's communal well.  Still in use today.

In the background is the kasbah’s communal well. Still in use today.

 

 

In the ksar.

In the ksar.

The heating tagines caught my eye will walking through this small town.

The heating tagines caught my eye will walking through this small town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbary Apes.

Barbary Apes.

 

 

Preparing for our trek across the Sahara

Preparing for our trek across the Sahara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our cameleer.

Our cameleer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way out of the desert.

On the way out of the desert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The welcome at our desert camp.

The welcome at our desert camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home for the night.

Home for the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not too shabby, eh?  At least for a "tent."

Not too shabby, eh? At least for a “tent.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My footprints leading to the little white spot (Ray's ashes in the Sahara).

My footprints leading to the little white spot (Ray’s ashes in the Sahara).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “The Sands and Ashes of Merzouga

  1. It’s finally Friday, in my garden where it’s still a comfortable 75 degrees in Pasadena, and yet I’m pouring over this entry wishing I was “there.” It’s so beautiful ! Merzouga has leaped ahead on my travel list.

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