Day 27: To the dunes

Soutpiel Safari
John & Jenny
Wed 1 Dec 2010 19:05
Day 27: Wednesday 1 December 2010. Kasr Yasmina, Erg Chebbi, Morocco. N31 12.813 W00359.310 Distance driven 198 km
Today dawned fine and sunny with no wind and a crystal clear sky - what a change from yesterday! After a late start, and saying goodbye to all our friends, we pulled out of Tinehir heading for Mazouga.  It was a good fast road through Tinejdad through pretty featureless countryside with desert all around us and some sand drifts on the road following yesterday's storm. One or two locals used these drifts to try to get us to stop to give them lifts by standing in the narrowed road.  We saw herds of camels strategically placed by the side of the road as "tourist traps" and, as we neared Erfoud, many new 4 star hotels built in the kasr style, all advertising camel rides, Berber tent experiences etc. 
We stopped for a lunch break before Erfoud and pulled off the road in a deserted area under the shade of a palm tree.  We had no  sooner started to eat lunch than a lad on a bike appeared and came over to us asking for a pen, then food, then money.  Jenny gave him some new bread and a hunk of chorizo, from which he took one bite and promptly threw the rest away before continuing his demands for money. He was soon joined by a friend who took up the same patter and together they became a real nuisance and almost threatening.  We just packed everything away and drove on.  We find this the least attractive side of Morocco.  We feel almost like a giant magnet -  as soon as we stop we are surrounded by scroungers, who won't take "no" for an answer and are very invasive of our privacy. Many of them are just out for anything they can get and don't look particularly needy, appearing to be well fed and clothed.  In the mountains it  is very different - the requests are more polite and the locals appear much poorer and more deserving.  In the mountain areas thee was a constant demand for shoes from farmers and shepherds clad in decrepit footwear held together with wire and string. If we had spare shoes we would gladly have given them away, but we are travelling with only 2 pairs each.  I did give away an ancient pair of yellow Crocks to an old shepherd who appeared amused and mystified by them!
From Erfoud we came through Rissani and then off-road towards the dunes for 14 km to Kasr Yasmina, an old kasr built of mud and straw not operating as  a hotel on the edge of the dunes.  We are camping in the hotel grounds and have refused the usual tourist events such as camel rides to the dunes, or sleeping in a Berber tent 100 m from the hotel!  Maybe we'll get up early and walk to the dunes to watch the sun rise!
We have had a session looking at our future programme and have decided that we need to press on now, so the target is to leave Marrakech by 5 December and be over the Mauritania border by 10 December. That's over 2,500 km of driving, so we need to get going!  Tomorrow we are looking to start out on a 250 km off-road "piste" from Mazouga to Zagora.