May 4th – Rissani and a Sahara Desert Tent Camp
This morning, we explore the small city of Rissani on the edge of the Sahara Desert.
This conservative town has a deep connection to the ancient ways of the nomadic Berbers. The Berbers were the first settlers in Morocco. Our guide explained to us that the word Berber came from the word barbarian, and is therefore considered as a derogatory term. The name they prefer to be called is Amazighs. It may take some time for the masses to make the switch in name.
Our local guide, Ali, was soft-spoken and you could see the kindness in his eyes. He was a member of the Tuareg tribe.
He would escort us through the historic sites as well as the living area of his city. When questioned, he told us that he had been born in a nomadic community with little or no chance at getting an education. Fortunately for him, a Spanish couple that were doing work in the area took an interest in him and convinced his parents to allow them to pay for his education. Long story short, he went from having little chance of a strong future to today where he just recently completed his PhD!
We started our tour at a mausoleum which holds the body of Moulay Ali Cherif and a beautifully decorated mosque. This noble man was the first of the Alawite Kings of Morocco and a famously religious man with spiritual miracles.
Next door was a 17th-century tsar (fortified village) that is still inhabited. It felt like a cross between narrow passageways, damp alleys, and a dungeon. We were truly transported back several hundred years, as people here still live primitively without electricity, running water or indoor plumbing.
Here is a sampling of the pictures taken while walking through the compound:
The plumbing situation was one of the most interesting to me. They have an indoor toilet where the human waste is collected. It is mixed with animal waste which somehow manages to neutralize the odors. Once every three months the wall is opened up, the waste is removed and taken to the fields to be used as fertilizer. I was shocked that there were NO bad smells.
It had started to rain, although not heavily as we proceeded onto a walk through the souk (market place).
Passing through another small town:
We said our goodbyes to Ali, but before we departed, he showed me how to wrap my head and hair in a traditional manner using a scarf in the Tuareg colors that I purchased while sampling some freshly baked local bread.
Another stop was at a fossil factory to see examples of how the fossils are sliced, polished and then made into a variety of products ranging from tables, slabs for counter tops, bowls and platters, and even jewelry.
I broke down and purchased a small six-sided platter ($20) and a heart-shaped pendant to put on a neck slide ($2).
I had been so excited for our trip into the Sahara Desert. What a unique opportunity to spend the night in a tent camp on the sand dunes! I was getting more concerned however as the sky darkened more and the rain started to increase.
Taking 4×4’s toward our tent camp, we made a stop at a Berber tent where we were warned not to drink any of the tea if it was offered. I think they were concerned that our Western stomachs would not tolerate it, and already several were experiencing digestive issues.
Along our drive we came within just a few miles of the Algerian border.
Finally arriving near where our own tent camp was located, our tour leader suggested that we wait an hour to see if the rain would ease up before taking the camel ride onto the dunes. We knew by now that seeing a decent sunset was only a dream.
Tim checked the local weather forecast on his phone and recommended that we go sooner, rather than later as it looked like it might get worse. So off we went to choose our camel. The remainder of the group soon followed.
The diciest moments of riding a camel is when the camel moves from his knees to stand up. Rather like sitting on a huge teeter totter, with a long way down if you fall off. Thankfully we were assisted by our camel driver and off we went to climb the sand dunes.
After about a half hour ride, we climbed to the top of one of the dunes. Normally (with luck) a lovely sunset could be observed over the Sahara.
But with the rain, now thankfully subsided, but still a very cloudy sky, we simply had to settle for sitting, enjoying the gorgeous setting and singing a rousing falsetto version of “Midnight at the Oasis, send your camel to bed”.
Oh what fun we had, complete with a thrilling carpet ride down the dunes. My “driver” went racing down the steep dunes with me laughing all the way. Tim was ahead of me at the bottom to snap the picture. Afterwards I jokingly said that he should have recorded it. So up we climbed for a rerun so that we could do just that.
But due to “technical difficulties”, I will have to wait to upload that little tidbit 🙂
The tent camp itself was fabulously fun. Of course it was rustic, but the bed was clean and comfortable, the food tasty, and lively music and performances made the evening fly by. I’m sure I will long remember this magical day and evening.
Overnight: Bivouac La Belle Etoile, Sahara Tented Camps
GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful for a very unique day. I loved the camel ride, but soaking up the beauty of the desert and enormous sand dunes was truly special. The tent camp was far more comfortable than I had envisioned and I slept like a baby. Of course sharing a delicious bottle of red Moroccan wine over dinner might have helped as well.
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