While having an earlier than usual breakfast this morning the wind suddenly picked up. From the comfort of the dining room I watched the wind blow fiercely over the nearby sand dune and I thought of my sturdy little tent and knew that it would easily hold up. I never gave a thought to the sand. It was after breakfast when I headed back to my tent to take a nap that I discovered the chaos.
As I frantically shake sand off my luggage, sleeping bag and dirty clothes which was uncaringly tossed into a corner, I watch the sand seep through the mesh of my three-man tent. My tiny tent forces me to fight back the Sahara from a kneeling position and I can feel my back starting to ache from being hunched over. I only have one rag which is oil soaked from doing maintenance on my motorbike, and a wet towel from this mornings' shower, so I’m doing my fighting with my bare hands. It’s when my knees also start hurting from the hard-packed surface under the tent that I realize I was losing the short lived battle and might as well give it up.
It’s still early morning in Merzouga and definitely not nap-time yet, but I’m feeling tired thanks to last night’s frolicking with the French couple. As the only guests in the campsite, we were amusing ourselves by playing silly guessing games and indulging in cheap Moroccan red wine. One thing led to the next and we all ended up in the pool in the early morning hours. Fortunately the camp was deserted so nobody took offence when the three wet campers made a mad dash for their tents with their clothes clutched under their arms. My already short night was shortened even more because I had to get up early to say goodbye to my new best friends. They belong to that fraternity of insane people who rise early to cover inhuman distances in scorching heat on bicycles.
And so I find myself back in my little tent at this hour in the morning. It was also now unbearably hot in the tent, and together with the sand still sifting in, I knew it would be impossible to take that much needed nap. That’s when I realized that I’ve always wanted to experience a desert sandstorm. Here was my chance. The rose-pink dunes, as it’s described in my Lonely Planet, start right behind the campsite and getting to where one can see only sand and nothing else was a short walk away. I grabbed my camera and my sunglasses, decided against taking my baseball cap and headed for the dunes.
The moment I crossed over the crest of first dune, I wondered if this was such a smart idea. The sand was blowing off the dune so hard that it felt like my exposed legs and face were being sandblasted. Fortunately, three paces further down the leeward side of the dune the sandblasting stopped and I changed my thinking back to ‘hey, this is exactly what I wanted to see’. By the time I crossed over the crest of the second dune I had figured out that the sandblasting is only bad on the crests of the dunes. The wind was coming from behind me so the walking was fairly easy and I had gone up and down several dunes before I decided that I had reached a good spot to capture those desert storm images. Sand was being whipped up all around me, and every time I had to wait for the right moment before yanking the camera from under my shirt where I kept it for protection from the blowing sand, taking a quick photo and hastily shoving it back. The quality of the photo’s suffered but I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice my camera for a few blowing-sand photos.
It’s when I started walking back to the campsite that I cursed myself. The wind and the sand was now blowing directly into my face and even wearing my sunglasses I could hardly open my eyes. With my face all creased up and my eyes now only narrow slits, I struggled back over the dunes in the direction from where I had come from. It was at this point that I recalled my smart-ass comment to the guy who wanted to sell me a shash yesterday. I was having lunch when he approached me. First he enquired if I were going on a camel trek into the desert, and upon receiving confirmation he insisted that I buy a shash for protection against the blowing desert sand. I brushed him off with a “I’ll wear my helmet when I see the storm coming” and gave him a how-stupid-do-you-think-I-am smile. Foolish tourist! If he had appeared on the horizon now, he could probably triple his price and I would consider it a bargain. And so I struggled back to the campsite, hunched over and doing my best to protect my eyes and my camera from the blowing sand. When I finally reached the first buildings I discovered with surprise that I was at the wrong campsite. And I was no sure I followed the same path back.
After more squinting and driving my tired body forward, I finally made it back to my little tent, emptied a sand dune from each ear, grabbed my wet towel and headed for the pool where I washed at least one more dune from a few other crevasses on my body. Finally clean, dry and relaxing with a hot glass of mint tea in the lounge, I decided that I was ready for the scrubbing experience of a hamam and knew just the place to get it……the medina in Fes. But first that overnight camel ride into the dunes that I now knew so well, which I’ll be doing with my brand new shash that I’ll be buying first thing tomorrow morning.