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Gilly Smith

Five Days in the Desert. Chapter two

Yesterday evening the mood changed as we headed off to the desert to watch the sun set over Erg Chebbe, the longest dune in the Sahara. It was still a party spirit as Jess and Vago, our intrepid fellow artists and ex pats from Fez climbed atop the land rover as it headed across the sands, the whoops and ululations mounting as everyone turbaned up for photos against the imposing dune. But as the group split, Jess, Vago and the Moroccans going for the peak while the rest of us tried to get our breath back somewhere in the middle, the intensity of the view calmed the mood.

There’s something so ancient about these dunes, with the occasional camel caravan – no doubt of tourists – silhouetted against the endless sky, that makes you feel very small indeed. Last night’s thunderstorm had created a lake at its feet and as we watched the sun set, tinting it pink, then terracotta, then mauve, the silence of the dunes engulfed us. Tiny pin pricks in a desert so old and, regardless of how many tourists pass through it, so untouched by time, we were nothing to it as it did what it does every evening, and will do forever.

As we sat around the camp fire later that night, nursing our goat brochettes and listening to the gentle drumming and lilting prayer song of Kirsch and Mustapha our Berber chef and kitchen hand, I realised that however much fun our little group of artists from Fez, Essaouira and Sussex via Llantwit Major, Hawaii, Melbourne and, well, Sussex may be, our mark here is temporary. There’s a reason why there’s a ‘roc’ in the middle of Morocco. It’s solid, ancient and happy in its skin, and while it may enjoy us for a while, it won’t miss us when we’re gone. Tourism may line its pockets and the storytellers of the souk may play their games with us, but the beat of the drum is the rhythm of life here, and Morocco is never going to play to a western tune.

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