Fes to Erg Chebbi Dunes
Jul 24, 2008
|July 24 2008
We were up at 6 am so that we could have breakfast at 6:30. Today is our long drive to the Erg Chebbi Dunes. Breakfast was even larger than the morning before. Our Moroccan chef who speaks French, makes wonderful food. We enjoyed homemade yogurt, crepes with honey, fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee, Moroccan tea, butter and jam, flat bread, and melon. We ate as much as we could, because he serves us family style which I think could feed 5 or 6 people. We paid our compliments and our tab, and then began our now short journey to the car. We rearranged the car a little and were able to fit all of our bags in. Our parking attendant was very helpful in directing us out of our spot and then off we went.
The day before after returning from our trip, we got directions from Hammed on how to get out of the city and on route to Erfoud (city north of Erg Chebbi dunes). We followed them without any problems and started following the signs to cities along the route. I think we became suspicious when we went through a town which I did not remember seeing on the map. Bob located it on the map and said it was on our route. The next clue that we might be off the beaten path was going through a very plush city with a royal palace and it was not on our route. An officer stopped us on the road: for those who do not know, you must slow down so that officers can see you on the road. We were politely waved to stop, and the officer began in French. I asked in French weather he spoke English. Nope, he closed his eyes and I could see him searching his brain for the words to ask his question. I pointed straight down the road and said Erfoud. He opened his eyes, and you could see he decided it was not going to be worth the effort, so he simply nodded yes, said oui and made a little continue on wave.
Having had confirmation that we were headed to Erfoud we continued on. A few minutes later as we were climbing out of the lush area and up the mountain, a helicopter began to follow us. After a couple of minutes it swept in very low behind us. I was thinking at some point it was going to buss right over head and set down on the road in front of us. Thirty seconds later the chopper pulled up away from the car, but still followed us for another couple of minutes. It pealed off as we made our first switchback up the mountain. Bob said it was a James Bond moment; we had a good slightly nervous laugh.
The landscape changed about every hour since we left the After our Lush mountain resort and palace, we began climbing into the High Atlas mountains. The vegetation got shorter and shorter, and the soil color changed to a much more dull sandy tan color. The crest of the mountains and the scenery as you drive across the ridge is the same. Bob called it desolate, I called it peaceful. The road was just barely two lanes, and the edges were beginning to fall apart. We would make it to 100 Kmh and then have to slow to 60 when an oncoming car approached. This seemed like an awefully small main road South.
Soon we reached a town, and pulled into the gas station, since we were on a quarter tank. The attendant said, in French obviously, no Sans Plomb (unleaded gas). This did not bode well, and Bob could not find the town on the highlighted route I made on the map. We stopped and asked a military guard, in muddled French on my part. He said the road would take us to Midelt in 140 Km, and that we would find Sans Plomb there. I thanked him in Arabic, isn’t this confusing, and hopped back on the road.
Bob was a nervous wreck and was constantly checking the map. Although he wasn’t saying anything, you could tell by all the fidgeting and clipped conversation that he was worried about the gas. The drive was on a very straight flat road, so we were able to move at a very quick pace without to much gas expended. Of course this also meant we were being jarred a bit. 100 Km later we ran into what seemed like a wild west town, but in Morocco. All the buildings were one or two stories and lined each side of the road. There was parking spaces in front of the buildings. The buildings consisted of cafes, mini markets, gas stations, and motels. We stopped at the first gas station and filled up. We purchased some water from one of the vendors, and we got a little scammed. We were used to paying 5 Dh per 1.5 liter bottle, and we ended up paying 20 Dh for 3 bottles. A buck more didn’t seem like a lot to quarrel about.
When we reach Midelt, we find our desired road at the first round-about. Now we were now on the highlighted route and could keep our 100 Km per hour pace (unless passing). The drive seemed to be the same scrub terrain, until we started climbing the middle atlas mountains. No we were driving in a grand canyon like environment. Canyons cut through the soft strata, creating undulating waves along the mountain’s side. We had to wait a long time to find a place to pull off, while switch backing up the mountain. Joseph took pictures from the back seat. It was really a spectacular sight. It was the most photographic sight we had seen yet. Until 2 hours later.
When were a couple of hours North of Erg Chebbi, coming out of the mountain valley, we began to see signs of the spring rains. Dry river beds through the valley. We have yet to see any standing water in this country. We drove over several small medium and large bridges, none of them over water. As we came around the mountain there was the lush oasis. Palm trees, grass, all springing up around the dry river beds. We came to a pull off while going up the mountain, and took some photographs. Bob considered the scene to be very biblical. We were able to set the camera on the car and get one of our first group photos in a while.
We ran across several of these scenic places as we came out of the Middle Atlas. At the end of the mountain range we came to that which we had not scene the entire drive, standing water. We had reached a lake, a very large and very brilliantly blue lake. Joseph snapped photos like mad from the back seat and we all admired the shimmering water. We then noticed that, nobody was present around the edges of this wonderful lake. We all thought this to be quite strange given the value of water in this country. The drive along the lake never presented a clue as to why no one was partaking in this liquid oasis.
We reached Erfoud, at 7.5 hours into the drive. We came to a dead end and had to choose right or left. As we were making our decision, the tapping at the window began. Our you headed to Marzouga, do you have a reservation, here take this card, blah, blah, blah. I got the one clue I needed which was a slight point to the left for his hotel, and I started rolling through my left turns to the calls of wait, wait. This was not something new, this was one of our first experiences in Morocco. Everyone wants to help you, get to where they want you to go. It seems that some people in Erfoud did not want you to know the way to Merzouga. When I came to signs that indicated direction, the Merzouga had always been altered in some way. Scratched out and sometimes an attempt at a new paint job. We eventually reached our destination on the way to Merzouga. The Erg Chebbi dunes.
As we were driving along the paved road we noticed signs telling you to turn left toward the dunes for certain establishments. We had two places in mind, the first was a three star place, because it was the same price as the no star place. We missed the turn off and had to turn around about 2 Km down the road. When we turned off the main road onto the tar road, the ride truelly began. The tar road is basically some tar coated gravel sprayed over packed down sand. The machine that obviously put the road down was on tracks, because the groves in the road were like rumble strips alond the edge of the freeway. Imagine driving along the berm for a little over a mile, with both tires on the rumple strips and dips and pot holes. Our rearview mirror actually popped off its bracker. Bob’s Pringles fell out of the door holder and spilled on the floor. Both Bob and Joseph were singing “AHHHHHHHHH” so they could hear their voices warble with the road.
We reached our destination with the entire car, mostly intacked. The manager spoke English this was a good sign. Bob started off by giving him te Frommer’s and letting him read the description and the price range. The manager showed us the room, and said that the price in the book is wrong because it did not list the AC rooms. He told us 300 Dh each a night, but he would honor the 250 Dh in the book. We said 250 Dh each, and mentioned that Joseph was only 12 and really not any additional work since he and I would be sharing the bed. He said that the price included dinner and breakfast. This process went on and on and on. And we were shown a suite with three beds, and AC, a terrace, and a living room. This was 350 a night each, but we could have it for 300 each. They also had a private camp with max 8 persons for overnight stays in the desert. Long story short, we took the suite and booked the stay in the desert. One bonus for us: it ended up the AC did not work so we saved 150 Dh on the room