The Bike in the Desert
A night in the Desert & Flamingoes - Morocco 1997
The sun described its lazy arc through the cloudless afternoon sky and soon dipped its fiery toes behind the distant, western horizon. In a final triumphant gesture it set the broad hamada plains aglow with coruscating streaks of gold. I waved it good-bye then retreated further into the dunes to set up camp in the rapidly fading light. The wind had slowly picked-up throughout the late afternoon and was now whipping the finer sand into the air. Finding a relatively firm patch of ground I struggled to pitch my tent in the buffeting wind. At one point a gust of wind catapulted my half erected tent into the air and out across the desert. Luckily I managed to catch it before it disappeared completely into the thickening gloaming.
Into the night the wind grew stronger. The mesh sides of my inner tent proved poor protection against the wind driven sand and it quickly started to build-up inside. Unable to sleep I lay awake and listened to the eerie howls made by the wind as it cut through the black shrouded dunes. By morning there was more sand in my tent than outside.
Rising just before dawn I packed quickly and slithered my way out of the dunes. Riding in the soft sand was an acquired skill that I most certainly hadn't yet acquired, and several times I almost bit the dust, so to speak. Eventually finding a good spot to stop I armed myself with camera and waited for the sun to rise above the darkly silhouetted dunes.
As I waited I reflected on how these sand dunes had been created. Local legend had it that the dunes had been created in the course of a great punishment inflicted by god on the inhabitants of the old village of Merzouga who, many years ago, had refused to give shelter to a woman and her child during a festival. A huge sandstorm had blown up and buried the village forever. However, I had noticed when breaking camp that, on the windward side of my tent, sand had built up to form a perfect miniature sand dune. Perhaps this was how all sand dunes started and that, in years to come, my dune would grow to become as big as the ones now spread before me.
The waiting proved worth it when finally the sun crept above the dunes to spill its gift of warm light across the desert. As I watched I knew this moment would stay with me for a very long time.
Before leaving Merzouga I wanted to see if any flamingos were still in residence on the nearby lake. Racing west across the hamada plain I soon lost sight of Merzouga, and after a while began to wonder if perhaps I had missed the lake when suddenly, lying in a depression ahead and to my left, appeared Lake Dayet Srji. Actually it looked more like a pond than a lake and would no doubt soon dry-up altogether, but for the time being it was there, and if I wasn't much mistaken there were still flamingos on it. The flamingos, assuming that was what they were, were far too far away to get a good photograph of, so either I got closer or I gave up and left. I decided to get closer.
Now, not being a bird watcher and therefore having no experience of stalking birds, I opted for the direct method of approach. I opened up the throttle and hammered straight for them. I reasoned that if I got to them, as quickly as possible they wouldn't realise I was there until it was too late. I got about three quarters of the way before, in a flurry of feathers, they took clumsily to the air and flapped lazily towards the other side of the lake. Not easily defeated I waited for them to land on the far side of the lake. They didn't, they just kept flying and soon became little more than specks in the distance, then disappeared completely. Oh well I thought, I guess they had to leave some time.