If you’d told us six months ago that we’d be riding camels in the Sahara, we would have
replied, “You’ve got the wrong people for that.” After all, we had done just that at the Knoxville Zoo atop a mangy, reluctant beast who shuffled around a dirt ring with us and our granddaughter hanging on for dear life. But when in the Sahara, ya gotta do what ya gotta do. There’s only one way to see sundown in Morocco: on a camel’s back. And yes, you still may be hanging on for dear life.
After leaving Ourzazate, you drive half a day (at least) past oases, farm land, clusters of homes surrounding yet another beautiful mosque until you finally come to Merzouga, the
place where you leave the comfort of your guided tour and hop into a jeep headed to the desert. You travel along an unmarked road. (Well, really there is no road. And how the Jeep drivers know their way through sand was just one of the baffling realities of our trip to Morocco.)
We went past campsites of nomads, past tourists mounting camels, and into what seemed to be the end of the earth as we knew it. But it was really just the edge of Erg Chebbi. Now, an erg is a sea of dunes formed by wind-blown sand, but this erg is dotted with campsites the likes of which you may have never seen before.
Welcoming us with open arms and a pot of herb tea in a silver pitcher, our hosts for the evening guided us to a white tent worthy of Lawrence of Arabia.
And once inside, we were surprised by red velvet “walls” and down comforters — not like any tent camping we’d ever experienced. On one side of the tent: a private shower. On the other side: a private toilet. Sinks, mirrors, and hot water, too: all part of the standard luxury treatment.
But behind the tent was what we came to see: dunes piled high against an afternoon sky with camels sitting idly by, waiting for a sunset run with yet another batch of tourists.
Wrapped tightly in all white, our guide waited patiently for our party of six to arrive. And then he shared secrets of successful mounting — some of which we understood, some of which we didn’t.
It was all good advice, we quickly learned, even if we didn’t fully comprehend: “As the camel moves, you move in the opposite direction. If he comes up, you bend down. If he dips down unexpectedly, you move upright.” And we thought about that, not really knowing any more than when we started the journey. But with a few flourishes and counter moves, we were up.
And then (even before we were ready) we were off! The guide held the rope of the first camel which was tied to all the others, and the camels knew the drill. (Take the tourists one careful step at a time: up and over and around those dunes!)
We dismounted once, as we were given the opportunity to climb to the highest mound of sand. Some did. Some didn’t. But all took in the afternoon glow as the sun began its descent.
By the time we re-mounted, we had only a few shaky camel steps downward before we all held tight to the reins with one hand and our cameras with the other to capture sundown in the Sahara. Worth it. Totally.
Meanwhile back in the camp, dinner was bountiful — Moroccan dishes, one after another. And entertainment that got us up: bouncing, singing, clapping and cheering on the brave ones selected by the drummer to entertain the group.
After dinner the light show began. With nothing more than a fire pit for a soft glow, we sat around and pointed at stars, the moon, and the pitch black sky before turning in and putting our tired bodies to rest on those plush beds in the tents.
Morning began at 4:30 a.m. when we did as we were told the night before: “Put on your clothes and get outside. You may only have one chance to see sunrise at the Sahara.” And the host was right. Worth it again.
Saying good-bye was like parting after a week of camping — sweet but a little sad. But back into the Jeep again — and on to the next adventure. Morocco just may have it all — cities with medinas, vast stretches of fertile land and small farming communities, coastal towns, and sand. Lots and lots of sand. What a country!
For more information:
Contact your travel agent and ask for information on camping in the Sahara. Or just Google “Camping in the Morocco desert.” You’ll find prices, dates, and accommodations for just about every budget. But, for sure: don’t mark it off your to-do list ’til you’ve done it!
Thanks for traveling to Morocco with us —
Bert and Rusha Sams