I have to admit, I’ve never thought of the desert as being beautiful.When I envision paradise, I think of aqua blue ocean waters with a pristine, white sand beach. Or maybe fresh snow on a cross country ski trail in a BC forest.
And then we found the Sahara…
Skott and I booked our desert adventure with Smart Holidays where we signed up for a very long 3days of driving to spend a night in the Sahara. The cost however was very reasonable at 1,500 dirhams ($188 CDN). Our excursion included a two hour camel ride in the evening and again at sunrise the next morning. We were also excited to hear that our second night would be spent sleeping in authentic Moroccan tents at a camp in the desert.
Despite the fact that we were on the road from about 8am to 6pm on the first day, we found that our driver made lots of interesting stops that broke the trip up. On one of the stops we had a chance to walk around Ait Benhaddou- where Gladiator and Prince of Persia were filmed.
This ‘fortified city’, or ksar, is located along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. It is a prime spot for filming because the old mud & straw buildings from hundreds of years ago are still in pretty good shape and actually still inhabited. It felt like going back in time to tour through the winding alleyways between these sand coloured buildings.
We also got to explore Ouarzazate, a Berber (the original inhabitants of Morocco before the Arabs arrived) city that is a very popular launching pad for treks to the desert and a renowned filming area for international movie makers. We made sure to watch Babel after our trip as it was one of the films that was made here.
We spent our first night in Daddes Gorge, a lusciously green and fertile part of Morocco where all of the date palms grow. I’ve come to LOVE fresh dates…they are so soft and sweet, totally unlike the hard raisin like fruits that we call dates at home. I had no idea that dates grew on palms and I also was interested to learn that they aren’t a dried fruit like a raisin or a prune-they grow on the trees like that.
The next day, after a breakfast of Moroccan crepes (our favourite), we set out for the remaining 6 hours to get to the Sahara. We stopped in the small town of Tinghir, a gorgeous oasis nestled in between the High Atlas and Little Atlas mountain ranges.
We toured an organic farm where they were growing everything from olives, alfalfa, date palms, anise and figs. It was really interesting to see such a tropical looking agricultural area so close the the desert. The green crops looked incredible with the backdrop of the mountains and the palms jutting out in bunches all throughout. Skott and I figured we should find out if we can WOOF there!
We arrived at the edge of the desert as the sun was beginning to set. Our group of 9 got onto our camels and were guided into the Sahara to find our camp. I was actually fairly impressed that I was feeling pretty comfy on my little camel. The two of us bobbed away over and around sand dunes as the sun set behind us.
Then we were in the pitch dark and the desert is so removed from any city that you can see more stars than you ever thought possible. It was incredible to be moving forward in utter silence, wading through complete nothingness-just sand and darkness.
We couldn’t see anything and it was exhilarating to just follow the guide and wonder where and when our camp might appear. I thought about how hundreds of years ago this would have been how people traveled-like the wise men in the stories in the bible! I was also totally in awe of how our guide managed to find his way-without any kind of light-towards our camp.
After two hours of camel trekking, we could see a small candle light appear out of no where. As we got closer we saw that it was a candle on the table of a few travelers who arrived at the camp before us-we made it!
Once we got settled we enjoyed a dinner under the stars Moroccan style-with bread as our spoons. Our Sahara guides poured us mint tea and played the drums for us. When it was time for bed we picked one of the small canvas tents and crawled under about 6 layers of blankets-it is cold in the desert at night!!
Our guides woke us up at 5:30am and we got to watch the sunrise over the dunes before we headed back on our camels to trek back out of the desert. The sun in Africa comes up dark orange and brilliant and you feel the heat almost immediately.
Unfortunately, on the return trip I wasn’t feeling so comfy on my camel. We just didn’t seem to have the same connection as my first guy. About a quarter into the trek I asked the guide if I could get off and walk. This made my butt and my back feel better but it was quite a reality check…even though it seems like you’re going super slow on the camel, walking in the desert is really hard!!! I could barely keep up and I was totally in a sweat by the time we got out of there.
The journey home was a long one but no one had any complaints. We all seemed to be numb from the brilliance of what we had seen in the Sahara-still working it out in our heads if what we saw could truly be real. Skott and I agreed that this definitely won’t be our last desert trek.