After the highlands of Midelt, Morocco we drove about five hours towards the Sahara desert on the border of Morocco. Out of the brush and stone landscape, the sand dunes appeared orange and wavy in the distance. As we got closer to the hotel, the Sahara sand looked like a landscape painting. Our group had a day room to leave our luggage, shower, and pack a day pack for the camel trek into these magnificent dunes, which are only 20 kilometers from Algeria and mark the edge of the Sahara for Morocco.
Mohammed, our camel guide, aided us in getting on the large brown beasts. We were instructed to not touch the camel’s head and to get on easy. M had told us a story about a murderous camel who had remembered his brother’s teasing, held the grudge, and killed him by sitting on his chest, pinning him to the ground, and suffocating him with his large camel mouth. Hearing that freaked me out about camels, I couldn’t even imagine. I tried to be very relaxed while getting on my camel, who was tied up to the one in front and one in back of him. Strong sturdy camel, I said, and then asked for the Arabic translation (Jamel kawi) because I figured my camel probably didn’t understand English.
Undulating as much as the sand dunes, I and my furry ride followed the camel train into the desert. I moved with my camel, leaning forward up hill (up-dune?) and reclining downhill. Soon, there was no other landscape and the clouds covered the dunes to brown with cloud cover and golden in the sunlight. It was beautiful, desolate, and very peaceful. I turned on my iPod and listened to an Arabic soundtrack while the camel carried me into the desert to create an Arabian Nights mood.
Our group found the bivouac camp in the valley Ergchabi (pronounced Erigggrh-chaby). The carpet tents circled a large carpet. A large sand dune towered over us like a grandfather and sheltered us from the desert wind and night cold. The sun set and our group took to lounging in the fine orange sand. We joked about the desert mirages (Judy saw a cat and thought it was a donkey) and some of our tour members. Jim and I mused how nice a bottle of wine or beer would be at that moment, but we were in a dry zone so no luck. Our dinner was on the central carpet and lit by propane tank and fluorescent bulb. Like all camping meals, this one was extra savory and satisfying and cooked over a fire – this time Moroccan style in a tagine.
M warned us about snakes and scorpions, but that they only resided in the green brush areas that were in patches across the sand. Still, when it was time to find some room for personal business, Elizabeth and I cautiously grabbed a flashlight and scanned the ground prior to squatting – the sand was clear. I was mildly comforted by M checking each of our blanket tents before sleeping. Comforted that he found nothing, but only mildly because he had to check something.
The night didn’t get as cold as we all thought and the carpet tent was warm. I fell asleep listening to the audio book of The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, who seemed the perfect author for my night in the desert because the story is all about following one’s dreams and traveling across the Sahara to the Pyramids.
The camel’s grunting and M woke us up before dawn to see the sunset from the top of the large overshadowing dune. It’s hard to climb up sand, even though it’s packed tight on the ridge. I only got halfway up, but still the view was spectacular. I sat in silence and separate from the group looking at the sun peak through to illumate the smooth ridges. I thanked God for this moment and realized my travel mojo had returned full force in that instant. Maybe it was to be in such natural beauty and be fully present in the silent moment, or perhaps I was energized by the gratitude for being in that moment, at this time, and no where else in the world.
The heat come on fast after a cool morning and we boarded our ships of the desert and returned to the hotel. Our group left for another day of driving – our next stop is the High Atlas mountains and Todra Gorge.