Saturday 18 November

Sunrise in the dunes

We find ourselves walking, sliding, and scrambling over the dunes in near darkness on our way to a particularly large dune about half a mile from the auberge, which Andy has recommended as a perfect spot from which to watch the sunrise. Already there is the translucent glow of dawn on the horizon. Andy was not joking when he mentioned that the last part of the climb up the big dune is ‘bloody hard’. The last of us scrambles breathlessly onto the ridge just in time to see a red-orange orb slowly break from the side of a distant dune. Orange highlights appear all around us and suddenly fine ripples on the sand come into focus. We sit all in a line on the ridge for some time, catching our breath and watching the landscape all around us gradually take on its daytime form and colour.

Carpet shop

Back at the auberge, we have breakfast and spend a lazy morning in the sun. I make a start on the postcards. A bit later we walk across to the local carpet shop. We are treated to an explanation of the different types of carpets and the meanings of the symbols woven into them. The five pillars of Islam feature strongly, as does the Hand of Fatima. Each carpet is supposed to tell in symbols a story of the woman who made it. They bring in a complimentary lunch of Berber pizza, which has the ‘topping’ inside the bread, and mint tea. Some in the group are keen to take home a carpet, but prices are high and the shopkeepers are expert hagglers. The bargaining starts slowly, but after an hour or so, several deals have been struck.

There is however no such thing as a free lunch, and we are all handsomely fleeced as we inexplicably pay 100 Dh apiece for traditional headscarves in preparation for our camel trip later in the day.

The camels turn out to be less scary than I expected — mine is quite docile and walks with a gentle swaying motion rather than the sharp up-down of a horse. (I’ve never enjoyed horse-riding.) John is less fortunate. His camel is clearly not used to being ridden and does its best to dislodge him by bucking and suddenly lying down, until John decides that walking might be a more congenial option.

Camel trek

We trek for one hour along the hammada (the dune line) before turning into the sand-dunes themselves for the final hour to the camp. It feels like a true Sahara adventure, although it must be said that two hours is probably enough of an adventure where camels are involved. (Actually, we learn that these one-hump creatures should more correctly be called dromedaries.) I manage to shift position to sit side-saddle, which turns out to be much easier than straddling the full width of the camel’s back.

As we approach the camp, the shadows become longer and the colours and relief of the ripples on the sand are beginning to become more sharply defined. The final translucent-white glow on the horizon is fading fast as we arrive. There is a large square tent with an open front to sleep in, or we can simply lie out on a dune. A simple cooked dinner is served, and then we join our Berber guides around a fire of dried palm leaves as they entertain us with drumming and singing. They persuade us to join in, and we end up in a dance that looks suspiciously like the Hokey Cokey, and then later something like the Conga!

Finally, we retire to the dunes, equipped with sleeping bags and as many layers of clothes as we can wear to sleep out under the stars. I watch Orion rising in the east. Later when I awake at about 4 am, it is much colder. I struggle to put my fleece back on without getting out of my sleeping bag. The Plough is now up, and the moon is starting to appear on the horizon.