For a long time, Sahara was a term only familiar to me via my Geography text book. It is the largest hot desert in the world and occupies much of North Africa. I have never gone on a trip to the desert before and was curious how the Sahara looks like in real life.
We could access the Sahara via Merzouga in Morocco, and enter the Erg Chebbi sand dunes. The dunes are huge heap of windblown sand and a majestic backdrop spanning across Morocco, bordering Algeria. In the olden days, traveling to the dunes was a hardship on Moroccans and other traders as they followed the Saharan Caravan Route to carry salts, gold, slaves, and spices to Timbuktu through Erg Chebbi. Today, we could take a long drive to the town, and ride a camel into the desert. Definitely less brutal than before!
We departed Fes early and left for a 10-hour drive to our Auberge in Merzouga through the Middle Atlas Mountains. Of course, there were coffee and toilet breaks in between. Finally by late afternoon, we arrived at Merzouga, ready for our camel ride to the desert camp in Erg Chebbi.
As we would be camping in the desert for the night, all of us packed a small bag of personal essentials (and alcohol) and wore a turban/scarf to prevent inhaling into the soft sand if there were a sandstorm. As it would be chilly at night, we donned on our waterproof jackets. Subsequently, our camels which were walking on a single file, was led by a Berber guide.
The camel ride was slow and easy to handle. But alas, we experienced rainfall while riding in the desert. Yes, it was raining in the Sahara! We braved on in the rain and focused on admiring the surreal sight of vast golden dunes and sparse vegetation.
After an hour of riding, just when our thighs started to feel sore, we reached our tents! The rain had coincidentally subsided. Unfortunately we were not able to admire the sunset due to this unpredictable weather but hey, how often does one experience rain in the desert?
After settling down at the tents, we were off to climb the dunes! I now realise my fitness level is below par because I was panting and giddy after climbing just one dune. Nonetheless, it was a good viewpoint to admire the surroundings. After the hike (and workout), I focused my attention onto dinner.
We were having tagines – a Moroccan Berber dish cooked in a claypot – that night! Dinner was going to be by the fire under the stars. We did have fun for a while before it started raining again. We eventually escaped into a tent and spent the night with wine, travel stories and African drums. It was fun, although I wished it didn’t rain and we could admire the starry night.
We went to bed without showering as there was no shower facilities at campsite. The following morning, we woke up bright and early at 6am. It was time to get on the camels and ride back to the Auberge.
The colour of the dunes looked different in the morning. Despite feeling dirty, sandy and sleepy, the view was really worth these efforts. The weather finally turned for the better and it was a tranquil ride, leaving us mesmerized by the vastness of the Earth.
Shortly after, the desert and the dunes transformed into the spectacular hue of golden orange. At long last, the Sahara was beaming in its magnificent glow!
We eventually reached the Auberge and alighted from our camels. It was time to head back for our much-needed shower and enjoy some breakfast. The Auberge we were at boasted a great view of the dunes and we spent some quiet moments sipping coffee and admiring the scenery.
If I had more time, I would probably spend the day at the Auberge, chilling by the pool or sitting at the desert with a book. The morning was quiet and peaceful, safe for the occasional murmurs from the camels. I felt grateful and blessed to be able to experience the Sahara through camels and camping (or perhaps glamping) with a group of fun folks.
And well, how many tourists would have encountered the Saharan Rain? This would go down to one of my most unforgettable experiences for sure!
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