Sahara is an Arabic word meaning “The Greatest Desert”. And indeed, the Sahara Desert is the largest hot desert and the third largest desert in the world after the Antarctica and the Arctic.
As part of our trip, we wanted to “experience” the desert via a camel trek and an overnight stay. This is a popular tourist activity and there are several entry points. We chose to go via the village of Merzouga as the Sahara at this point is made up of ergs – large seas of dunes formed by wind-blown sand. Merzouga borders the Erg Chebbi dunes, which soar to heights of 815 feet in places, and spans an area of 50km from north to south and up to 5km east to west.
Our hostel arranged the desert trek for us. We, along with one other couple from our hostel, set out at 4pm when our “camel guide” picked us up. We walked to where the desert trail began and our camels were waiting. There were five camels there and each was tied one to the other. The guide instructed each camel to sit, once all were seated, he started with the last camel in the line, it was mounted by one of the trekkers and then got up, then the second last one was mounted and stood, etc., until all were mounted and up. The camel guide then took the rope of the first camel and led the line of camels through the desert to our camp.
We trekked for an hour. I enjoyed the ride. I especially enjoyed it when the camel was climbing a dune, as it was easy to maintain my balance, it was much more difficult when going downhill because you are pitched forward and you have to hang on tight and try and hold yourself back. Some areas the camel walked through were bare ground with small rocks and no sand. It was amazing how much more “harsh” the camel ride was at those times without the cushioning of the sand to act as shock absorbers. I have to say that even though I enjoyed it, one hour on a camel was plenty. My upper inner thighs were aching by the time I got off. I always wear my step counter and noticed that in the hour on the camel, my counter racked up 8600 steps!! Shows just how much we were jostled around.
At the end of the trek was a camp compound, made up of a number of tents for sleeping, a dining tent, a cook tent, and a common area. There were several such compounds around, Sanford counted eight, but because of the dunes, we could not see each other.
I’m always concerned about washrooms and one of the first things I asked about when I got there was where the washroom was. The fellow I was talking to didn’t understand English and just kind of waved his hand around and I interpreted that to mean that you just go behind the tent…which eventually I did. I felt rather foolish later when, sitting in the common area, I noticed there were washrooms. And when I say washrooms, I mean western style flushing toilets!! A little while later, Sanford and I went to our tent for a bit of a rest before dinner, and as I was lying on the bed I noticed a glimpse of porcelain from between the curtains at the back of the tent. There was a flushing toilet, sink and shower!! Flushing toilets in the Sahara! Who knew?!
We watched the sun go down over the dunes, and had a relaxing Moroccan dinner before turning in for the night. It was peaceful at night in the desert. It was also cold, but a good warm blanket was all that was needed.
The next day, shortly after breakfast, we mounted our camels and made the trek back, along with other caravans of camels from surrounding camps.
It was a great experience. But some things I left out of my narrative above are that there are four wheel SUVs driving throughout this area. At the camp we were staying at, there were about twenty people, but only four of us came by camel, the others came by vehicles. What fun is that? In addition, there are whole adventure groups driving around the dunes on four-wheel quad bikes. It’s like being on a quiet lake that suddenly jolts from the sound of water skidoos. Last of all, as we were trekking, there was some garbage strewn around, mostly empty water bottles and Kleenex, not a lot, but enough, sad.
In spite of that, I am pleased to now be able to say that I have been to the Sahara, The Greatest Desert.
Next stop is Marrakesh.