The overnight field trip to Merzouga, at the northwestern edge of the Sahara Desert, is one of IES Abroad Rabat's most exciting offerings. It includes a camel ride at sunset, stargazing, a Jeep ride through the dunes, and live music at the Sahara Magic Desert Luxury Camp.
While Merzouga is quite far from Rabat, nearly twelve hours each way including stops for lunch and bathrooms, we made the most of the trip. On the way down, we stopped in Midelt for the night, where we stayed at a jaw-droppingly beautiful hotel, and then again in Errachidia for a tour of one of the oldest cities in the region and to shop for beautiful handmade Amazigh (indigenous Moroccan) jewelry. Upon arriving in Merzouga, we saw live Gnawa music (while you can see Gnawa performances all over Morocco, they’re a very special experience and I was more than happy to see another performance).
We then moved from the tour bus to the Jeeps to drive through the dunes to our campsite/hotel. The Jeep ride was somewhat exhilarating, almost like a roller-coaster, and the view out over the desert when we paused on the way was breathtaking. The dunes were so much larger than I had ever imagined, and standing looking out over them, I found myself incredibly moved by the enormous diversity of landscapes that our beautiful planet has to share with us. This biome was one that I was deeply unfamiliar with, and while it seemed almost otherworldly to my eyes, as if nothing could live there, I learned on the trip all about the people, plants, and animals that make their home in this beautiful place, and the life and culture that takes tenacious hold in such an inhospitable ecosystem.
Upon arriving at the hotel, where the tents were luxurious but the space was small, we had a small free block to settle in before leaving for the camel ride. We rode the camels to the edge of a very tall dune, where some of us sand-surfed (it was super fun! But nothing like snowboarding). The camel ride was fun, and although my camel wasn’t the friendliest, my friend Pascalle made great friends with theirs. As the sky darkened, we rode the camels back towards the hotel, watching the lights come on in the dark landscape.
After the camel ride, we sat outside watching the stars for at least an hour until dinner. More and more became visible, until the entire Milky Way was washed across the sky in dazzling splendor. I was reminded how small I am in the vastness of the universe. Coming from New York City, I’m lucky to see three stars on a clear night, so stargazing in Merzouga was an experience I’ll never be able to forget.
We ate a delicious dinner and played drums with the friendly hotel staff before going back outside to watch the stars some more. The moon rose, nearly full and so bright we didn’t need flashlights walking between tents. Although fewer stars were visible because of its brightness, the desert sky took on a different type of beauty, and the moonlight on the dunes was like something out of a painting. The night was cold, but we cuddled up in blankets and sweaters and lay watching the sky late into the night.
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I'm from NYC and attend Bryn Mawr College near Philly! I'm passionate about film, social justice, backpacking, fashion, jewelry-making, reading, and plant-based cooking. When I'm at home I love exploring the city or hanging out with my two cats.