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Camel Trekking Through the Sahara Desert
Last week I found myself riding a camel through the #Sahara Desert in #Morocco. This was an #aspirational trip for me. I have dreamed of seeing the rich hues of the desert the sun and sand dunes first hand for as long as I can remember.
While I have always had the impossible lust of visiting every destination in the world, there are a few places that always linger in my mind just a little bit longer than the others. They are the places that I have dreamed of visiting since I was a child. They are the places that I almost can’t imagine actually setting foot in. They are the places that just don’t seem palpable.
A prime example of one of these places, for me, was the Sahara Desert. Could these beautiful curvaceous piles of sand truly exist in the world? Do people really travel through them for days at a time? And, why would they ever leave?
Fortunately, with one of the most memorable experiences of my entire life, I was able to answer these questions for myself. Last week I found myself in Morocco, on the edge of the Sahara Desert. We had been driving for days, making stops along the way—but we were finally here.
Last week I found myself in Morocco, on the edge of the Sahara Desert
Leaving the High Atlas Mountains, the ground started to level out. As miles passed, rocks became pebbles, pebbles became grains and grains eventually smoothed out into a fine pale coloured sand. Then I saw it.
Wavering above the sweltering heat of the desert horizon rose the red peaks of the dunes in the distance. I couldn’t believe that I was genuinely seeing them with my own eyes, and found it difficult to break contact with them. We pulled off the main road and followed a faint trail through the desert sands. The dunes grew closer and closer until finally we had reached their edge.
Wavering above the sweltering heat of the desert horizon rose the red peaks of the dunes...
Disembarking the bus, everyone prepared themselves for our next mode of transportation; camels.
Our camel train was lined up and ready to go, the camels themselves perched on the ground waiting for us to climb aboard and begin the journey. One by one we hopped up onto the seats and the camels and the camels rose high into the air.
It looked like the camels bony emaciated legs were going to break in twelve different places, and felt like I was going to go flying off into the sand in front of me. As if he were laughing at my ridiculous thoughts, my camel made a scoffing noise as he took his place in the line up.
One by one, we hopped up onto the seats and the camels rose high into the air.
I would name him Ozwald.
The camel train started off into the first dune. Ozwald and I followed; the second to last in the entire train.
We made our way to the summit of the first dune and the landscape opened up in front of me. Bright red sand dunes stretched out as far as I could see in every direction. It was all sand, except for the odd tuft of whispy green grass, and nothing but an alluring pattern of dark shadows and brilliant highlights.
Bright red sand dunes stretched out as far as I could see...
I couldn’t help but watch the shadows casted to the east by our train, rather than the physical train in front of me.
The shadow-camels were much more interesting than the real ones as they stretched and bent, almost dancing along the sloping hills, creating curious shapes and inconceivable limbs. When their legs became impossible stilts in the sand, I was reminded of many of the unconventional paintings by Salvador Dali.
From this point I could see the Moroccan-Algerian border in the distance, as it was less than 50km away, and there was nothing but decumbent ground on that side of the sand dunes.
Our guide joked that we should be sure to bring our passports, just in case our camels decided to make a break for the border.
I could see the Moroccan - Algerian border in the distance
As the dunes rose and fell our camels continued onward without restraint or any seeming desire to run off to Algeria.
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Surprisingly, there was a lot of traffic going on in the desert. Nearby camel trains (although much smaller than our own) passed by and there was quite a flurry of quads and motor bikes.
For the first 20 minutes of the ride, everyone was high with the adrenaline of a new adventure and it felt like a sort of party camel train.
People were dancing around on their camels and waving their hands in the air. After the initial group excitement of being on the camels (many for the first time), things started to calm down. Forty minutes into the trek, it actually became peaceful.
Forty minutes into the trek, it actually became quite peaceful.
There was a soft warm breeze in the air, creating the perfect temperature. The sun was beginning to set behind the dunes and the light was just right on the sand in front of us. There was no sound but the quiet padding of camel feet on the ground below, and the quiet murmur of individual conversations ahead.
I had mastered the skill of riding with no hands but continued to bounce along as we climbed up and down the hills. From the back of the train I could see everyone riding in different styles.
Some were riding them like horses; sitting at the front of the saddle and gripping on to the handle bars for their lives. Some were riding casually; leaning back and enjoying the view. While others were going side saddle and likely saving their “backsides” from the imminent pain that we would all be feeling the next day.
After an hour of trekking through the dunes, we had finally arrived at our Berber camp for the night.
The sun took its final bow behind the tallest dune as we entered the camp and we readied ourselves for the night ahead after hopping back down off of our camels.
The sun took its final bow behind the tallest dune as we entered the camp...
The next morning was much the same. Our camels followed the very same trails that we had trekked in on and made their way back to the desert’s edge. This time we watched the sun rise over the dunes, creating an even richer hue of red across the dark orange sands and lighting up the sky above us.
It had been an incredible trek and we finished it off with a delicious Moroccan breakfast on the outskirts of Erg Chebbi.