Goodbye to the desert dunes of Erg Chebbi
On Thursday 11 June we leave Hassi Labied, the small village at the bottom of the dunes of Erg Chebbi where we stayed for almost 3 months. Hassi Labied, together with the more famous Merzouga, houses and entertains thousands of tourists in and around the desert dunes during the high season. It has its own palmerie where inhabitants grow their own crops.
The mainly European tourists come to Erg Chebbi to spend a night in the desert or to trek through the dunes in a camel caravan or a quad or 4×4. For the Moroccan tourist, Erg Chebbi is best known for its hot sand baths that people take in summer as a remedy for ailments such as rheumatism or arthritis.
During our stay it was quiet in the dunes of Erg Chebbi, during the first weeks sometimes a camel walked by or a tourist-seeking guide with his quad went into the dunes. Later the camels left for more fertile regions or places where there is more space to graze or drink. The quads and 4×4 were compulsory inside, no longer allowed under the strict lockdown that was announced for Morocco. All tourist facilities are closed, hotels, restaurants, rental companies, garages etc. only the food shops are still open for daily shopping.
It is very quiet in Hassi Labied and Merzouga, no tourists, no guides, no 4x4s and no camels. But the people remain friendly and frequently a-salam-aleikum – aleikum salam, la-bas – bikhayr?, marhaba Maroc (peace be with you – peace be with you too, how are you – well and you ?, welcome to Morocco), we are still invited to tea, but we decline that invitation in view of the Covid crisis.
We stay at camping Desert hotel Haven la Chance for almost 3 months. 3 months of sometimes uncertainty about how the crisis is developing here and what Covid-19 does to our loved ones. But also 3 months in which we make new friends, our creativity is tested and we feel more and more at home.
The confinement is extended again and again until it finally becomes clear at the beginning of June that the crisis is also under control in Morocco. On my birthday, June 9, the first messages come that a big relaxation is coming, we can travel again soon. Later it turns out that we can travel in the region again on June 12.
We celebrate my birthday with the remaining camping guests of Haven la Chance, very cozy.
Around Erg Chebbi
We have agreed to do another round of Erg Chebbi with Melissa and Chris, our new New Zealand friends, and now that the measures are being relaxed, we agree to go on June 10.
It is wonderful to be able to move freely again, except for our weekly bike ride to the supermarket in Merzouga and the walk to the local shop in Hassi Labied, we hadn’t been able to move in the past few weeks.
It is still very quiet in and around the dunes and the people we meet are somewhat surprised but also relieved to see us, this also means that the tourists will come back.
We have the desert and dunes all to ourselves, only once we are overtaken by a 4×4, Hamoe, the driver of the car, invites us to drink tea in his desert camp. The tent in which we take place has natural air conditioning, water is sprinkled over the walls of reed and the wind does the rest, really cooling.
It is so liberating to be able to drive freely again, the sand and rock paths are easy to ride and here and there I take a little dune. Until…. unfortunately the sand wins from the wheels of Milady Landy. We have to dig to get the car out and also bury the spare wheel as an anchor for the winch, all in vain, the sand continues to win. Finally a man comes along on a moped and helps us to dig and a little later a 4×4 is willing to give a tow. Then the sand gives up and we can continue driving.
We also take a look at the lake where we have spotted flamingos before, the lake is still there, with camels and sheep and a lot of water birds, but this time no flamingos.
In the evening I can take care of the blisters on my hands, I’m not used to digging … and we have diner with the four of us. We can look back on a wonderful day off.
The Atlas Mountains in summer
From Hassi Labied we follow the Ziz Valley towards the Atlas Mountains. First we drive over the plateau in an alternation of sand and stones. The road is paved and of good quality (for Moroccan standards).
The Ziz Valley is still a dry river at first, but the further upstream we drive towards the Atlas, the more palms and farmland we see around the river. Upstream, the Ziz Valley is an almost continuous beautifully green palm oasis. We enjoy the views from the higher road and take a shortcut through the small villages in the valley.
Camping Hakkou is located in the middle of the palm oasis near Aoufous. Owner Ahmad founded the campsite on family grounds years ago and is a perfect host for his camping guests. Tea on arrival, couscous for the guests on Friday and always a generous smile and a pleasant chat (in French). It is already a lot cooler here than at Erg Chebbi and we enjoy the warm hospitality.
Later we move on to Errachidia where we can finally do some shopping in a real supermarket. The Marjane supermarket has everything we need and more (only no alcohol that competitor Carrefour – not in Errachidia – does sell in a separate department of the stores).
Many French motorhomes appear to be staying at Jurasique campsite while waiting for the ferries to Europe. We catch our breath here for a few days, good temperatures and excellent facilities.
Together with Melissa and Chris we celebrate Melissa’s 50th birthday, with a Sarah of course.
Then we continue into the High Atlas, from Er Rich we take the road to Imilchil, according to the Michelin map not a very nice road (no green indication), for us this road is beautiful. Beautiful mountains, beautiful valleys and all kinds of fruit trees and flowering oleanders and of course date palms. There is plenty of agriculture in the valleys, currently everyone is busy with the wheat harvest, mowing with a scythe, transport with donkeys and threshing on the floor near the houses. A lot of activity.
We stay overnight at the Tislite lake, above 2,000 meters, so nice and cool. Young people also find it a lovely lake and continue to make music well into the night. We therefore decide to continue the next day through the Atlas, towards Beni Melal. On this side of the mountains, the sea side, the valleys are even greener, the oleanders even more flowery and the fields even more fertile. We really enjoy this ride, a beautiful change after 3 months in the desert.