Sahara desert at dawn

 Get up early and greet the sun rising over the dunes. Our host offered camel rides outin the desert to see the sun rise, but we chose just to walk out to them. We were greeted by several “guides” who offered to lead us out and tell us all about the desert. Muhammad adopted Cathy and me and led us to a crest, explaining all the tracks in the sand. Mice, lizard and desert fox tracks were visible in the pre-dawn light. He showed us where the hotel’s well was located and some other outbuildings that were being reclaimed by dunes. At the end his backpack magically appeared with souvenirs to sell. We bought a small camel to remind us of the sands of the Sahara.

Within an hour’s ride, snow-capped mountains had replaced the dunes. Flat straightroads became twisties rising into the sky. 36F didn’t improve much as altitude trumped the sun. Good scenic roads brought out the buses, but we could pass them easily. Another day of fabulous roads and scenery.

We arrive at our hotel in Fes in late afternoon and hurry back to the parking lot to meet a guide, that Alan found, for a tour of the old city. Five of us rode in the old Mercedes with four in the back seat!

Fes is the home of the oldest university in the western world, dating to 869. The old walled city, narrow streets and hundreds of 6×6 shops was fascinating. By now the sun had gone down, which added to the atmosphere. Staying together was a challenge, and often had to stop for the rest to catch up. Our guide showed us many interesting sites including a 9th century mosque. We could not enter, but man inside offered to take our cameras inside and take pictures for a small fee.

We’ve hired “tour guides” in other cities around the world before, but didn’t see it coming. Our next stop was a carpet store, where they showed us many fantastic carpets made by local artisan. One allegedly had more than a million knots per square meter tied by a local woman who took three years to make it. He said they were funded by UNESCO and 80% of the price went to the women and only 20% to the shop. Our original guide had disappeared and now guys from the shop came out and spoke to each of us in our native language trying to get us to buy. I tried to make them understand that we had to leave to get back for our 7pm riders meeting. Our guide reappeared and said that we’d leave soon to go to a tannery tour. It was already 6:30, so I told him we had to get back. Turns out that one of our guys was a hot prospect and they wanted to close the deal. Our original guide took the rest of us back and the owner of the shop brought back the buyer. Local guides get a reference fee and kickback from the shops, so they’re usually on local “tours.”

Wednesday 15-Dec Merzouga to Fes 300 miles

Royal Mirage Hotel Avenues des FAR B.P. 2489, Fes 3000 Maroc

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