Our Saharan Desert Camp

Sahara Our group ascending the dunes! Photo: Aidan Thorp

Sadly we didn’t have the best weather for our trek into the desert. It seemed overcast, but those grey skies weren’t clouds. A sandstorm was rolling in. You could literally see the dunes moving, slowly but surely, with the wind. After an astounding 10 hour drive from Fes to Merzouga, we were mostly glad to be out of the Sprinter. I have blocked it out of my memory. I’d probably sign up for it again, just because I’ve forgotten exactly how unpleasant it is to be in a van for that long. What I do remember is pulling to the side of the road so our dear friend Knox could be sick. 

I also remember everyone being stunned to see the Sahara. The dunes were so much taller and more burnt orange than we’d imagined. Ian sat on the wall of the resort (which would be storing our belongings while we were off at camp), gazing out over the sand from the time we took tea until it was time to go. Knox decided not to come. She could see the dunes from the resort and just could not face the camel ride after an unbearable drive. Once the trek started, I definitely thought Knox had made the right decision.

sahara

After about five minutes on the camel I’d had enough. Oh how I longed to just walk to the camp. I named my camel Springy and began naming all the camels in the column. In fact, Springy didn’t live up to his name at all. He was in no way springing, in fact rather lumbering. Camels take a step, allow their hooves to sink into the sand, and then bring their other leg forward. So every step has two jolts. It’s extremely uncomfortable.

sahara morocco Sahara Morocco sahara morocco camel camel riding sahara morocco

It took an hour to reach the camp. Little tent villages were dotted about amongst the dunes and ours was the furthest from the resort. The tents are joined together to form a square compound with foam mats and carpets forming a social area at the centre. Each tent had two rooms and each room had two thin sleeping mats. The room selection process was swift and efficient because we were dying to climb the nearest dune. Our guide looked at us knowingly and said, “It doesn’t look far, but I’d say that will take you at least twenty minutes. Half an hour.” He was right.

Walking up the dunes was much more difficult than anticipated! I stopped for a breathe every ten steps, and I’m not that unfit a person. Lactic acid was building up in my calves so that they burned each time I stole a break. With half the group already at the top I knew I couldn’t quit. I reached Ian, who had been sat for sometime about half way up, we managed to convince each other to keep going. Helping each other along, we finally made it to the small group of victors. High fives were given all around and we sat in hope of a sunset.

No luck. The wind was up and the sky was grey. The sun faded into the haze and it became cold and dark alarmingly quickly. Unsurprisingly, the descent was a lot faster.

dune climbing

sahara desert camp camp merzouga morocco

The camel drivers who had brought us into the desert prepared a tagine for us and we ate it hungrily – well deserved after our exercise. As night closed in, they brought out sets of drums and performed some berber songs for us. It was almost spiritual, dozing to the beat of the drums. When they asked us if we’d like to have a go only the kiwis were really game enough. I learned I don’t know all the words to any songs except for New Zealand’s national anthem! We sang part of Prince Ali, there may have been a verse of I Knew You Were Trouble, but hardly any completed songs. Brigette and I trilled some waiata (traditional Maori songs) that we remembered from school. It was a little embarrassing, but I feel less self conscious when I’m not singing in English.

The darker it got the more paranoid I became about bugs! I was absolutely terrified of the huge beetles! I never knew the desert could be so full of life! We started to see some dung beetles crawling about just as the sun was setting. Perhaps the cool air drives them out? They were flying about everywhere and I’m such a chicken 🙂

Our guide told us that we would leave at 6.20 the next morning so we could see the sun rise on en route back to the resort. He said if we heard him clapping, that was our alarm to get up. People filtered off to bed in singles and pairs. A small group was left in the centre of camp, telling jokes until the wee hours.

6am rolled around quickly. Brigette and I were up before our guide made his way, with the promised slow clap, around the campsite. I was already in pain. My entire lower region dreaded the thought of hopping back on Springy. It was even windier than the previous night and as we were led back along a different route, I really wished my scarf had been tighter and that I’d put on more layers before getting on the camel.

It was a quiet journey back. Everyone was contemplating the beautiful night we’d just spent in the Sahara and looking forward to mint tea, boiled eggs and the strange, pastry-like pancakes that seem to be a buffet staple in Morocco. Just like the journey in the van, I am slowly filtering out the uncomfortable memories and retaining only the good ones. Chances are I’d do the camel rides again just to spend one more night under the stars.

sahara morocco camel ride sahara morocco

Travel Fashion

We all went for the Lawrence of Arabia look for our desert excursion. The scarves kept the wind and sand out of our faces during the camel ride. I recommend good shoes that won’t fall off easily – we ended up with a rouge flip-flop in one of our saddle bags. The owner having either evaporated or didn’t notice they’d lost it. Barefoot up the dunes.

Since it was still Morocco’s cooler season, we needed long sleeves during the day. It also got quite chilly at night, so a light fleece is recommended. I didn’t end up using my puffy, down jacket, though I brought it in my backpack anyway. G-Adventures only allows you to bring a small backpack on the camels, with your suitcases and bags stored at a nearby resort. No one took a change of clothes with them, just fleeces and jumpers to layer on at night. When we got back to the resort the following morning we were able to shower and change.

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