In April, my friend Liz and I donned our backpacks and spent a week or so wandering around Morocco. It was such an amazing trip with a completely new culture to explore and vibrant new landscapes to drink in, and none more so than the Sahara desert. Today's travel journal entry is about our return journey towards the sandy horizon - by camel - and the night we spent camping among the dunes.
Heading out into the Sahara on a camel was quite the experience. Completely legit and authentic, obviously, with Liz and I in glorious convoy, stopping at strategic points for our cheery guide Ibrahim to take photos. Just like the Berbers in ancient times.
At one point, we paused at the foot of a dune and actually dismounted: this involved Ibrahim coaxing and chivvying Liz’s camel to lie down, and then informing me with a cheery grin that mine was automatic. He was right; my camel sort of collapsed under me and I hopped off. My camel had personality and attitude and made a lot of braying and roaring noises at every turn. I asked what the camel’s name was; Ibrahim shrugged and responded “Camel. He smokes too much. This one is crazy”. He gestured at Liz’s camel. “He drinks a lot. Water, not wine”. And that seemed to be all the wisdom he was going to impart regarding camels.
We climbed to the top of the dune for a few pictures before resuming our trek, with Ibrahim learning the dubious joys of panorama mode, and then taking some jumping shots of me (Liz's tolerance for the ridiculous travel selfie being lower than mine). Of course, I fell over, sliding on the sand of the dune, but Ibrahim managed to make a cracking photo out of it and instead of looking like a muppet, I seem to have styled it out and look like I'm practising some sort of martial art. Go me. And then it was back on the camels and away we go! Onwards to find our desert campsite for the night.
Camping on the fringes of the Sahara did not match my expectations. I had assumed toilet = hole in the ground, little tents with no room, no shower (obvs) and a sleeping mat if we were lucky.
My goodness I was wrong! Liz and I got a giant tent to share. Like, bigger than my bedroom, giant, with a big double bed, a sofa and coffee table, a proper mat floor and draped floor-to-ceiling in beautiful fabric with swirling designs in rich colours. Not to mention our chairs and table outside in case we wanted some fresh air.
There was a dining tent in the same style and our own private, lockable toilet. Like, a western flushing toilet with a sink and a hot shower. Somehow installed in a tent located just across the sand.
This is the life.
There were around a dozen guests in our camp that evening, and as the sun set, we gathered for mint tea and nibbles around the as-yet-unlit fire. Then we were ushered into the dining tent and presented with a mountain of salad and vegetables and an enormous tagine: far more than Liz and I could manage. Which was tricky, as then a second tagine appeared, this time with goat and so we had to plunder some of that too.
Totally managed dessert too, of course.
It was fully dark by the end of dinner, and we ventured out into the still-warm evening air to sit on rugs by the now-crackling fire. The Berbers played music, danced and sang, and there was of course, compulsory audience participation where we had to join in and do a few steps. But my favourite part of the night was later, sitting under the velvety black sky, talking to the other travellers who hailed from Switzerland, Belgium and the USA, telling jokes with their kids, answering riddles and laughing as the logs burnt lower and the inky night drew in. I could just make out the features of faces across from me and it felt wonderful to be there, part of a little community in the desert, if only for one night.
We had an early start the next morning, racing up the dunes to see the sunrise, missing the sunrise due to too much haze, and so scampering back down to the dining tent to breakfast on eggs and bread and every good thing. It was a shame to leave our little desert camp; I know it’s not really real, but it was lovely all the same, to be outside and living in the fresh air.
Heading back to reality involved a return trip by camel, lurching across the dunes as the wind whipped sand into my hair. But it had been a wonderful to see a whole new landscape and camp out in the desert.
P.S. This blog post is part of my November travel series; I'm spending the month documenting some of the trips I've taken this year, sharing extracts from my travel journal and my photos. My aim is to do this for each day in November as a personal challenge, to get photos and words put together and record some of my favourite experiences from the year. As the weather turns chilly, it's a lovely feeling to curl up in doors and reminisce about travels past, and plot travels for the future.