We had been traveling for what felt like hours on a winding road cut into the Atlas Mountains. The stop at the ancient city of Ait Benhaddou had been incredible, but the heat seemed to have followed us into the over-sized minivan that we were crammed into, and I could feel the gritty red sand we had trekked over mixing with the sweat in my sandals. I didn't think I would ever stop sweating. The only thing keeping me going was picturing what would be waiting for me when we finally reached our destination — camels.
There were 16 of us all together. A young trio of Australian hipsters, two girls from Uruguay that I instantly bonded with, one woman from Brazil, a quiet Japanese man, one woman from Hong Kong, a family from Amsterdam that kept to themselves, and Rachel, an Italian woman who had just moved to Morocco.
We all unstuck ourselves from our seats when we stopped at a small outpost to buy water before heading into the desert. We had to carry all that we needed for the afternoon, evening, night and next morning, as there would be none waiting for us at the camp. I bought two litres and then jumped back into the hot van, hoping that it wouldn't take too much longer to get to, what our driver called, our "desert ships."
After about 10 minutes, we stopped. Looking out the window, I felt my pulse quicken in excitement, as right beside us was a caravan of camels, laying in the sand, saddles on, waiting for us. Riding a camel in the desert had been something that I had dreamed of doing for as long as I could remember, and suddenly that dream was only a few feet away!
Bedouin guides, their heads swathed in fabric, helped us attach our bags and water to the saddles and then motioned us on (they didn't speak English). I jumped on, the hugest grin on my face, excited to begin this adventure. Just as I was settling into a comfortable position, one of the guides grabbed the rope around my camel's neck and clicked his tongue causing my camel to shoot upwards, almost throwing me off of him in the process.
Once we were all on our standing camels (I named mine Charlie), the guide broke us into 3 groups and each took position in front of our lines. Then, with little fanfare, we began our camel trek into the Sahara desert.
I spent the three hour trek taking countless photos, testing my balance by attempting to sit cross-legged on my moving camel (no, I did not fall off, but it was close), and trying to remember every detail of the view and the rush of being atop a camel in the Sahara.
Just when my butt was starting to go numb, the tents came into view between the dunes. Modest looking from the outside, the interiors were lined with beautiful Moroccan rugs. Small mattresses were pushed against the walls with a few low tables set near them — our beds and dining room for the night. A small "bathroom" (a room with a hole in the ground, a bowl with warm, stagnant water for washing, and a dirty mirror in it) was about 100 metres from the camp.
The sun was starting to set by the time we got settled and one of the guides yelled, "Sahara, Sahara!" to get our attention and gather us all together. We took our seats on the ground of one of the tents around the tables and were served a simple, but delicious meal of a spicy soup, couscous, and roasted chicken with vegetables cooked in a tagine.
Hot, tired, but elated from the adrenaline rush that comes with being completely out of your comfort zone, we chatted with each other about our impressions of the day, where we had been, and where we were planning to go next. Once our plates were empty, we were ushered out of the tent and found carpets out in the sand surrounding a large bonfire. There were plates of watermelon laid out for us and some of our guides were sitting on one of the carpets with instruments.
One of them got up, smiled, and said "Television Naturale!" before sitting down and starting to drum. We sat down, mesmerized. The drumming got louder and louder as the others joined in and then they started to sing. It was beautiful. I laid back on the carpet and was rewarded with a sky full of stars. The only light for miles was from our bonfire and I could see stars in the sky that I had never seen before.
After about an hour, the drumming stopped, and slowly we all started heading back to the tents. Not wanting to waste water washing up, I brushed my teeth with the minimal amount, and flopped onto one of the mattresses fully clothed. It was too hot to use any sort of blanket and tt was too hot to sleep, so my tent-mates and I stayed up talking well into the wee hours.
I awoke early, just as the sun was rising, and took a swig of the hot water in the bottle next to my bed. It seemed like it had only gotten hotter, and when I stumbled out of the tent, the air was still and heavy. Not a breeze. Not even a warm one. It was almost stuffy if that’s possible. Like walking into a warm room that’s been closed up for years.
"You sleep well?" asked one of the guides who spoke a bit of English.
"It was hot," I answered.
"It is the desert," he said matter-of-factly and walked away.
Well, he had me there...
We sat on the dunes drinking sweet tea and eating bread with cheese until the sun rose and it was time to get back on our camels and head back to civilization, hot showers and ice cold water.
The tour I took included transportation, the tour of Ait Benhaddou, dinner, the camel trek, and the tent accommodations. I did not pre-book, just asked one of the men working at my riad for a recommendation and he took me to a travel agency that he knew in Marrakesh. The whole thing cost me $80 CAD.
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