Things were starting to look different.
Bare, black desert. Sadly, strewn with a whole lot of garbage.
Nomads still made their life here, picking up and moving their tents. Herds of goats, sheep, camels were scattered on the plain, usually with a small boy attending them.
The Nomads dig hundreds of wells over the generations to channel water to a main well. You can see them stretching out over the desert for miles like giant anthills. It's otherworldly, and I'm amazed at the fact that people and livestock can live in places this desolate and dry.
The people we encountered started to change as well. In the cities, you would occasionally see women without a headscarf or women who wear pants, but you would occasionally see a woman with a full-on veil covering her face. Most of the urban dwellers wore colorful robes and modern accessories. Here, in the desert, not so much. Fully-veiled women in black from head to toe was the norm, and you didn't see too many of them out and about.
But mostly, it was empty.
Suddenly, a mirage.
Erg Chebbi on the horizon is truly a magical sight. Every time I looked up at them, they seemed to morph into a new form.
They are right smack up against the Algerian border. This is where the vast ocean of sand of the Sahara really begins.
Trudging through sand is really hard work though. You know what is pretty much designed to do the job though?
Yeah, that's right.
All these pictures were taken from the lofty high perch of a camel's back. Specifically, the camel they called Jimmy Hendrix.
I grew up spending most of my time on horseback, so it wasn't too far of a departure for me. They are about the same width as a horse (they are surprisingly narrow) but about twice as tall, and they have a rolling, pitching way of moving. I totally understand that people have reported seasickness up there.
Still, it wasn't the most comfortable ride. Men seem to have a harder time with it than women, but the real camel drivers sit side-saddle, not astride.
Regardless, the dunes were one of the most painterly landscapes I've ever seen. Watching the sun go down and the full moon come up against the undulating wind-blown forms was pure magic.
Camping in the desert was actually quite comfortable. Plenty of good food (tagine, again!) lots of warm blankets, and a roaring fire with good music.
I was hoping to be completely star-struck, but the full moon was so bright. A really brilliant meteorite went streaking through the sky very close by at one point, which had one of the camel drivers musing about "la fin du monde!".
The Berbers were an entertaining bunch. We tried to explain our dirty jokes to them, they tried to explain theirs to us, and high hilarity ensued. "Is it true, in America, people drink every day? That's crazy!" Well, when you put it that way, it does seem a little crazy.
Other interesting bits of cultural gleanings: They loved Rihanna but thought Lady Gaga was crazy, but more than anyone, they embraced Bob Marley as their own.
Sunrise here is worth getting up early for.
The color and shadows splashed on the dunes was amazing.
Camels totally snore at night. Loud, deep snores. I found it comforting.
It gets blazing hot really quickly here. It's good to get an early start to the day.
I felt like I was in a Zen Garden on an enormous scale.
It is an amazing place. Do yourself a favor and get there.