Just a heads up – this is gonna be a longer blog entry because, after all, it covers 3 days and it’s about me in the Sahara frickin’ desert!
I was worried about the people I would be travelling with because they pretty much would make or break the trip. If I was stuck with a bunch of people who weren’t social or, worse yet, didn’t speak English it would be an excruciatingly long 3 days.
Luckily I was in a mix of pretty cool people. There were 4 others with me: Patrick and Sarah (friends in their early twenties from Boston) and Renald and Paul (friends in their late twenties from Malta). Travelling with them added an extra dimension to the trip as I had the opportunity to find about them and their lives which obviously are quite different from mine.
Said was in his mid twenties and was the perfect guide. Endearing and knowledgeable about Moroccan life. He would stop on the trip several times allowing us to take photos while he would tell us different stories about Moroccan life, their people and their history. I’ll never forget his reaction to bad drivers: he would simply just singsongy say “Africa!”
The loooooooooong ride
Getting to the Sahara desert takes a long time and the trip brings you through the mountains along long winding roads. I will say this: watching Said navigate along those roads passing other cars with ease was a bit of a marvel to see. I’ll be honest though – I slept (or at least tried to) through most of the drive.
The first day we left at 8am and with a few short stops here and there and a couple of hours for lunch we ended the day at a hotel 11 hours later. The second day we hit the road at 8am again and finally arrived at the desert about 7 hours later. The final day we drove straight back for another 11 hours from the desert to Marrakesh stopping only for lunch. So, yes, we spent *alot* of time in that 4×4 – but the experience overall was worth it.
Police shakedowns and passport panic
The police in Morocco like to set up roadblocks. In fact, we encountered about 7 of those roadblocks on our way there and our way back.
We actually got asked to pull to the side at the first roadblock because we weren’t wearing our seatbelts. Poor Said was given a fine which he talked down in price by basically slipping the officer money to avoid a ticket.
It was also at this first roadblock that I became aware that I hadn’t packed my passport with my travel pack (I stored most of my stuff at the hostel) which made for a sense of panic each time we headed towards another roadblock.
We did get stopped one more time on the way back because Said had passed over a solid line (this time it was a ticket) but thankfully no one ever asked for our passports.
The little villages along the way
When I signed up for the trek I thought it would just be about the “riding the camel” experience but it actually was so much more.
As I said earlier, the drive was long and we passed through several small villages along the way. We had several stops along the way and Said would tell us stories about life in certain villages. We also did a tour of a 13th century village where they filmed the Gladiator movies.
We passed date trees and alfalfa patches. We saw people along the side of the road trying to sell their wares and kids asking for money. We saw stray cats and dogs. We saw Moroccan life.
Tajine, tajine, tajine
We ate several meals on our trip and they pretty much all consisted of either a soup or salad to start and then a tajine or couscous followed by a plate of fruit. Very Moroccan. Very authentic.
My favorite meal, however, was our lunch on our 2nd day at the home of Said’s family. We saw his family and their kids loved us, giving us hugs and kisses. The meal itself was amazing starting with fresh picked nuts and this amazing homemade tea followed by a beet and cucumber salad, a huge chicken/vegetable couscous dish and then ending with a fresh fruit bowl.
The camel trek
Okay, I know, this is the part you really want to hear about. Well, we arrived at the Sahara desert in the late afternoon on the second day and Said left us with our two guides for the night. I hate to say it but I don’t remember their names (maybe one of my travel partners can send me a message and jog my memory).
Anyway they basically live in the desert in a nomad camp with tents and a fire pit surrounded by a drum circle. They took us on our five camels for an hour and half trek through the desert to their camp. My camel was a dark chocolate camel named Bob Marley.
It’s hard to describe the experience but it was magical for me. Not a single sound except for us. The rolling sand dunes all around us. The vibrant yellow color of the sand. It was an experience I will never forget. I just kind of sat there on my camel trekking slowly through the desert thinking about life and how fortunate I was to be there at that very moment.
We also trekked back in the (very) early morning to watch the sunrise over the desert dunes and to meet Said for our trip back home. That was also a surreal moment as everything was so calm and quiet.
I will say, however, if you do this trek: make sure you bring warm clothes! I always thought my concern with the desert would be with heat and staying hydrated. Not! It was more about being layered and keeping your face covered to avoid the cold wind gusts.
In between, we spent our night in a solar lit camp with a few different tents. While the guys cooked our dinner in one tent, we headed up to the top of a dune to watch the sunset and take some more photos. I did learn one thing here: don’t get sand in your digital camera. Unfortunately my lens cover doesn’t open now without me having to push it open and the zoom feature on my camera is kaput – but the picture I took when it happened was worth it:
Once the sun set we headed down to the camp where we were served another authentic Moroccan meal and then, after dinner, we hung out in the middle of the camp around a camp fire playing drums and telling the most God awful riddles.
For me, the highlight of the trip was lying back on the ground staring up at the crystal clear sky looking at the thousands of stars in the sky.
And that was how I spent the last three days – I know, hard life, right?