Lonely Planet warns that “no sensible person ventures into the fierce firestorm of heat that blankets the Sahara from June to early September.” Our only option was July. Luckily, I take the sun very well… said nobody ever.
Organised by Abdul, the owner of our Dar Hafsa riad (essentially a B&B) in Fes, this three day trip to Marrakesh via Erg Chebbi in South Eastern Morocco would allow us to experience the beautiful sand dunes of the Western Sahara and the sights along the way. As well as the heat.
It was a straight forward start when we set out on Sunday morning, travelling in a pretty nondescript car from Fes. A long, seven hour journey, we stopped along the way at a random park where monkeys apparently had the run of place.We stayed overnight in a riad that night, where we shared a bottle of gin with an Aussie couple making the same journey as us. Perfect prep for the desert.
After waking up Monday, we completed the last stretch of our journey to the desert. We did, however, have to change vehicle, moving instead to a 4×4, which was fine. Until we realised it didn’t have air con and it was sweltering.
We had to travel in the 4×4 for around an hour. One long, overheated hour. We shouldn’t have forgotten the water.
The tour guides operating the overnight stay in the desert operated out of a hotel, which was where we’d leave most of our belongings overnight and where we’d saddle up.
The seemingly never ending bumps along the road eventually led us to the hotel in question. As we got out of the sweatbox, we stood out under the beaming sun with temperatures in the mid to late thirties. Not exactly the cool down we wanted.We quickly ran to the shade though and, like any good hosts, we were offered a drink. There was a problem though.
Like everywhere else in Morocco, their drink of choice, regardless of the heat, is a cup of mint tea. Nice, hot tea. Although, more hot than nice. So as to not offend our kind hosts though, we reluctantly drank it.
A short time later, it was time to meet our next mode of transport – camels.Up until this point, I had never ridden a camel, but I don’t think it could get more stereotypical than riding one in the desert.
It took around 30 to 40 minutes to reach our small, enclosed camp area, crossing multiple dunes along the way. At this stage, it was nice to dismount our humped friends as while their slow, plodding pace through such a vibrant, colourful landscape was enjoyable, the numbness was beginning to set in.Our accommodation for the night was basic and consisted of what’s known as Berber tents, which are much like normal tents although usually made out of heavier material, and they usually surround a small central area where we’d eat and chill out.
The area was quiet, with a handful of chickens pottering around the camp, one of which wouldn’t be making it passed dinner time.With the bright blue sky above us, the warmth and vibrancy of the sand beneath our feet was more than we imagined; surrounded by golden brown sands which had been shaped by winds over numerous years to produce beautifully sloped sand dunes.As we stood atop the dunes, looking out across the vast expanse of desert in front of us, there was only one thing on my mind – fertiliser bags.
How great would it be to slide down a dune on a bag, much like the occasional snow filled winter’s day as a child in Kiltimagh?
Alas, neither Kathy or myself, or indeed any of the others in our group, packed such a bag. There was a snowboard though. It would have to do.
While we slid down the dunes, and admired the views as the sun set, our guides for the evening were preparing dinner, which, if you hadn’t guessed, featured one of the aforementioned chickens.
After what they said was some traditional Moroccan singing and dancing (it involved some drumming), it was time for bed. It would be an early start to witness the desert sun rise.
The problem was, however, that the tents, having sat under the desert sun all day, were now like saunas and impossible to sleep in. The alternative was to sleep outside, under a sky full of stars, which was the third time we’d found ourselves in this situation.There’s something to be said for the tranquility and sense of peace that emerges while lying out under the night sky as you fall asleep, with the occasional shooting star passing above.
One thing we hadn’t thought of though was the light breeze overnight. It wasn’t that it was cold, instead we were each covered in a light layer of sand when we woke up. Luckily, there were showers… oh wait….Once we had the sand shaken off us, changed our clothes and had a cup of mint tea (obviously), we got our backpacks and mounted our friendly camels once again, for the early morning sunrise.
We set off from camp as a crack of light shone and some of the sands looked a more deep red, but as the sun rose, casting light across the dunes, the familiar golden brown of the day before began to emerge, and the thermometer too was returning to daytime levels.
Whether it was tiredness or just a sense of awe, the thirty minute return to base was a quiet one, allowing us all to soak up the early morning beauty of the Sahara, its stillness and its tranquility one last time. The seemingly never ending sand dunes left an impression to last a lifetime.