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Into the Sahara

December 12, 2021

After breakfast we visited a fossil processing facility outside Merzouga. Finding marine fossils is big business on the edge of the Sahara, and the manager showed us several pieces of granite with embedded marine fossils, mostly ammonites (nautilus) and squid, then briefly demonstrated how the stone is carved and polished to reveal the shapes of the shells. The resulting art is stunning, and they make dining and coffee tables, as well as myriad smaller items.

Driving into the desert, we met up again with Kiki at his home, where one of the village women, Rakia, would demonstrate how to make medfouna, a regional specialty that we would eat for lunch. She started by making three cooked “salads,” which we would simply refer to as sides, that are served at room temperature: all started with garlic sweated in oil, to which chopped tomatoes were added. One continued with sliced carrots, another with green beans and the third with aubergine, all cooked in clay dishes over braziers fired by olive wood charcoal.

Medfouna is essentially a Moroccan calzone, so she made a semolina bread dough and set it aside to rise briefly while she finished off the salads. Dividing the dough into pieces, she formed a bottom crust by gently and patiently patting the dough into a perfect circle about eight inches in diameter, then piling on a pre-cooked mixture of ground lamb, onion, garlic, parsley and spices. Patting out another piece of dough, she placed it on top of the filling, pulling the edges of the bottom crust up to make a seal.  Then more patting and turning, deflating the air bubbles that formed under the surface, gently spreading it to a diameter of about 12 inches (all this she did on a tea towel sprinkled with semolina). After making a second pie, she put them aside to rest while Kiki started a fire in the outdoor oven using wood and dry palm fronds. She used a pizza peel to slide them onto a metal pan that had heated along with the fire, and baked each one for perhaps fifteen minutes.

Et voilà! Lunch was unique and oh so delicious.

After lunch my driver, Mohammed, from the desert camp where I’m staying tonight, came to collect me. I had the option of going by camel but decided against it, as it takes about an hour and a half, and if I didn’t like it there wouldn’t be anything I could do about it. The ride over the dunes, however, was heart-stopping, as we had to climb to get to the camp, and the Land Cruiser bucked, skidded and leaned as Mohammed expertly negotiated the sandy terrain. I asked if I have to go out the same way tomorrow, and he said yes, but told me it would be downhill. Can’t wait.

My comfortable tent has a heater against the cold Sahara nights, and a bathroom with toilet, shower and sink — and plenty of hot water. My host is a young man named Mustafa who gave me a little briefing on the camp and what to expect. There’s a couple from Berlin in the tent next to me, so it was nice to have someone to chat with before dinner. They were an interesting couple, he German, she Israeli; both spoke English fluently. They are avid travelers, so we had much to discuss.

After dinner, Mustafa and the other staff member lit the lamps along the path to a fire pit, which blazed merrily; then they played drums and sang Berber songs as we enjoyed watching the stars come out. Though I stayed up till after moonset to catch the Milky Way, the sky was scattered with clouds and I couldn’t see it. One of the things I miss about this trip is having a photographer leader who knows when and where to go — like hiking up the tallest dune for the sunset, which I wasn’t about to do on my own.

I headed to the dining tent the next morning looking forward to a blast from the patio heater, because my heater did little to stave off the desert cold; but learned from Mustafa that my neighbors had appropriated it for their own tent during the night. Yavon had asked me last night if I knew the Hebrew word chutzpah…. Anyway, Mohammed took me on a much tamer ride back into town, and I was grateful.

One Comment
  1. Mary Madden permalink

    Wow. That was an enormous boulder! Fascinating story

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