After a month
I look out over the pool and see the glare of the sun on the clear water, the surrounding olive trees provide a boon of shade and the birds fly in and out chirping their own songs. It seems very idyllic and actually it is, but still …
We have now been in the same place in Morocco for a month, yet slightly different than we had imagined. The place where we stay is called Hassi Labied and is located about 5 km from Merzouga, the destination of many Morocco-tourists who want to get acquainted with the “real” desert. Merzouga is located at the foot of Erg Chebbi, a dune complex in the Moroccan desert.
During this time we discover unexpected spots and see animals that we did not expect in the desert.
We have been here before, early February this year we came driving through the desert from the south and found this beautiful oasis with extensive amenities at the foot of Erg Chebbi. With our Swiss travel companions Rita and Niggi we enjoyed the luxury and drove through the dunes (see The Moroccan Sahara 2). Back then our camping site was a coming and going of camel caravans and crossing quads, now it is pleasantly quiet in the dunes.
In recent weeks, we have shared the luxury of this beautiful campsite with a limited number of fellow campers, a maximum of 15 vehicles, mostly campers with 1 or 2 residents each. In the beginning, everyone carefully, or should I say anxiously, keep their distance, the space of the campsite lends itself to this. A chat was possible but distant from each other and some even avoided contact entirely.
Now, after a month, we know all the guests by face and mostly by name and we notice that confidence is increasing. Nobody is ill and no cases of illness are reported in the area, the staff of the hotel / camping site tells us.
The camping and hotel staff take good care of their guests. The kitchen is open and we can buy fresh bread daily and hot meals are prepared to order.
The toilet and shower facilities are kept clean and the pool is well maintained. In addition, there is usually good WiFi available.
On Sunday and Thursday mornings, a greengrocer with his van arrives at the campsite and we can buy fresh fruit and vegetables. The choice is limited, but the quality is always excellent.
Hassi Labied and Merzouga
The campsite is located at the bottom of the dunes of Erg Chebbi and on the edge of the village of Hassi Labied.
In this village there are many tourist facilities they are now all closed, hotels, restaurants, rental of quads, 4×4 tours, camel trekking etc. Fortunately, the shops are open, around the main square there are some, a greengrocer and several other food shops. We do most of our daily shopping in these shops, the walk there gives us a short break.
We can borrow the bicycles from Melissa and Chris, New Zealand guests at the campsite with whom we have befriended from a distance, and we like to use the bikes to cycle to Merzouga once a week.
The tourist facilities are also closed here, normally it is quite hectic with quads and 4x4s, but now it is quiet on the street. Also here is a central square where most of the shops are located, including a butcher and a chicken farmer and there is a post bank with an ATM. Along the way to Hassi Labied we have discovered a kind of supermarket, not as extensive as the Marjane or the Carrefour, but this Stop Shop still offers a wide range with which we can supplement the normal groceries. They even have peanut butter and scoops of Gouda, a wonderful discovery …
Dunes and Palmerie
The great attraction of the Merzouga area is of course the dunes. Everyone identifies the desert with these red sand hills with camel caravans and 4×4 tracks.
In this period we can enjoy the pure beauty of the dunes as they are naturally, quiet, dry and warm. We take walks in the sand and play as children on the steep slopes that the wind has formed. The high dune in our area lures but turns out to be too far away in the afternoon, mainly because the heat between the dunes is even more intense. We therefore decide to resume the challenge early in the morning. It is beautiful to walk and climb in the warm sand and finally enjoy the view over the endless sand massif.
The palmerie begins below the dunes, where vegetables are grown by the locals in the shadow of the date palms, now in full bloom. The water is supplied via an ingenious irrigation system from the underground oued (river) in the dunes.
The Lac Dayet Srij is located southeast of Hassi Labied. Do not imagine too much if you come here in summer, because then there is certainly no water. We were here with Rita and Niggi before and have spent hours trying to find the remnant of the lake in February.
Now, in April, it has rained in the Atlas and a lot of water has been brought in by the Oued Ziz, the river that flows south into the desert from the Atlas through the palmeries of Errachidia and Aoufous.
So we were lucky enough to find a full lake during one of our walks. We found beautiful clear water and a large group of flamingos where we found a large dry plain with Rita and Niggi earlier in February. Later we went back to the lake with Melissa and Chris and we were lucky again to see a large group of flamingos next to the other water birds such as geese and herons.
Where camels used to be used as beasts of burden, they are now almost entirely used as a tourist attraction. In normal times you can see the camel caravans driving up and down the dunes of Erg Chebbi, loaded with tourists and the stuff they need to spend the night in the desert.
Now the camels are also unemployed, they are lying or chilling a bit near the tourist residences or walking with or without their guide into the desert to the lake.
Dozens of birds live by the hotel’s swimming pool and around our camping site. Many pigeons, different from the usual species, but also other birds, sparrows, blackbirds, swallows and tits and now and then an exotic like the bee-eater.
In the evening at sunset, the bats go on an insect hunt around our car.
If you stay somewhere longer, the smaller things will also stand out. It is striking how much grows and flourishes in the desert and at our campsite where irrigation is carried out regularly.