It’s surprising how many people are wandering around the desert. Yes Merzouga is a popular tourist destination but even further afield, life in the dunes sees a lot of traffic. From the well known ships of the desert, camels, to rally cars; from 2 feet to 4 wheels; there’s a variety of vehicles crossing the dunes.
Ships of the Desert
The most famous mode of desert travel is of course the ship of the desert, the iconic camel. Nowadays they’re not normally used to carry the Bedouin tribes and their nomadic wanderings from one oasis to another. They’re more often used to carry tourists out for a night camping. It’s a little amusing to see the said tourist sitting awkwardly on a camel carrying their small rucksack. We usually ask them if they’re sitting comfortably and they usually reply in the affirmative, with big smiles. Yet not a hundred metres further on, we hear their groans as they complain of their discomfort. But we all have to do it just once. How else we could we see the desert?
There are lot of Europeans who race down here for a bit of wadi bashing and rallying. The Sin Fronteras Challenge 2015 raid came through, much to my excitement, with their highly tuned and uprated 4x4s, crossing the dunes in a navigation race. For the next day or so we could here them on longer stages around the outside of the dunes, racing from point to point. This raid has been running for a few years and is trying to replicate parts of the historic Paris Dakar rally.
Other traffic includes trial and quad bikes. We met 2 Spanish guys who had just crossed over the largest of the dunes on their KTMs.
They were having fun on what was the last day of their tour before packing up their bikes into their VW van and driving back to Barcelona. We asked if they’d drive around for photographs and of course being enthusiastic riders, they agreed. We were treated to high speed climbs, dune descents and even wheelies.
Boys being boys, and egging each other on, they showed off for the camera and eventually a soft dune bit back! Fortunately, through the laughter, only one’s pride was hurt in this fall.
Not everyone is here for the off road driving. Some ironically want to enjoy the peace and quite of the desert, away from the tourist hotels and camps. Sunset brings an end to the vehicles playing in the dunes, the tourists return to their hotels and the sound of revving engines is replaced by silence. Broken only occasionally by a braying donkey or the squeak of a mouse. And so at the end of an eventful day in the desert, we overlanders camp up.
Darkness descends and the local hotel generators kick in, before the rhythm of the Berber drums begin in the distance, sending you off to a peaceful sleep under a star filled sky.
In the absence of any of these ships of the desert, you could always walk….