Are you a traveler or a tourist? It is often a question that leads many debates and that, not infrequently, aims to position one way of travelling over another, as if in a globalised world the route or how to organise a round trip determines its authenticity.
A few days ago I came across my neighbour, an Englishman for further information, who had been living in Seville for a short time. He showed me his collection of tiles: tiles that he found in the street, tiles that he included. He was showing me a cultural aspect that had gone unnoticed during these 7 years and a different way of telling the city. In the end, we are all tourists.
One way or another, it’s a fact that there are more crowded places than others. The Erg Chegaga desert is considered by many to be a preferable alternative to Erg Chebbi. Let’s find out why.
The Sahara desert is the largest hot desert region on the planet. Of great heterogeneity, one of its best-known geographical phenomena is the ergs, or sand landscapes. Two are the most significant of the Sahara that covers the Moroccan territory: Erg Chebbi and Erg Chegaga.
The latter has a larger surface area but is somewhat more horizontal, as its dunes are of lesser height (62 metres as opposed to 150), although this inequality is hardly noticeable as the mounds follow each other in a staggered manner, unless the traveller compares panoramic views of both.
The main difference lies in its accessibility – and therefore, the influx of visitors – due to the distance from the nearest town: Merzouga in the case of Erg Chebbi, a few meters, M’Hamid if we speak of Erg Chegaga, 50 km by unpaved tracks, so only 4 × 4 can access and tour operators do not usually contemplate it.
Erg Chigaga (Morocco) is a place frequented by motorcyclists.
In Morocco the places are just as important as the roads that lead to them. If we compare the routes that lead to both ergs from Marrakech, they share route until they arrive to Ouarzazate, reaching before the port of Tizi n’Tichka or the ksar of Aït Ben Haddou.
From here the road forks, and although of similar duration, the landscape nature differs: if with Erg Chebbi the presence of kasbahs and rocky landscapes dotted with palm trees is maintained along the entire route, with Erg Chegaga in its second half the landscape becomes more and more horizontal and desert.
In synthesis, while in the first case the set of scenes that are crossed are more recognizable and differentiated, producing a point of inflection at the entrance to the desert, in the route that leads to Erg Chegaga they happen in a more subtle way, subordinated to a slow but continuous graduation until the landscape of dunes.
The road to Erg Chegaga or Erg Chigaga is dotted with plains and mountains.
Probably the best example of the difference between the two routes occurs when you leave the urban space, so that with Erg Chebbi a walk or a half hour camel ride from Merzouga is enough to reach their dunes.
With Erg Chegaga the situation is quite different, and once we leave behind M’Hamid it is necessary to cross landscapes for 2-3 hours. A cinematic experience structured in three acts:
In the first act, the introduction, we cross an enormous plain scattered with dark stones and small elevations, also known as the black desert.
In the second, the knot, crossing mounds of bushes and sand of such fineness that, as soon as the wind blows, its movement is guaranteed, breathing a ghostly tone into the scene.
And in the final act, the denouement, where on arrival at the erg awaits a welcoming committee composed of poisonous plants.
Before arriving at the desert of Erg Chegaga or Chigaga you have to pass through the black desert.
Before reaching the desert of Erg Chegaga (Morocco) there are dunes with shrubs
Erg Chebbi or Erg Chegaga? It is a decision that depends on multiple factors
It is a journey that undoubtedly requires some patience, but at the same time is very rewarding, as it anticipates the subtle destination and gradually.
The experience that dozens of kilometres away there is no trace of civilisation should be sufficient reason to make this journey, although it can always be seasoned with a visit to the surroundings, either by adapting the route to get to know them, or by settling in the erg and exploring its immediate surroundings. These are some of those places:
Lake Iriki is near the desert of Erg Chigaga or Erg Chigaga in Morocco.
With a name that is misleading, this enormous plain of petrified mud that received the waters of the Draa River has been dry for more than 20 years. It is a very recommendable landscape to cross once you start the way back. The only sign of life are illusory landscapes in the form of mirages or, occasionally in rainy seasons, small lakes that attract birds from the area.
Although better known for being the nearest town, this old caravan pass is well worth a visit, among other things to continue betting on building with earth. Also noteworthy are the ksars in an advanced state of decomposition on the outskirts.
Near the desert Erg Chigaga is also Tamegroute
Ancient centre of education and religion, it is known for its characteristic green ceramics. Probably the most recommended nearby city, having a library with more than 4000 manuscripts, a zagüía which is an active place of pilgrimage and a kasbah buried to withstand the high temperatures and where hundreds of families still live.
A strategic place to spend the night before reaching Erg Chegaga. Inside is the Kasbah Caid Ali, and on the outskirts is Tamnougalt, where are located two kasbahs, one homonym and another called Kasbah des Caids, the object of numerous shoots.
Sacred Oasis of Oum Lâalag
A few kilometers from Erg Chegaga extends this oasis of almost 15 hectares, surrounded by a wall of adobe, and whose interior, in addition to palm trees, continues to sprout water, so it is conferred sacred qualities for its miraculous closeness to the desert.
Near the desert Erg Chegaga is Taznakhte, ideal for buying carpets.
For those who are reluctant to travel without taking back a souvenir, this small town but the main producer of Berber carpets in the country can be a success. A visit to one of the cooperatives installed there – adding a good dose of patience and haggling – will avoid the commission of intermediaries.
At this point, the choice is clear: Erg Chebbi or Erg Chegaga? The answer is not so obvious; either will be the right decision, and the choice will depend on how each understands the journey.
But it is still true that taking advantage of a first getaway to Marrakech to meet Erg Chebbi, proposing an a posteriori route with more desert landscapes and Erg Chegaga as a colophon, is often chosen by those who have this country as one of their passions, possibly the only fair option for both ergs.