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The Sandiest Place on Earth

Erg Chigaga Desert Luxury Camp


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The big day!

We stopped for a last view of the tajine mountain and palmeries on the way out of Agdz:

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Ali did a final vehicle check for the desert:

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A necessary stop in Zagora to buy a turban (and some locally made jewelry). The turban is for sun protection and keeping sand out of your hair, but I found it’s also good for just hiding your hair. No more bad hair days!

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A famous sign, 52 days to Timbuktu! Desert caravans crossed the Sahara from Timbuktu by camel loaded with spices, gold, salt, tea and other valuable items in the day, arriving here in 52 days. (I think my sisters’ have an actual picture in Timbuktu from their African trip, this is the closest we got.)

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We stopped at Tamegroute (close to Zagora) for green pottery shopping, a small cooperative of seven families that Ali likes to support. We were happy to go, I always need more pottery!

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Our guide Abdul was very skilled himself. Each family has their own small workshop where they have dug out a waist high pit where they can sit to mold a pot. He was sitting in the pit, turning the wheel with his feet, talking to us and making perfect small tajines. I think he could make them in his sleep:

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The kilns, definitely not like Carleens:

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This clay comes from the Draa riverbed and is reputedly the best clay for manufacturing goods. The seven families certainly work hard at their craft:

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Last stop: Town of M’Hamid for lunch and final supplies for the desert camp - booze, water and pastries! All the essentials. And some laundry for another camp that they forgot, as everyone helps each other in the desert. M’Hamid looks a lot like a movie set for an old western. It is the last town on the edge of the desert, so most people coming here are on the way to or from the desert:

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A liquor store in a Muslim country, pretty rare, interesting there is one in the last outpost before the desert. It is set up like a pharmacy, you stand at the counter and ask for what you want and someone goes and gets it for you if they have it. Dean was doing price checks and found things a tad expensive. A 26 oz bottle of Grey Goose vodka was $60 USD, someone’s making good money!

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The end of the road! Literally.

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Off road to the camp 60 km/38 miles away, locking it into 4 wheel drive!

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Camels hanging out on the way:

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The laundry handoff…

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First sand dune:

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We made it! The host at the camp, Bachir, gave us a warm welcome, showed us around and immediately fixed our turbans. He was a pro:

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Bachir insisted we head to the dunes immediately for sunset:

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Then he brought us a chilled bottle of white wine to enjoy!

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No, I didn’t sandboard down. (No more injuries!)

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We were very excited to finally be at Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp. We have been planning this trip since before COVID, so it seemed a bit surreal that we finally were there. And it was VERY comfortable, not like the trip across Africa that my sisters did with their husbands years ago. Check out their website: https://www.desertcampmorocco.com

A view of the main camp, with 12 tents for guests and several common areas for relaxing, eating, drinking, etc.

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This is our tent. The large tent is the bedroom/sitting area and the smaller adjoining tent is the bathroom. It is super spacious and has wall-to-wall carpeting! Decadent for sure.

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A bed plenty big enough for Dean, with nice linens and covered with a traditional Moroccan wedding blanket:

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Everyone wants to know about the bathroom facilities in a desert camp - all the bathrooms were private, separated from the bedroom by a tent wall and a curtain doorway. We had running hot and cold water, a toilet and a shower! The toilet was a manual flush, you throw a bucket of water in after going, which seemed to work fine. The shower was very good for conserving water and washing. You filled up the big bucket with warm water and used a basin for dumping water on yourself while sitting on a stool. We were surprised at how well it worked and how little water we used. It was actually quite relaxing and the water was hotter than I’ve had in some hotels!

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The self-serve bar:

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Around the camp, including a bed for star-gazing:

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We particularly liked the couch, chairs and table set up for chilling out - unfortunately we were too chilled out to take a picture so I borrowed this one off their website - right between the bar and the sun loungers.

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The main dining room, where we enjoyed a lot of great food:

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So where does the water and power come from? The water comes from a well 9 kms/6 miles away. Two of Ali’s brothers work at the camp. His older brother takes care of infrastructure at the camp, and hauls water to keep all the elevated tanks behind the tents full. Gravity creates water pressure and the sun produces all the power for the camp, heating the water and powering all the lights. We saw him working around the camp on all kinds of things - like the resident Mr. Fix-it, as well as driving to M’Hamid for supplies. Obviously a critical role. His younger brother is a waiter, constantly bringing food or taking dishes away or replenishing supplies. They cook using propane and open fire.

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Life on the dunes: not a lot, but we did see a few plants and several Scarab beetles around the dunes. These beetles are very important to the desert ecosystem as they roll up other animals’ waste into tiny balls, consuming them as needed, but the real value is making the small balls as then they dissolve into the sand (poof gone!). We saw foot prints of something else one morning, but aren’t sure what it was. It may have been a jerboa (small mouse-like rodent that hops like a tiny kangaroo) or a fennec fox, but we never sighted either. (We borrowed a few pictures from their website.)

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It was hard to crawl out of our comfy, warm bed to see the sunrise, but it was well worth it. And these hammocks were thoroughly enjoyed later that day!

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Next up was riding a camel, actually a dromedary (only one hump). We like calling then camels though. The camp calls a local camel shepherd and arranges for them to come to the camp. (We saw herds of camels when we were traveling to and from the desert, but never thought the shepherds would have a phone and booking system!)

Getting on proved not difficult as camels have amazingly flexible knees. Their legs completely fold up when they are down. Then, when they stand up, it’s a bit of a seesaw motion, as they raise their back legs first, then their front legs. Hang on!

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The ride was surprising. I never realized how much taller camels are than horses, and the saddle is thicker than a horse saddle, so you are seriously up there. It was fairly smooth but you aren’t holding on with your legs like you do a horse, so hanging on the handle is important.

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Going downhill, you had to get used to that sliding feeling from high above:

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Hassan was our faithful leader:

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You can’t help but notice the long eyelashes on camels. We learned that they actually have two sets of eyelashes to keep blowing sand out. As well, they have two ordinary eyelids plus a third thin ‘eyelid’ that moves from side to side and sweeps sand aside like a windshield wiper. Well designed for their environment:

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It was a great ride, we both enjoyed it much more than we had expected:

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Next up was hiking in the dunes. We thought we could just go on our own, but Bachir said that was a really bad idea. Within 20 minutes, we could see why…what happened to the camp?

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He also told me to take my sandals off, good advice. This is serious Maui-quality sand:

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A sea of sand it is called, sand as far as you can see with peaks like waves:

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We made it! I was relieved to see the camp. Walking in the sand up and down the dunes was hard work, don’t ever underestimate the value of a camel!

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Every once in a while we would see another camp or folks riding camels, but it was pretty rare. This camp is very private:

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The first day we were at the camp, there was only one other guest, a guy from England named Andrew. He had come to Morocco for the surfing and ended up adding a few extra days to come to the desert. After riding camels and a killer hike, we really enjoyed a tasty lunch of fresh salads, pasta and chicken kabobs (cooked over an open fire):

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Near the water well (9 kms away), there is a nomad camp that we visited. With the access to water and tourists visiting, the family has stayed put here for a while but it was interesting to see how they lived with so little. Only the wife was home when we were there, her husband may have been out herding (or potentially visiting another wife - yup really). There are less nomads than there used to be, as the damming of the Draa River has made it unsustainable for many, but there are still some. One Moroccan census number we saw was 25,000 in 2014, down by two-thirds over the prior decade.

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The drink of Morocco is mint tea, served to welcome guests to your home. Ali translated as she spoke Berber and Arabic. She was probably in her late 30’s and seemed very self sufficient. A separate tent we didn’t get a picture of showed she slept on a blanket on the ground, similar to this tent. A very simple life. It isn’t required for nomads to attend school in Morocco, I guess because they are always moving on. The guide we had in Agdz was married to a nomad, and he said she was going to school in the evenings now to a special program to learn how to read. He also said she loved living in one place and not moving all the time.

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She made us sand bread (served with homemade olive oil), it was really good:

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Their camel is about a year old:

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Notice the feet. Camels have wide, soft feet for walking long distances and preventing them from sinking in the sand, thus saving energy. They looked like slippers to me. Also, the pads on their feet are very tough, helping to prevent injury from stones and hot sand. Another smart design feature:

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The baby goats were seriously cute. Producing goats and selling them is good income for nomads:

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With the access to water and a pump powered by the sun, they had a good garden:

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We had to share sunset on the dunes with more people that night, but it was still spectacular:

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An impromptu jam with the staff that night - Ali has even more skills! (He is third from the right in both pictures.)

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One good thing about more people showing up was the chance to for “do overs”. Off we went on another camel ride the next day when a few of the new guests chose not to partake!

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Dean had lots of opportunity to work on his sand shot, the challenge was finding the ball!

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The next day we headed off with Ali to visit their private camp, perfect of 6-8 people with just four tents. Anyone interested? It definitely feels more secluded than the main camp. We really liked it. (The carpets are rolled up and tents closed in these pictures as there was no one staying there.)

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Love the hammocks:

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Great “contemplation spots” and views:

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Ali picked a new sunset spot for us that night. It was past our camp at the dunes actually called Erg Chigaga, although that is the name for the whole area. (Erg means dune). It was a bit of a climb, but well worth it!

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So much sand:

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Our last night in the camp was very special and a band came from M’Hamid:

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The stars here are really amazing with so little light pollution. We couldn’t really get a picture but the view from the bed at night was amazing.

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We’re done! Experience of a lifetime! Thanks to everyone at the camp for making it possible.

Next Stop: Off the next morning through the desert to Foum Zguid for lunch and Ait Benhaddou overnight.

PS. No pups at the camp. I filed a complaint with Ali but he didn’t give me a lot of hope that it would change. He said there was a camp dog a long time ago but it wasn’t replaced when he passed and there was a concern about allergies. I told him if guests were allergic they should stay home…

Posted by margofiala 16:29 Archived in Morocco

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Comments

Absolutely love the turban look on you two. You wear them well! Experience of a lifetime for sure!

by Donna-Lynne

Wow! That is an amazing experience. I love all the detail you provide to questions I would have wanted ask. Great blog! Great life you live.

by connieasm

I have been looking forward to this part of the trip and I was not disappointed! Dean you look like a local in your turban...Margo.hmm..I think you could do better.Ha! HA! What an amazing experience! Thanks for the great photos. We are all sick here with a cold virus from Norah but after 2 weeks she is getting better.

by valerie cook

Absolutely Amazing !!! What a great experience !! Loved the camel riding photos - something I have always wanted to do !! The sunsets were spectacular !!

by cindijensen49

I've been camping before, but never like this! Indoor facilities in a tent is a great leap forward!

by Johndotbike

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