We rode camels. In the Sahara. Then we slept in Berber tents in the middle of the desert. And it was pretty awesome.
We woke up pretty early to meet our guide Ibrahim and start our day, driving towards the desert and away from the craziness of Marrakesh. We were in for a long three days of driving to get to the Erg Chebbi sand dunes and back, stopping periodically to visit towns, villages, gorges and the High Atlas Mountains. There were two other couples on the tour with us, one from Portland and one from Colorado Springs/New Zealand (they live in The Netherlands though), who we got to know pretty well in the hours spent talking in the car.
We drove through the High Atlas Mountains, which are very different than our Rocky Mountains at home, but were nonetheless beautiful in their own way. We stopped in an old town, Ait Benhaddou (which means “Tribe of Ben’s father”) with an old casbah where dozens of movies have been filmed.
Our first day in the car was HOT (35 Celsius or 95 Fahrenheit), but we were able to stay in the air-conditioned car most of the day, taking in the views from the comfort of the temperature-controlled car. We stopped for the night at a hotel in a gorge, where we ate a dinner of traditional tagine, participated in drum circle and drank delicious mint tea. Sleep was hard to come by because of the heat, the bugs and the caffeine from the mint tea (lesson learned, don’t drink mint tea at night, is DOES have caffeine in it), but we finally made it sleep and rested for the next day.
Our second day in the car was a SCORCHER, topping out at 45 degrees Celsius (115 Fahrenheit), but holding steady throughout the day at an uncomfortable 42 (108 Fahrenheit). It was also incredibly windy, making it hard to see much out the window. We stopped for a break in a gorge with a river running through it, and man did the water feel good to stick our toes in. There were families watering their goats and donkeys, staying out of the heat and the mid-day sun.
We arrived in Merzouga (the town at the base of the dunes) around 5 pm, where we waited for about an hour until it cooled off a little to catch our camel ride into the desert. The wind was intense and I was glad that I had so many extra scarves to share with people in the group as we all bundled up like Berbers and started our journey into the Sahara.
Riding a camel was like nothing else I have ever done. I have ridden horses before, but camels are so tall and feel so much less steady in some ways (maybe it’s the sand that slips beneath their hooves as they walk). Logan’s camel was extremely fat and his legs stuck straight out from its sides (he looked pretty goofy!). The dunes were beautiful and went on as far the eye could see.
We arrived in the Berber camp in the middle of nowhere, where we sat talking while the two Berber men who had led us to our tents (which I am still amazed by as there seemed to be no landmarks by which to navigate). After dinner we laid in the sand, under the stars, which were some of the brightest and clearest I have ever seen (which is saying something, as the mountains of Colorado have some pretty amazing stars). We slept in the tents on thick, Berber woven blankets.
The next morning we woke up before the sunrise, which we watched from the top of a nearby dune.
After watching the beautiful sunrise it was time to get back on the camels. I was so sore from the day before that I was sure that I was going to cry or pass out from the pain. We finally made it back to the car and off the camels (to my great relief). We spent 8 hours in the car, making it back to Marrakesh for dinner in the square.
Despite spending so much of the tour in the car, our three days going to the desert was such a unique experience that I will truly never forget. Riding a camel is amazing, and if it isn’t on your bucket list, you should add it pronto!