Tag Archives: Sahara Desert

March of the Camels: The Sahara Desert

Everyone, I think it’s time I introduce you to my ATLAS.Years ago, I compiled a well thought-out list of achievements I’dlike to accomplish during my travels. I add new things to the list whenever I think of something different, so it’s always slowly growing! Technically, it’s what most people would consider a bucket list. Call it what you like, but I like to refer to it as my ATLAS (Adventure Tasks List of Awesome Stuff). I’ve only shown a few people my ATLAS and they loved the prospect of it. I started this list even before I began blogging and I have managed to accomplish some tasks on it back then. I’ll be sure to tell you all the stories about it one day but right now I’m focused on the current task at hand – task #2: Spend a night under the stars in the Sahara. By the way, this list is in no particular order whatsoever.

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We arrived in the foothills of the desert around 6 pm, about 40 minutes until sunset. Our guide informed us to leave our big bags in the van and to just take our small bags with us for when we ride our camels. Chris and I immediately changed into our Sahara nomad attire we bought in Marrakech. We were now fit for the occasion! We looked so fly, I think the others in our tour group were a little bummed they didn’t think of the idea too. How could you not? Anyways, one of the desert leaders took us to the area where they kept all of their camels. I noticed the camels here only had one hump as opposed to two humps. Interesting. They were all obedient and well mannered as they rested on the ground waiting for us to mount them. Either it was completely random or we were placed on camels specific to our weight. My camel had dark brown fur and continuously slurped on the rope that was in his mouth. It’s the one photo-bombing the picture below.

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There were about 20 or so camels in groups of five or six. Each camel was connected by a rope in order for them to follow a line easier I suppose. There were no tips or guidelines to
riding a camel other than to hang on!

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Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly as hot as I expected it to be. The sun was going down and there was a cool breeze in the air. It was perfect! My camel was strong, nimble, and also very
gassy! I had to hold my breath a couple times because my camel, the camel in front, and behind me were letting loose some air the whole time! I didn’t care though; the landscape, the giant dunes of the Sahara, the camels themselves, everything was going great! At one
point, our desert leader stopped my line of camels over a dune so we could watch the sunset.

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Beforehand, we were informed that we would be on the camel for an hour and a half but we were actually riding them for almost two hours. I started to grow concerned that I was
getting heavy for my new matted-haired friend but he (she?) didn’t seem tired or fatigued at all and kept marching on. I’m not going to lie though, after awhile sitting on that camel, my crotch was starting to kill me. I wasn’t the only one. Chris even tried to lay on top of his camel to keep comfortable. There was really no way to get cozy up there so we just had to ride it out until we reached our campsite.

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We arrived at our camping grounds for the night and the guide motioned for our camels to rest on the sand so we could dismount. Once I got off, I saw the sand littered with balls of
camel poop everywhere and that I was stepping right in it!

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We walked a few yards to a few large tents. We picked our tent, set our stuff aside, and went into the middle of the campsite to mingle with everyone. We hadn’t a clue what time
dinner was going to be served or even what dinner was going to consist of. Why was it taking so long?! As I was patiently waiting for our dinner, I pointed my camera up at the night sky to take a photo. But just like the night before, the moon was so bright that it practically lit up the sky. I took a picture of the moon anyways but started moving the camera around, and this is what I came up with.

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That gave us the idea for Chris and I to get creative with the lights at our campsite! There were a few lamps that were staked into the ground that made for great portable lights to get flashy with. I set the shutter speed as low as I could and we found a place just a few feet away from our tent to test our lights. I’ve never done anything like this before so this was mostly experimenting. We began by just drawing our names, and then random objects that we each had to guess what the other was drawing. Eventually, other people in our tour group took notice and joined in on the light games.

We ended up doing this for a good half-hour before we were summoned for dinner. What was on the menu? More chicken tagine. But this time, each table was given a single giant portion to share between about six people. Directly behind our campsite, was the tallest dune around as far as we could tell. Chris and I decided to go up the hill right after dinner but we severely underestimated the difficulty of getting up a steep mountain of sand. We would literally crawl up the dune for about two minutes and take a break for about ten. Our feet would sink a few inches into the sand every time we took a step. It sucked the wind out of us and we weren’t in any rush anyways, so we took our sweet time. Every time we thought we reached the summit, there was another higher summit just behind it! It took a little over an hour to get to the top but it was definitely worth it. I brought an empty water bottle with me and collected sand from the top of the dune to add as part of the “special gift” perk. Out of all the sand I collected so far, this sand was the finest of them all! Afterwards, we ran back down the dune back to our campsite. I overheard one of the guides saying we would be waking up at 5 am to ride our camels back through the Sahara. With that, I immediately went to bed. The next morning, everyone actually woke up and got ready around 6:30 am. I put on my Sahara garb and went over to where the camels were.

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I rode the same, foamy-mouthed camel I had yesterday. Since it was early in the morning, the temperature was quite cool. I preferred it because I bet riding a camel during the midday during the hottest hours would be miserable! It took just under two hours to arrive back to the starting point.

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I dismounted my camel and said goodbye to my buddy. My camel was pretty strong and never showed any signs of fatigue at all! I changed into normal clothes and we all went back in the van. Besides stopping for lunch a little later, we had nothing planned for the rest of this tour. We just had to endure a long, sweaty van ride back to Marrakech! Check item number two off my ATLAS. πŸ™‚

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The Door of the Desert

I don’t care what I do in Morocco as long as I get to ride a freakin’ camel in the freakin’ desert! How’s that for emphasis? In order to reach that goal, Chris and I booked a small tour from Marrakech through the High Atlas Mountains that would ultimately take us to the Sahara desert. We found a guy in the alleys of the square who ran a tour agency. There was no one in his office so we decided to get some information from him while he was free. He told us we could take a three day-two night tour through that Atlas Mountains, across multiple different towns and villages, and eventually spending the night in the Sahara. Marrakech is all about bargaining and we were able to bargain down to a pretty decent price; much lower than I imagined the cost was going to be. The only catch was that we would have to leave the next day, which was a little sooner than we had planned, but we decided to go anyways! 20131026-194154.jpg 20131028-030708.jpg We left the next morning at 7 am. A guy picked us up from our riad and took us to the main square where we met up with a few others who would be joining in on the tour: two women from Germany, a French couple, two Brazilian couples, and three friends also from Brazil. Chris and I nabbed the whole row of seats in the back all to ourselves! I was sure to take a motion sickness pill before I got on though. I saw pictures of the mountains we’d be driving through and I felt queasy just thinking about it! Soon after everyone was gathered in, we hit the road! We drove maybe an hour or so before the driver stopped on the edge of a cliff. I guess this was an opportunity for us to take our first photos of the High Atlas Mountains! 20131026-195327.jpg 20131026-195350.jpg We continued on and sometime in the afternoon we arrived in the city of Ouarzazate. Ouarzazate is in the middle of a barren, sun drenched land, and besides the solitary trees in the basin of the grounds, the city was void of barely any other vegetation and water. A city filled with buildings made of stone and dirt. There was evidence of a river that streamed through the quarters but the water has long left it’s presence. I think the river runs during a certain time of the year. Interestingly, this city is also known as the “Hollywood” of Morocco because many famous and popular movies and tv shows were filmed here including one of my favorites of all time, Gladiator. 20131028-025654.jpg 20131028-030259.jpg 20131028-030725.jpg We had a tour of the old quarters of Ouarzazate and walked in and around the place the people here called home. Even though it was quite hot out, walking through the quarters cast tall shadows and the interiors of the buildings were surprisingly cool. We then walked to the the roof of the highest building in the quarters! Along the way, the guide told us how the buildings were constructed and what the people do here as part of their daily life. 20131028-031214.jpg 20131028-030407.jpg 20131028-030417.jpg After the tour, we had lunch at a nearby restaurant. I ordered chicked tajine. Tajine is a traditional Moroccan dish served with tfaya sauce, semolina, and vegetables. The chicken, vegetables, and sauces slowly roast together in a unique cone pot and served hot on a pan. It’s kind of like pot roast back at home. It did the trick and then we made our way to the more modern part of Ouarzazate. There we picked up a spanish couple who joined us on our tour. Now our van was packed and hot! The driver thought the opened windows would be better than an air-conditioned van! It was hard to convince him to turn the a/c on because his English wasn’t the best. He spoke only French and Arabic. And because of that language barrier, Chris and I sweated our tails off in the back seat squished with our new spanish friends. 20131028-030213.jpg As the day started to dim, we stopped at another mountain along the Atlas to see the valley far beyond. 20131028-030521.jpg 20131028-030622.jpg We eventually arrived at our hotel for the night about an hour’s drive away. The place was better than I imagined for what we paid. It had the theme of an ancient civilization, like the old Egyptians or Aztec. After dinner, which consisted of more chicken tagine, Chris and I went to explore around our stay for the night and climbed to the roofs of the building. We figured we would be able to see a night sky like unlike any other, but the moon was so bright that it whited out most of the stars and constellations. No worries though because we still had the Sahara sky tomorrow! After a goodnights rest, we woke up, ate breakfast at our hotel, and went back on the road further along the atlas. We arrived at another city, similar to Ouarzazate, but it was here we visited a family who made carpets by hand. The guy who showed us the carpets mentioned that it’s normally a woman’s job to make them but for the time being, some of the woman were busy doing something else. He was able to tell us a bit about how they make the carpets. For the longer pieces, usually there is a person on each side weaving the wool of a sheep. 20131028-030900.jpgEach carpet also should tell a story. For all of the carpets he displayed, there was a different story within each pattern and design. They can take anywhere from two weeks to six months to make, depending on the size and the intricacies of the details. In addition to telling us all about his carpets, he also welcomed us with mint tea. I must say, I’m not a huge fan of tea, but all the tea that has been offered to me in Morocco has been some of the best tea I’ve ever had! They use home grown mint leaves here, so my tea always tastes like spearmint; crisp and refreshing! 20131028-030841.jpg We went back outside and noticed the path we took to get to the carpet room was bloodied. No doubt, the locals here have just slaughtered a sheep. In Morocco, it’s tradition to sacrifice many a sheep for supper later on. It’s a sign of gratitude and praise, especially when families host other members and guests. We were in Morocco during their holiday week where it’s customary for families to sacrifice sheep by first cutting open it’s neck and then rinsing out the blood. Besides the bones, barely any other body part goes to waste as a meal. We followed the blood trail to another road where there was a helpless sheep lying on the ground surrounded by a few locals. We walked over and found that the sheep’s neck has been severed, but it was still flailing around it’s hind legs. The locals then started to rinse out the neck area with water. We went back to the van before we saw what happened next, but I don’t think the locals are phased at all by this. It’s normal here and part of their tradition. 20131028-030115.jpg We drove a little further down through the Atlas to a gorge lined up to the oncoming desert. The mountains here were tall and almost perfectly vertical! We could see people rock climbing in the distance. Our guide told us that it takes six hours to rock climb to the top! We walked through the gorge, following the narrow stream that flowed in the center. The source of the stream came through a hole in the gorge, further beyond than we could walk. There was a herd of goats there following the stream towards the deeper parts for a drink. But the whole time I was thinking how cool it would be if you could zip line across the gorge! I think it would be absolutely possible someday in the future. 20131028-031022.jpg 20131028-031038.jpg 20131028-031044.jpg 20131028-030028.jpg After the gorge, we drove a couple more hours deeper into the desert. We finally arrived to the Sahara! I was eager and anxious because the Sahara desert part of our trip was something I highly anticipated during my whole time away from home and it was finally about to happen! πŸ™‚