ONE OF MY DREAMS HAS ALWAYS BEEN TO SIT IN THE SANDS OF THE SAHARA. IN MARCH 2016 I ACHIEVED THIS DREAM AND OH WHAT AN EXPERIENCE.
After what felt like days of driving I had arrived in Merzouga. This was the real outskirts of the Sahara. For the previous nights I had spent time in the outskirts Zagora (a small town near the Draa River valley of Souss-Massa Draa in the south-east of Morocco. The city is named so, as it flanked on two sides by mountains. Its original name was ‘Tazagourt’, which meant ‘Twin Peaks’).
Zagora was definitely not the Sahara experience I had been wanting… So further I dove into the unforgiving desert in search of Dunes, Adventure and Berbers.
But arriving in Merzouga I knew that this wouldn’t be the leaving civilization behind wander into the desert and never return moment that had been aching in my bones but I knew it would be magical none the less.
I could see the dunes calling my name out on the horizon.
The bags were grabbed and the short trek to the edge of the desert started. This is where I would ride a camel in among the dunes to camp with the Berbers.
As I was travelling with a group, we had to wait for camels to be assigned to us (They said it was weight limits for certain camels).
So the waiting for a camel commenced, this waiting happened for awhile, until the few of us that were left were approached by one of the local Berber.
‘sorry my friends, all the camels have gone. We can wait for them to return but this will take several hours or I can take you out‘
As none of us wanted to miss anytime in the desert we agreed for him to take us out although we had no idea how.
He returned shortly after driving a Jeep… After riding camels a few times over the previous days this was a joyous sight (the welts between my legs were still painfully fresh)
We threw our bags in the back, went to climb inside when the guy (I’m going to call him Jerry from now on) signaled for us to climb on the roof, with a few hesitant looks (more just wondering if this was a communication barrier) we all managed to climb up.
Now this was an experience of a lifetime – speeding through the Saharan dunes on the roof of a 4×4.
Jerry was definitely what you could call a speed demon. He was leaping the jeep from dune to dune and showing off to anyone or anything that was nearby.
We stopped about half way of the standard photo moment (Instagram it or it didn’t happen)
Once we arrived at base camp, we immediately began the accession of the dunes.
When a wealthy family refused hospitality to a poor woman and her son, God was offended, and buried them under the mounds of sand called Erg Chebbi. So goes the legend of the dunes rising majestically above the twin villages of Merzouga and Hassi Labied.
Now this took some effort, if you ever thought you were fit try climbing 200m of pure sand. It’s not as easy as it looks but it was sure worth it.
After the majestic viewing of the sunset, and realizing that darkness was settling over the land, I made my way down the dunes and decided to explore the area.
The tents were set up in three separate groups with the main food tent in the middle. No toilet except for the vast litter box around me.
Not long after dinner was had, which was very similar to what was had in Zagora, This was a Tagine of beef? or chicken? or lamb? or camel? honestly not to sure, glorious Moroccan bread, a weird bland soup that definitely required salt (Moroccans/Berbers generally don’t add salt to their food, they get their sodium intake from olives), olives the super salty delicious kind and it was finished up with Berber Whiskey (Maghrebi mint tea).
After food was had and conversations were finished, fires were started, singing rang out, drums pounded and dancing commenced.
This is where the night roared to life, people from all different walks of life, all different lands coming together to experience the nomadic culture.
“Smoke of many kinds blew through the desert that night, great conversations were spoken in all tongues, music from every corner of the earth was played, friendships were made and lives were made peaceful and full; all under a star studded sky that shone enough to lead us all into the confines of happiness”
The morning was a early start – especially early after a night sleeping on a hard mattress with minimal covers in the cold desert air.
But the calls of the morning rose me quickly, teeth were quickly scrubbed, business was buried in the sand for some unlucky individual to find, camels were collected and off we rode in the sunrise back towards civilization at last. (After 4 days of little showers, nearly constant contact lens wearing and sand this was a sadly welcomed thought)
Actually I will make a note here about the treatment of these camels, it is pretty horrible. Whip marks stain their backs, the ropes that join then are tight and short allowing for little movement. Yes it was a wonderful experience to ride a camel in the desert but I would recommend for PETA‘s sake, for your sake and for the camels sake that you do not endorse, encourage or support this section of tourism. It was horrible to witness and coming from an animal lover it definitely put a black mark on this experience. If you are thinking of doing a Moroccan desert expedition, pay more for a jeep or take the high road and walk into the desert.