Erg Chebbi: Sunset and Sunrise at the Desert

We arrive in Merzouga at just past 5 in the afternoon, more than enough time to trek by camel to the campsite to view the sunset (scheduled at around 6:30 pm). Merzouga is the nearest village to Erg Chebbi, the most accessible of Morocco’s ergs (an erg being a large sea of dunes formed by wind-blown sand)

I and my two German companions — Holga, and Michelle — are quickly led to Mohammad, our camel driver. His face wrapped in blue cloth, with only his eyes revealed to us, Mohammad in turn exudes a warmly welcoming vibe and leads us to our camels. We climb on the back of our gentle desert beasts and soon we’re slowly traversing the towering sand dunes. Despite the number of camel trekkers this afternoon, the whole place still feels quiet and bleakly empty due the vastness of the sand dunes. The late afternoon sun lends a golden glow to the sand, providing a strikingly beautiful contrast to the deep blue sky.

We reach the site about half an hour later. We climb down our camels, and as our camels sit together at the dune he bottom of the dune where we’re going to watch the sunset, we climb the dune, each step sinking into the sand, setting us back a step backward for every two steps forward. We do reach the top in just a few minutes in what though feels like much longer. Mohammad lays down some blankets where we will sit, and sit we do as we gaze at the setting sun and ponder on things.

Once the sun has set, we climb on our camels again and trek to the campsite. It’s a bit of a luxurious affair, with our tent featuring comfortable and elegant beds, complete with bathrooms with hot shower. The shower would’ve been a welcome development, except it’s really cold (2-degree-Celsius cold), and I wouldn’t even dare remove my jacket, let alone my shirt to get myself wet.

After an hour of rest, we’re called to the dining tent, where communal dishes of soup, chicken tajine, and some vegetables are served. Holga, Michelle, and I are sat in a table with travelers from Switzerland. The conversations between them, which range from the usual “where have you been/where are you going” questions to the conflict in the Ukraine, regularly shift to German.

Following the dinner is a performance of traditional Amazigh (Berber) songs. The lyrics are indecipherable to the foreign ear, but I don’t think that’s the point. The excitement in the performers’ voices lead one of the camel drivers to dance, and soon, one of our Swiss trek-mates break into a dance as well. The performance stretches deeper into the night, and once I feel my eyes become heavy, I excuse myself and go to the tent to retire for the day.

The next day begins quite early for me. Reeling from an erratic sleep pattern, I wake up at 3:30 am, unable to sleep again. So I just watch a couple of movies in my laptop. At 7:30 am, we’re called again to the dining tent for breakfast. I eat a couple of Moroccan bread and an omelette before heading outside to watch the sunrise.

As the sun gradually brightens the surroundings, I feel a renewed sense of hope. The past year, especially the last couple of months, has been challenging. But every waking day is an opportunity to start anew. This is a new year, and this is a new day.

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