We assumed an impenetrable group formation and quickly found a likely-looking hotel, the Vallée Drâa. By now there was only one hustler left, a persistent but friendly character who had managed to stick to us all the way from the bus station, trying to sell us a camel trek for 150 dirhams. This was a hundred dirhams less than we'd been told, which wasn't necessarily bad, except that I was automatically suspicious of anyone who was that desperate to sell us anything.

We were there in the low season, which is perhaps why everyone was so desperate to get money out of us. It was the end of January, and we'd all taken some time off work - in my case, resigned - to finally get around to seeing the desert. Morocco only really catches the edge of the enormous Sahara; the edge of the Grand Erg Occidental just touches a town near the Algerian border called Er-Rachidia, but we didn't have the time or the money to get there. Zagora was the best bet: we could organise camel treks into the desert and maybe - this was what we hoped - see a few real, proper sand dunes. We'd all been fixated by a picture in the guide book of footprints stretching away over the crest of a magnificent thirty-foot yellow dune, and this was our bid to see the desert that came to mind when you thought of North Africa and the Arabs.

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