Merzouga – Sahara

My mom likes to tell people about how, when I was little and I went on Test Track at Disney World, I hung out the car as far as the seat belts would allow with my hands in the air. Well, years later, it appears my desire for adrenaline rushes hasn’t gone away…

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Me hanging out of the 4×4 window as the car sped across the desert plain

On Saturday night, we went racing across a flat and rocky desert plain, versus the sandy, dune section. It was absolutely incredible! About 6 students rode in each four-wheeler. Our driver, Hasan, was by far the best. As his music blared from the car’s speakers, he shifted into fourth gear, and we hit 90 mph.

As he masterfully bypassed the other drivers, executing some pretty impressive moves, (especially since it was a manual vehicle) we hung out the windows and let the dry air and sand blast us in the face. I can think of only one way to describe the feeling: pure freedom!

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Now back to the beginning of the trip:

We left on Friday from Meknes, riding in the bus for 9 hours. Once we arrived in Merzouga, we hiked 15 minutes to our camp in the desert. The camp offered tents with thin, but pretty comfortable, mattresses in a long row, like a desert version of a Native American long house. After a late dinner, I laid on the ground and enjoyed the stars. Luckily it was a clear night.

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Desert Campsite

The next day, we traveled to the great dunes of Erg Chebbi. But first, two other students and I groggily wandered out to the dunes at 6:45 to watch the sun rise. We waited…and waited…laying on the cool desert sand. Finally, the sun peaked up over the distant dunes, blinding us with its brightness, but also warming the chilly morning air.

Sunrise snapshot

Due to the direction of the wind, all the largest dunes end up in one section of the desert. To get to the dunes, we rode Dromedaries, which are one-humped animals classified in the camel family (technically camels have 2 humps).

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Once we got to the dunes, we hiked up one and then went sand boarding! It was definitely tiring walking up the dune, but the view from the top was amazing. The day we went to the dune turned out to be the last day of a 7-day charity race across the Sahara, so we got to cheer the contestants on as they headed for the finish line. A bunch of different nationalities were represented, from France, to Japan, to the U.S.A. A few guys from the marathon even had the energy to hike up the tallest dune and sand board with us!

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View from the bottom of the dune
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Prepping for sand boarding

After the dunes, we remounted our “camels” and went to Riad Nezha for an afternoon break and lunch. The best part was by far the pool. We were all sun-baked and tired, but the cool pool water and music playing from a poolside stereo revitalized us for the evening.

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From the Riad, we loaded into the 4x4s (as described above) and headed out as the sun began to set. After racing across the desert flatland, we went back to camp, enjoyed a tagine, and sat around a bonfire.

On Sunday morning, we all piled back into the bus (a bit reluctantly, since none of us had showered for a few days) and started for home. About an hour later, we stopped at a roadside store/workshop that sold marble with encapsulated fossils. The store had everything from small necklace pendants to sink counters.

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At last, nine hours later, we arrived back in Meknes… and we all made a beeline for the shower.

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