Sand, sun and wind. This beautiful combination for the adventure traveler is what awaited me as the van neared the campground where our desert tour into the Moroccan Sahara would begin. This was my second overnight desert tour (the first an extraordinary experience I enjoyed in the Tunisian desert a number of years ago )and I hoped that this time my camera would not pay the dues and become a useless gadget after sand reached parts it should not.
As I scoured the horizon looking for a sign of where we might spend the night I was instructed to sit on my camel, hold on tight and enjoy the ride as I swayed back and forth while what appeared to be my friendly ride stood up. In front of me laid the rest of the caravan, and I was lucky enough to be the last member of the group allowing for great pictures as the sun set behind us.
My compact camera was inside a waterproof bag that would keep all the sand away and my DSLR was in my backpack unless I was taking a picture- not that it was easy with all the movement. As you might know camels flex their legs forward instead of backward like we, horses and most animals do, creating a pendulum movement enhanced by the fact that they move both legs of the same side at the same time, instead of diagonally opposites.
As we marched through the desert I was able to take in the spectacular scenery that surrounded me, from the 100 m dunes just a few hundred meters in front of me to those in the horizon that were already belonged to Algeria, one of Morocco’s neighboring countries. Four hours into the desert our local guides told us that we were already close to the camp- just a few minutes ahead- and those who wanted to walk to the top of the highest dune in the area could do so quickly before the sun set and everything became pitch black. I was not going to miss this opportunity of course and together with most of the group began the walk.
It turned out that this was easier said than done. Every step forward meant sinking the front leg into the sand well past the shin bone, and after a few minutes of walking those less fit decided to turn around. Four of us continued and once at the top were able to enjoy fantastic views of the desert and the lights of small villages in the distance. It was very windy, so I decided not to pull out any of my cameras to avoid possible damage by sand, and as the sun set we decided to head to the camp directly, not to where we had left the rest of the group as we would not be able to see where the camp was from there. Halfway down the dune it got dark, but the guides turned on a flashlight to let us know which way we should go.
The camp was surprisingly big and well appointed. Sure, home for a night would be a tent (not for me) but there were about ten of them each big enough to fit 6 people despite our group being of 17. Once our spots were allocated the group split around two bonfires while the guides prepared dinner: delicious couscous and tagine enough to feed a group twice as large as ours. After the succulent dinner I and two more travelers grabbed our mattresses and pulled them out of the tent into a dark area close to the camp where we’d sleep, gazing at the millions of stars easily visible in this dry climate with clear skies.
But the day was not over yet. Soon after laying on the mattress one of the guides approached us and proposed a night walk to the top of the high dune where we’d be able to enjoy yet again wonderful views. Not to miss such an opportunity I was up and on my way with three other members in no time, following the guide in the dark. However things turned out to be easier said than done, and the described 10 minute walk became a one hour ordeal that had me on my fours more than once. Eventually we made it (not the guide- he turned around at some point without letting us know)and from the top we were able to appreciate the beauty of the desert during the night from a special vantage point in between all the huffing and puffing. We spent a good 20 minutes taking in the views and resting, looking at the lights of two villages on the west side and those of two small nearby camps close to ours with the black desert night behind them , and made our way back soon after. We’d only get three hours of sleep that night, but who cares if it meant absorbing these sights?
Sure enough at 5 am we were all up and packing our bags, on our camels soon after and on our way to town. As the caravan marched the sun rose from the East, illuminating everything with shades of pink and orange that reflected on the golden sand of the Sahara desert. About four hours later we reached our van in town, dirty, tired and thirsty… but with a grin that did not leave our faces as we reflected on these new memories not to be forgotten anytime soon.