Erg Chebbi (Merzouga) is a marvelous place and if you want to get the best out of it, just read about my experience at the Auberge Lahamada and you won't let some money-thirsty men ruin your holidays.
When my girlfriend and I arrived in Rissani we were assalted by this nagging, fat man who first invited us to have lunch at his restaurant and then tried to convince us to stay at his hotel in Merzouga. This was the deal "I take you to Merzouga, you see my hotel and if you don't like it you can find another one. There's plenty of them in Merzouga." We hesitated a little bit, but as we couldn’t find another way to reach Merzouga we accepted his offer. On our way to Merzouga I started feeling nervous, especially when we left the paved road and turned to the left. In front of us there was sand, nothing but sand. I asked him whether we were still headed to Merzouga and obviously the answer was yes. After 20-minutes reckless drive in the dunes - the car even got stuck in the sand - we saw the hotel, like a mirage in the desert, literally! The hotel name is AUBERGE LAHAMADA. The place was ok, but the rooms were smelly, they probably had problems with the sewage system. Around us we could see nothing but sand and, at a long distance, a couple of hotels. We were clearly upset and angry. The fat guy with a self-satisfied smirk on his face insisted that we could get our backpacks and start walking to find another accomodation. It was 3 pm, the heat was unbearable and we were in the middle of nowhere. We thought the only thing to do was to spend the night there and the following morning we could have searched for another accomodation. The room was cheap (40 dirhams each) but the trick is that they overcharge you for whatever you need, especially food, and they know you can't get it anywhere else. The following morning I asked the manager of the hotel how we could get into town and the aswer was "Maybe there's a car, maybe not...maybe you go tomorrow". He clearly had the whip hand and he knew how to use it. Why is that? Very easy. Before leaving the hotel we had to go for the camel trip in the desert. That's the second way they get money, a lot of money. He gave us two options and we chose the cheapest one. He spent the whole day trying to convince us to go for the more expensive trip as other tourists already chose that trip, so for them it was much easier to organise the thing. He even asked me to give him some of my stuff, like shoes, t-shirts or medicines! No way, of course. And when I approached the other guests to have a chat with someone of sound mind the manager roughly warned me not to talk to them. If I had any questions I had to ask him. (I was later told that they offer different prices to tourists, so he was afraid I could get some information I shouldn't have got) Anyway, we managed to spend the day there and in the evening we were ready for our trip, which was surely nice, even though very rushed. As soon as we went back to the hotel I asked for a car to reach Rissani and this time my request was satisfied. Finally we escaped what we felt like a prison. I've never felt so uncomfortable, defenseless and mistreated in my life. These people have no idea of what hospitality means and the worst of it all is that they spoil the beauty and the poetry of the desert. For what? Money, of course.
We thought that once in Rissani we had regained our freedom and saved ourselves from the clutches of the owner of the hotel. Apparently we were wrong. We met him again at the CTM bus stop, as we were going to take the night bus to Fès. We didn’t want to talk to him, so we just ignored him, we entered the bus and found our seats. He must be a very proud and self-confident person, as he entered the bus and started talking to us. I politely asked him to leave us alone and this induced his violent and gross reaction. At this point I just waited for him to calm down and get out of the bus. Then it was really over.
I've been told that in the recent years lots of hotels have risen in Erg Chebbi area and, especially for those built in the middle of nowhere (not in Merzouga), the only way to grab customers is to take them there "by force" and then drain their wallet in every way possible. In order to avoid this hassle, when you reach Rissani just ask a taxi driver (a real one!) to take you to Merzouga and there you'll choose the hotel that best suits your needs.
Never follow someone who asks to be followed. Be the first to ask! ;)