Erg Chebbi

The last day of the trip began with a sunrise camel trek into the Erg Chebbi dunes for those willing to get up early enough to go.  After the rich experiences we’d been having with John and Eric, I was a little reluctant to go on the unabashedly-touristy sunrise trip to the dunes of Erg Chebbi.  So here’s my confession: I had a blast.

I was not, for instance, looking forward to getting up at 4 to drive for an hour in a land-rover across the hammada (stony desert).  But the drive was less bumpy than I had feared, and it was undeniably atmospheric, to see loads of camels awaiting us, with the “blue men of the desert” costume adding a touch of color to the scene.
The blue outfits are pure window-dressing.  The Amazigh people of this region are not Tuareg (“blue men of the desert”): they just dress up for the tourists.  But they’re kind enough to help us dress up, too: arranging scarves into turbans and even bringing along a bag of extra outfits for any students who want to try them on.

Riding the camels through the dark, with the star-studded sky overhead was also intensely satisfying.  I thought it would be the best part of the morning, until the light started to work its magic:

Oh, the many shades of sunrise:

And then there’s all the delight of the world’s biggest sandbox:
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We were so taken with the sand and its subtle color changes that we almost missed the moment of the sunrise, which comes shockingly fast:
The guides had to call  to get our attention, and we shouted to the students, one of whom lifted Jeremy up in his own ritual greeting to the sun:


Even Zoë felt the pull of the dunes:

But I’m glad to report that she came back to us, eventually:

And yes, we were as taken with the camels as anyone is likely to be, despite our young friend Colm’s minute-by-minute warnings to Jeremy: “Does it hurt yet, Jeremy? It’s going to!”  (None of us found the ride as uncomfortable as we were warned it would be.)
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So, even if it seems a bit of a come-down, from the 12,000 camels of Ibn Battuta’s day to the  multiple camel caravans of the costumed and touristed sunrise,IMG_1379

the stars and the dunes were still far more exhilarating than we had dared to hope they could be.

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