Day 6 ended in a Bedouin tent amidst the Merzouga sand dunes, so unsurprisingly that’s where day 7 began. Awakening at first light, it was a weary trudge to the top of the closest dune for sunrise. Cloud cover tried its hardest to spoil the rising sun’s transformation of the landscape, but the departing shadows revealed intriguing tiny tracks passing across the surface of the desert sand, left by some mysterious local wildlife, I presume.
Back at camp, Bernard was ready for the return trip; my rear however was not. The morning was cold enough to require a coat and gloves and gone was the sense of frivolity from the outward trek – Bernard and his pals were no longer quite such a novelty mode of transport.
Outside the hotel I dismounted and gave Bernard a final grateful pat goodbye. A small boy with a fennec on a piece of string touted for business; I didn’t take him up on his offer of a photo with the lonely-looking, big-eared creature.
At breakfast I sat for a while holding two freshly boiled eggs, trying to encourage movement back into my frozen hands. A hot shower was very welcome, and then it was time to get back on the road – to Todra Gorge, 280 km west, via Errachidia.
The countryside was a rough, rocky wilderness, interspersed with the occasional settlement of mud and straw buildings, built low and angular, a palette of pretty oranges and browns against blue sky, all nestled among a green oasis of palm trees.
We stopped at a fossil shop in Erfoud. The area is rich in fossils, but be aware that there are concerns that lax controls on fossil sales and over-excavation are putting what must be every amateur palaeontologist’s dream destination in danger. Great slabs of rock are quarried from the surrounding area and fashioned by artisans into anything from a small dish to a coffee table that you could never get bored of inspecting. It really is quite incredible, particularly when you’ve spent your childhood scavenging around Robin Hood’s Bay for even just one tiny trilobite.
Being at the mercy of a guide, we couldn’t explore beyond the shop chosen by the Exodus/Imaginative Traveller tour, which is a real shame as I believe there’s a museum dedicated to fossils and minerals in town. That’s one of the main negatives of organised travel for you.
Another is being shepherded into a café at the side of the road to have an over-priced and uninspiring lunch in the company of every other tour group in the vicinity. Not very ‘imaginative’, Imaginative.
The hotel was set in the side of the gorge and, well, it wasn’t quite finished. It looked like it would be great, come summer, once the pool was finished and the rooms fully wired and furnished. They were obviously also quite concerned about their electric bills as although pretty cold they’d hidden all the remote controls for the in-room heaters. I’m all for saving the planet, but don’t tempt me with the promise of warmth at a time of year when even daytime temperatures can be in single digits.
The main dining room thankfully had a lovely open fire, which made up for the lack of spice in what was otherwise a filling dinner. Was this the tourist version of Moroccan food? I’d imagined spices and interesting and unusual flavours, but I was beginning to think it was just a naïve pipedream.