Our guest post today is from a friend who had the good fortune to spend several weeks in Morocco last fall including a visit to MarocBaba’s mom’s house for a home-cooked Moroccan meal! Shelley Gable is an instructional designer who dabbles in freelance writing, including travel writing. She arranged the desert excursion through Journey Beyond Travel. You can find additional articles she has written about Morocco in the company’s Morocco Travel Guide.
Trekking among the Sahara’s Dunes
The idea of camping in the Sahara Desert conjured up exotic yet vague images of nylon zip-up tents with toasty sleeping bags, a glowing fire, bowls of couscous, and a guide telling stories in the middle of an open desert. For some reason, I took memories of camping in the woods of Wisconsin and plopped them against the backdrop of a generic desert scene, probably inspired by episodes of the Road Runner.
My husband and I spent three weeks in Morocco as a belated honeymoon over our first wedding anniversary. Though we explored much of the country independently, we treated ourselves to a private desert excursion for five days of our visit, which included one night under the stars among the Erg Chebbi sand dunes.
When we arrived at the desert’s edge by car, the guide who accompanied us for much of the excursion introduced us to our desert guide for that evening, Mohammad. They supervised as we eagerly mounted our single-humped camels. After securing our few overnight supplies, Mohammad grasped the cord connected to the lead camel’s nose and began walking our rope-linked caravan – my camel, my husband’s camel, and a supply-carrying camel – toward the dunes.
The airbrushed sand dunes against the evening sun and the desert’s enormity created an almost hypnotic effect. That is, until the camel broke the trance with a few jarring clomps down the first slope of the journey. Which corrected another of my misconceptions: riding a camel is not like riding a horse.
Riding a camel down a dune feels a little like the unexpected jolt of accidentally squeezing the front break on a bike…repeatedly. Even on level ground, a camel’s unsteady gait causes constant swaying. Despite that, the novelty of sitting perched atop a tall hump while easing into the Sahara makes the discomfort easy to ignore.
We reached our destination after 30 minutes of riding, and Mohammad immediately shooed us away to explore so that he could prepare the site and start dinner.
The cinnamon-and-sugar grains crunched under our shoes as we headed toward a nearby dune. If you’ve ever meandered across a beach, you know that the sand makes you work harder for each step. A sand dune taunts similarly, pushing the struggling climber’s foot a partial step back with each upward stride.
Fortunately, the panoramic views from the dune’s plateau made the ascent worthwhile. My husband and I gazed in all directions, admiring the expansiveness of our surroundings. Our campsite below, protected by two towering dunes, formed a U-shape with Bedouin-style tents. Like the nomadic tribe, we would sleep under the shelter of heavy wool fabric propped up by eight-foot beams.
The encroaching darkness eventually lured us down to the candlelit table in the middle of the campsite. Dinner turned out to be much more than the imagined bowl of couscous. Mohammad served a distinctly traditional spread of salad and tajine, followed by whole fruits for dessert. Overhead, the stars sparkled across the sky like a spilled crate of glitter. The moon rose much later, after it became sufficiently dark for a dramatic entrance.
The night was chilly and still. Though Mohammad told us that the desert hosts several camps every evening, some with nearly 100 travelers, we didn’t hear anyone else. Not even the pattering of a distant road runner.