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Waking up in the dunes

May 16, 2010

It wasn’t a dream, we really did sleep at the foot of a huge sand dune last night.

 After grabbing perhaps the best night’s sleep we’ve had in ages (thanks to the desert’s absolute silence and some full on riding) we woke up to mountains of sun kissed sand. Various trails snaked over the crests. The exploring riders in our group had left their footprints next to tiny patterns and slithers from goodness knows what creatures and insects. Surprisingly, it felt as cool as shaded concrete underfoot. And although it was as soft as sugar, Dakar legend Helder Rodrigues still managed to power through it for a photo shoot on a stock Super Tenere.

Ali, our guide drew a map in the sand to show our location. Beyond the camp, the Erg Echibbi dunes stretch across thirty kilometres in width for around nine kilometres into the distance towards Algeria. While Helder was making us wonder how capable the Super Tenere could be with knobblies and a mere mortal at the helm, a bunch of kids appeared from nowhere as if by magic. Flashing their goods-to sell, we chatted, were fleeced of a few euros (they appeared to accept any currency) and we finally boarded our bikes and set off for the 350 km that lay ahead of us.

It was perhaps the most beautiful day yet. More sand dunes disappeared into the distance and endless snow capped mountains continuously pierced the horizon. Villages were lined with brightly coloured scarves for sale and locals weaved through the streets on tatty bicycles. Most of the women were covered from head to toe in black ‘Nekabs’ and a few even carried their babies on their backs, hidden away beneath the folds of the fabric.

 As we rode further and further away from the towns, it seemed all the more bizarre to pass a lone walker miles from any recognisable civilisation. The previous day’s stray kamikaze dogs (and lone monkey) hardly seemed worth worrying about when today’s hazards were scabby camels, way to big to argue with.

 The scenery appeared to change at every turn. A gorge was lined on one side with a strange rock formation, aptly named Monkey Paw (or Tiger Paw depending on who you ask.)  It looked like God had carved great fat fingers into the rock face. Further along, the earth was a deep burnt red, the colour you’d expect to find on Mars. Incredible.

But the image from day five has to this morning’s sand dunes, closely followed by the evening’s Lake Ouarzazate . It’s a stunning stretch of turquoise blue water with a fairytale city perched high on its edge. It’s magical. Just like this trip.

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