Tuesday 31 March 2009

The dunes of Erg Chebbi (Day 11)

We were riding for the most of the morning (you can check out photos in one of my previous posts) and have made only a short stop. The first real stop for a longer rest was at a small Berber settlement. There was a group of some five tents set up, obviously in use by a small family and a herd of goats.

After a while they served us fresh salad made of tomatoes, red and green peppers, cucumbers, onions and olives. It was very refreshing and exactly what we needed at that time.

I also spotted what seemed to be some kind of a traditional Berber oven. It was standing in the opened, but was unfortunately not in use at that moment.

A young Berber boy was running around all the time, hoping to get some attention. He was quite cute and soon we were all trying to entertain him in one way or another. I for instance tried to show him how to make paper aeroplanes. He was quite excited about it... for a minute or two maybe.
Half a pack of wafers got his attention for much longer.

When the scorching heat eased for a bit, it was time to move on. We boarded our desert ships and headed for another Berber camp. We got there just before sunset.

We climbed up another dune to watch the sun set. This time we chose a smaller heap of sand. Unfortunately also the sunset couldn't measure to the spectacular sunrise in the morning. When talking to our companions from Switzerland time really flew by. We learned that being the same age in spite of growing up in a totally different country (when M. and I were kids we were living in a socialist republic of Yugoslavia) our childhoods have not been so different. We played the same games, liked similar stuff and did the same things we were not supposed to.

Before we knew it, it was time for food again. We were already quite hungry by then and whatever was on the menu, it was smelling nice.

When we dug into the Couscous we were unpleasantly surprised. We found out it was quite generously seasoned with fine desert sand. It was creaking and squeaking while we were grinding through our dinner. It was quite amusing to watch faces others were making.

Before we turned in for the night we tried to solve a bunch of impossible riddles supposedly invented by Berbers a long time ago.
If you spend your whole life in the desert it is not hard to imagine that making up impossible to solve riddles is just one of the ways to keep you going.

It was already late when we finally decided to crawl into our sleeping bags and fall asleep looking at the starry sky.


Friday 20 March 2009

A brand new look for Travel Photo Blogging

I thought it was time for a change. Those of you who visit me more often might have noticed it already... the Travel Photo Blogging 2.0 look.

First time visitors can see the old template on the screenshot bellow.

What do you think? Is this a good change or should I have kept the old one?
I would love some feedback on what you think about it.

I spent quite some time looking for a suitable candidate among many templates on the Web. I tried a few, but none of them was as good as this one.
I had a few requirements, that I think this new template meets perfectly:

  • it had to be a Blogger compatible template

  • it had to be a two column template

  • main column had to be wider compared to the old one (larger photos look better)

  • it had to be a free template

  • it should support a banner at the very top

  • the more customizable it would be, the better

  • and last, but definitely not least, it had to look nice.

I found exactly what I needed in one of many templates at Our Blogger Templates.
They offer a wide range of nicely designed free templates and if you are looking for a new one, it's worth to take a look.
There you can also find some instructions and a few tips on how to do it properly.

I noticed something strange though... since I changed to the new template, my blog seems to be getting substantially fewer hits then before - especially from Google. That's only about 10 percent of the average from a few days ago (judging from the Google Analytics report)!

Does anybody know why this happens? Is this just a temporary thing or what? Is there something I can do about it?


Tuesday 17 March 2009

My first desert sunrise (Day 11)

I woke up just before sunrise. I would have definitely missed it if a large number of really annoying flies wouldn't have woken me up. Most of others were still asleep. We were a relatively small group of 9 travellers and 3 Berber guides.

I wasn't sure if I should bother to wake them up or better let them sleep. Fortunately one of the Swiss girls also woke up and we decided it was a good idea to wake up the others.

I was surprised how fast a bunch of girls can get up and ready to start climbing up the tallest sandy dune in the neighborhood. And all of that just because of a sunrise. But then again... it was a sunrise in the middle of the Erg Chebbi desert.

It was quite a challenge to climb that dune. I guess it wasn't more then 200 meters high, but the sand made it a lot harder then I could tell.
For every two steps up, the sand made us slip one step back down. On top of that the air was so unbelievably dry, that I had to stop quite often to take a sip from the water bottle.
Just thinking of it still dries my mouth. And the sun was not even up yet.
I really can't imagine how it would be to do it in the middle of the day. I think I wouldn't make it or at least it would take me three times as long.

The climb took me a bit over 20 minutes. Others (including my Swiss companions, used to real mountains) took a bit longer. We were all surprisingly exhausted, but made it to the top just in time to see the so much anticipated sunrise.
In the end it was really worth it and we took some time for an extensive photo session.

Calls from our Berber guides announcing breakfast reminded us of hunger. It was a matter of seconds to get down from the top.

Until we started eating, someone had to stand at the little round table and constantly swat at countless flies, trying to share breakfast with us.
Our guides have prepared a simple yet delicious breakfast. There was soft cheese, butter, jam, honey, olive oil, bread and of course orange juice. More then enough for us. After breakfast it was still time for a cup of green tea.

In the meantime guides prepared our dromedaries for the day trip. Usually they are incorrectly called camels, not only by tourists but often even by their Berber owners.

Each of us picked a ride and off we went. It took us only a couple of minutes to be totally surrounded with sand dunes. Our campsite was nowhere to be seen and it was really quite easy to imagine how would it feel being lost in this sea of sand...

If you are wondering what happened next, you can read about the rest of this day in this post.


Thursday 12 March 2009

Finding our way into Moroccan desert (Day 10)

Compared to the night before it was a beautiful day. The sky was crystal clear once again. Muddy streets with surprisingly deep puddles were the only reminder of yesterday's storms. We were just hoping a storm like that doesn't happen again when we are in the desert. I just can't imagine what you can do when it starts pouring down like that and you have nowhere to hide...

Even with the morning sun, Rissani didn't look any better then the night before. We agreed to try our best not to spend another night here. To do that we had to find a ride to Erg Chebbi desert, where we wanted to spend at least a couple of nights.
We were staying in Hotel Merzouga, for 150 dirhams per double room a night. I guess it was OK, but definitely nothing more then that. When we woke up we found a 15 centimeter patch of chipped paint on a pillow next to the one we were using. It simply fell off the ceiling during the night.

When we were walking across town towards a much nicer and a bit more expensive hotel Dar Lamrani (if you can afford it I really recommend it), to our surprise we weren't approached by anyone offering us some kind of a deal. The hotel manager offered us breakfast and told us that we can pay as much as we think it's worth. Since this seemed really suspicious we insisted on a price. He just smiled, wished us “bon appetite” and walked away.

When enjoying fresh breakfast a couple of European girls came out of the hotel. We tried to start a conversation but they didn't seem too interested.
We thought it would be smart to team up with more people in order to be able to negotiate a better price for a desert trip.

When the two girls returned we tried a bit more direct approach and it worked. They seemed really nice and as they told us, they were traveling together with another friend and also had a rented car.
This was just too perfect to be true.

They surprisingly agreed to take us with them and were leaving in ten minutes. We were really happy with the outcome - It just doesn't get much better then that. I quickly payed the guy 50 Dirhams for the breakfast and thanked him for kindness. It seemed he was pleased with that.

We fetched our bags from the hotel we were staying in and left for the desert. At some point we left the main road and tried to follow a rocky-desert piste.

While driving into the desert we found out we were traveling with three Swiss girls, who knew exactly which hotel by the desert to go to. One of their friends from back home was there a couple of times before and even had a romance with the owner of the Auberge LaBaraka (to locate it on Google maps click here).

There we met Hassan, who was happy to meet friends of a girl he was still in contact with. We didn't have to bargain for the price of the desert experience. He came forward with a reasonable price and he didn't want to go lower (supposedly it was the price he charged the Swiss girl he knew).

This suited us just fine and we agreed to leave for the desert that same afternoon.

The Auberge LaBaraka is a quite simple but well kept place and staff is really nice. We enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere and I took the time to take a first bunch of many sandy photos.

It was a relaxed afternoon on the edge of sand dunes, followed by a lovely sunset in the desert where we found a camping place. After dinner some Berber drumming carried us back in time. It went on long into the night until we all fell asleep.

There were tents available but we chose to sleep in our sleeping-bags under the countless stars. I can't remember the last time I saw so many.

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