The Sahara

Morocco is full of surprises. From Fez, we drove up into the mountains and through a town that looked as if it could be in the Alps, and then on to a forest filled with monkeys in the Ifrane National Park.

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Barbary Macaques are endangered monkeys found in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Due to deforestation of their largest natural habitat, the cedar forest of the Middle Atlas Mountains, and being kidnapped into the pet smuggling trade, the Macaques are dwindling in numbers.

We stopped for lunch where we enjoyed way too may BBQ kebabs.

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We passed through many nesting storks!

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The drive continued with amazing views of the desert, the Atlas mountains and some desert towns.

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The terms for ‘mountain’ in some Berber languages are adrar and adras, which are believed to be cognates of the toponym Atlas.

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The Sahara desert stretches around 2,500 km (1,600 mi) through Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The range’s highest peak is Jebel Toubkal, with an elevation of 4,167 metres (13,671 ft) in southwestern Morocco.

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The scenery makes you think of when one hears the word “Arabia” …

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The terrain got changed dramatically as we got  closer to the town of Meruzuga, a village that serves as a port of entry for most people heading to the Sahara Desert.

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We got ready with our Tuareg head scarfs to protect us from the sand!

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There we found our awaiting camels, on which we ventured far into the untraveled dunes of the endless desert. I named this one “Marlboro”.

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OK, so it was one hour over a few hills, led by our trusty guide Youssef.

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But the amazing thing was that, after just a few minutes, we were surrounded by sand and felt as if we could have been in the middle of nowhere. The desert psychologically swallows you up. It is absolutely extraordinary.

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How our guide can walk miles in the desert with only flip flops is more astonishing than the size of the Sahara.

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Eventually, we came to our encampment, where we experienced life exactly as the Bedouin live it … that is, if the Bedouin had multi-course meal service, electricity, hot-and-cold running water, toilet and shower in their tents.

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We were greeted with tea, then made ourselves comfortable.

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There was only one downside to all this glamping: Moroccans apparently don’t know about cross-ventilation. I.E., there were no windows in the tents – just doors we could keep open (with some risk of unwanted slithery visitors). So, while the evening was quite pleasant outdoors, in our “bedrooms,” it was a tad stuffy.

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The only others in the camp were a couple from Manhattan. We sat around the campfire and chatted with them. A desert wind kicked up, blowing sand, but this too was pleasant. There was a sense of exhilarating wonder about being in this place.

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At 9:30, we went into the elegant dining tent, complete with beautiful china, where the meal was served. Of course, here in the middle of seemingly nowhere, we got into a discussion with the New Yorkers about a certain Donald Trump and how his possible election was increasingly becoming something that could not be dismissed.

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Dinner arrived which was one plate to share full of pasta and vegetables. It was really delicious!

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After the meal, the three Sudanese workers at the camp (they were third generation Moroccan) performed traditional music, which was actually very pleasant and impressive … until they were joined by the visiting Mexican mariachi.

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Finally, after 11:00, we went to bed in our beautiful but stifling tents. Everyone took showers to cool off, which helped briefly.

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Suprisingly we even had full bathrooms inside our tents!

Eitan took photos of the stars, which were planetarium perfect.

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Bonus Pic Of The Day: The largest desert in the world is…NOT the Sahara! It’s Antarctica! Still, the Sahara is pretty darn big, and getting bigger every day. The Sahara desert now comprises eight percent of the world’s land area — one could actually place the entire continental United States within the Sahara Desert and still have a few thousand square miles of desert left over. In reality, eleven countries have parts of the Sahara Desert within their borders. They are: Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Chad, Morocco, Eritrea, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, and the Sudan.

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