South to Erg Chebbi

Today we leave Fés and drive almost directly south, crossing the Middle and High Atlas mountain ranges. The mountain tops still have visible snow, but in the valleys it is 90°F, and the sun is blazing.

Along the road, tens of kilometers from any homes or settlements, are various containers propped up on stones by the side of the road. They are honey, and the roadsides are lined with hundreds of recycled containers containing the stuff. Detergent containers, motor oil containers, and juice bottles, all filled with dark amber honey. Guarding every two or three bottles strung down the highway is a single man (always a man) usually sleeping under a tree, but sometimes out in the full sun. They look like accident victims… men who had been hit by a truck and were just lying in the dirt by the road. (Though the more industrious of them have made tiny (3′ cube) shelters out of rock and sticks, just enough to keep their heads out of the sun.

amazight cow / outside meknés, morocco

At one point we stop to photograph a field of poppies. The poppies are bright red, and go on forever. Nearby there is a cow tied up at the side of the road, and I want to photograph the cow in the foreground against the poppies. As I start shooting, an old woman appears out of nowhere, scolding me loudly in Tamazight, the language of the Amazigh (Berbers). She is amazing looking, lively and as sculpted by the sun and wind as an old adobe home. Her face has several tattoos (which would allow women to be recovered when they were taken in raids.) I ask her if I can take her picture instead. She smiles (no teeth) and I swear to god she blushes. She adjusts her hat a little and then nods.

amazight woman / outside meknés, morocco

Once we’ve crossed the High Atlas, the terrain around us is as dead as that in Nevada. We cross for hours, passing the occasional settlement or lone adobe house. Most villages are half in ruins, but still very much occupied.

Near the summit, we stop at a picnic area that had accumulated a tribe of Barbary Macaques. I’d never been that close to wild monkeys, and it is very odd to move around them. They are fairly indifferent to our small group, and my big worry was that I will accidentally step on one. (They are only a foot and a half tall.) These ‘apes’ migrated north across the great northern savanah of Africa before it became the Sahara (approximately 10,000 years ago.)

barbary ape / morocco

It’s weird to walk among monkeys. They’re so human, but not, that your brain keeps anthropomorphizing them and then contradicting itself. But I still think that they were talking about me.

mother and child / morocco

We end up in Merzouga, at the foot of the Erb Chebbi dunes. These are the über-dunes, the dunes you recognize from any movie ever set in the Sahara desert. We walk about a mile into the desert. Joshua and Sorin love jumping from the dune ridges, and I just take as many photos as I can while the sun sets.

the golden horizon / erg chebbi, morocco

father and sand / erg chebbi, morocco

sunset over the sahara / erg chebi, morocco

Tomorrow we’ll go with a camel train into the Sahara to spend the night in tents with the Amazigh tribesmen.

I need to sleep now, but I’ll write more in a few days once I’ve returned from the desert. I’ve updated a few photos to my Flickr page, check them out.

What do you think?