Riding a camel through the Sahara Desert has been a dream of mine for at least two weeks now. I didn’t think we could handle six full days in Marrakech, so I booked us a three-day tour out to the Sahara Desert near the border with Algeria. Since it is 600 km drive to get there, the tour included stops at Kasbahs (mud brick fortress with 40-50 homes inside), a movie studio, and a Berber village.
I think our tour guide was either extremely shy or thought everything was self-evident and required no explanation. He would stop the car and we would patiently await instructions. Then he would chide us, “Get out, take pictures!” Sometimes these stops weren’t too photogenic and he never told us what we were looking at or why it might be significant. If he closed the doors after us, it meant that we were stopping for 20-60 minutes. I reframed my expectations and accepted that our guide was just a driver and I could look up the history of these places later.
The second day a new guide joined our group to take us through a Berber village, and he talked so much we missed the silence of the driver. Despite talking for four hours straight, he didn’t impart any cultural information or history. He pointed out a crumbling ruin and told me it was abandoned, he walked us down an alleyway and told us it was old, he pointed out green dates on a tree and told us they weren’t ripe, and he pointed at a paved road and told us that it was possible to drive on it. The rest of the time he tried to tell jokes and then repeated them and explained them until the group would laugh. It was painful. The tour group was really friendly though. We had two Canadians, thirteen Germans, and us. One new friend even taught me how to tie a turban.
The Atlas mountains were colorful and beautiful. They reminded me of Utah and the area surrounding Zion.
By evening the second day, we arrived at the edge of the Sahara to begin our camel trek. We left the guide and driver behind, and mounted the camels that would take us to our camp in the sand dunes. Riding a camel was so much fun! I thought it would be uncomfortable, but it was more comfortable than a horse although much harder to stay on. Taking photos while riding felt a bit perilous, but no one fell off.
The evening light was so beautiful and all 17 of us had the enthusiasm of children as we played in the sand and ran up and down the dunes.
We had a traditional Berber dinner that evening followed by music and dancing. They played drums and sang and screamed. Throughout the evening they would yell out AHFREEKAH and we would echo it back.
It was a full moon and a cloudy night, so the dunes were well illuminated for a night walk. We could hear the drums of camp in the distance, so we weren’t too nervous about getting lost. The desert felt so vast when we could spin in a circle and see nothing but sand in every direction.
The following morning we had a sunrise camel ride back to Merzouga. The desert experience was exactly what I was hoping for.