Many African countries share borders with this desert. SAHARA. In Arabic, it means desert. Covering a fourth of the entire African continent, it is even bigger than the US of A or China. From our Kasbah Le Touareg in Merzouga, a caravan of camels fetched us for a 90 minute camel trek across the Sahara towards our bivouac for the night. Mercifully, we rode our tamed camels late afternoon with less sun and wind. Our Berber-styled turbans truly protected our heads from the sun and our mouths from the sand. It was enough to don those turbans, with a generous slather of sunblock and a good dose of courage.
Sahara grows. No kidding. It has been expanding as the winds carry more dust and stretch its borders. Or pile more sand on top of those towering sand dunes dotting the golden landscape. Or should I say sandscape? How our guides found our way to the bivouac through these shifting sands is quite impressive. Said, our camel guide, reworked my turban cheerfully, while cracking jokes here and there. He would regularly ask how we were. After an hour on the back of the camels, we only managed a grunt in reply. 😭
It was an ordeal! A half hour ride would have been just as exciting and adventurous. But an hour and a half? I felt like my hipbone was “rearranged” and that I’ve lost arm muscle control as I gripped the handle too tightly. We tried amusing ourselves by taking photos of our shadows. But even that required some skill. More so when Said directed our camels down from the slopes. I had to grab and hold my swinging camera strung around my neck from hitting the bar with every camel step. In the beginning, it was fun to climb up to the sand dunes. After a while, I knew that any uphill trek meant a downhill ordeal so I lost all enthusiasm.
By the time we got off the camels, we were all sore from the ride. Said made sure we gently moved our butts off his beloved camels. I saw him gently talking to them, as if telling them those bixxxes are off their backs now and the camels could finally rest. We moved ever so slowly towards the rest of the group up a dune to wait for sunset. Then we rested a bit in our desert camp for the night. The bivouac had tents adjoining each other around an empty space littered with rugs. Ours had 6 beds where we moved around gingerly without bumping each other. The “empty space” was soon crowded with university students who shook their bods to the beat of the drums right under the stars.
Pretty soon, the drumbeat, the alcohol, the “relief” soon lifted our sagging spirits and even more our sagging bods and promptly put us in a party mood. I danced and partied with the young crowd till my bad back reminded me how tired I was. Those teens obviously had so much energy left in them. I knew I’m wasted when I could hardly look at the tagine and couscous dinner served to us. I knew I’m exhausted when I fell asleep so soon after my back and head touched my hard bed and pillow, while the drums were still beating! I was so thankful I rested well. Enough to wake up cheerfully the next morning to wait for sunrise, without my favorite brew and with sand inside my shoes.
But sunrise wasn’t as glorious as yesterday’s sunset. Nor the starry night over the Sahara. Still, we were simply all too eager to pack our bags and get moving. Breakfast is waiting in our Kasbah Le Touareg. More importantly, showers. Some of us decided to ride the 4×4 across the Sahara. The “twice-over stupid ones” like me chose another ordeal with the camel. This time, just under an hour. No up and down the sand dunes. No photo ops. I packed my cam inside my backpack so I won’t be tempted. After all, how many times do you take photos of those camels, dunes and shadows?
Would I do it again? Travel for me is NOT about seeing the sights and scratching them off some bucket list. Travel for me is more a collection of experiences. I can revisit the same sights and find another adventure, an altogether different experience. I may go SOLO , with family or with friends — each one defining a different dimension of my travel experience. The Sahara Experience is one for the books. I can do it again but definitely quite differently next time. I will likely take the 4×4 to the bivouac and just ride the camel a half hour before sunset. I will also bring my own pillow. 👍