When we awoke that morning, everyone in the group was thinking the same thing. Camels! Deserts! Berber tents! That's what we couldn't wait for. But first, we had to finish our drive to the Sahara. So we hopped in the car and began our trek once again.
We stopped in a small town and I noticed this. When I asked Said what the writing in the picture above meant, he said, "The Sahara is ours". It's apparently referring to ongoing disputes with Algeria regarding who owns what in the Sahara. Something about Algerian villagers in Moroccan villages and closed borders and terrorists and lots of bad blood. It's a pity, but it's how all feuds start, I guess. There were a lot of these writings on the mountains as we drove around. Some said, "God, Nation, King" (all the things Moroccans should respect, in order), other things called for national unity, or the return of lands in the Western Sahara, there was even one calling for more power to Berbers. It was interesting, and I was just sad I can't read Arabic.
We met this little guy while taking some pictures of the Dades Valley. He looks grumpy because I had no candy, pencils, dirhams, or kisses for him. He was pretty cute though. Don't worry, Said gave him a piece of candy in the end!
From there we drove up some scary, dusty winding roads en route to our next destination...
That was a really cool place. Apparently that day was the beginning of a Moroccan holiday, so there were lots of families out and about, enjoying themselves. We had a good time walking through the gorge and watching kids play in the stream running through. some Berber women brought their goats to drink there too.
From there, we began the long, dusty journey towards the Sahara. The land flattened out, grazing camels and camel herders started appearing on the side of the road, rocks and brown and the absence of anything green dominated the landscape. Said stopped to show us some traditional rock wells, and asked if we were hungry for cous cous. We said, sure why not?
First camel sighting!
We were very surprised (and honored) when he brought us to his family's house and invited us for lunch. We even got to meet his super cute niece! She was so full of personality and kept sneaking in to show us her toys or recite the alphabet in French for us. Her mom would always call for her, and even though she grudgingly answered, she always managed to slip back in a few minutes later!
The cous cous was awesome, and it was really touching that Said was so hospitable to us. It was a really cool experience.
After lunch, it was camel time! Said showed us the "Gateway to the Sahara" as well as the school he attended as a kid, and then slowly pulled up to some waiting camels. "Camels don't like cars," he laughed, "shall I scare them for you?"
Said zoomed past them with the car, causing the camels to start pacing and the handlers laugh at his antics. Said grew up with camels, so he immediately jumped out to start petting them like big dogs while we stood a safe distance away ;)
They all had funny names like Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson. Our two Berber guides (one was barefoot! He's brave!) strapped ours bags on the camels and helped us up. It's a little nerve wracking since they pitch forward and then back as they stand up, not to mention camels are much taller than you imagine!
Oh also, fun fact-these were actually dromedaries since they only have 1 hump and true camels have 2. But since I'm lazy I'll keep calling them camels.
Once we were all on our camels, we set off on our 1.5 hour camel trek into the Sahara to find our Berber tent for the night.
barefoot in the Sahara!
Just as the sun was starting to set and cool everything off, we came upon our campsite. I think we were all a little relieved. Riding a camel is a novel experience, but not particularly comfortable. Going down hills feels like you're hanging on for dear life, the hump is a little uncomfortable, and they make funky noises at random. But all in all, it was pretty cool and no one got spit on by camels ;) And honestly, riding through the Sahara desert without a soul in sight besides the occasional dung beetle or sand lizard was really cool. Really, really cool :)
Finally, the Berber camp. It was small and very spartan. The Berber guys took care of the camels while we found our rooms. I was worried about scorpions, but they assured me it wasn't the season for them.
They served us some "Moroccan whiskey" (mint tea) and then suggested we climb the sand dunes to watch the sunset. Climbing those dunes was harder than it looks! We were lucky to have such a great group, because we all had a good time slipping and sliding in the sand and taking pictures.
After the sunset we came down for some tasty tajine and more mint tea. Sometimes they build a fire and have a drum party, but we were all exhausted. I sat outside and looked up at the stars in the desert sky, hoping to see a shooting star. It was more stars than I'd ever seen before. Pitch black, silent, peaceful, and gorgeous. I talked a little while with the Berber guides, who were very nice. They told me I should come back to Morocco and spend a month in the desert. I don't know about that, I'm not sure I could handle a camel for that long ;)
By then I was tired so I cuddled up in our tent under our blankets and fell asleep. It got pretty cold, so I was glad I had my big strong husband there to steal heat from. I was doubly glad for him when some Spanish tourists loudly came into our camp after midnight. They ended up being harmless (albeit very rude) but I felt safe knowing he could go out there and sort them out ;) Our fellow campers said as much the next morning at breakfast! What can I say, he's got that "don't mess around" look ;)
We woke up early the next morning for some breakfast before climbing the dunes again to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful, and it was cool seeing all the animals prints from critters scurrying around during the night.
nothing quite like a desert sunrise
We packed up, got back on the camels, and headed back towards civilization. It was so cool seeing all the different colors of the sahara during the day. It ranges from bright orange to yellow to red to bluish purple to brown, depending on the time of day. Seeing it in so many phases was incredible.
Our ride back was less eventful, but still amazing. I just tried to soak all of it in. I never thought I would ever see the Sahara with my own eyes and here I was, sand clinging to me, watching the sun warm up the sand. Life is amazing.
Said was there to pick us up and begin the long trek back to Marrakech. Ten hours later, we were there, said goodbye to Said and our new friends, and crashed into our waiting riad bed in Marrakech. Well, shower first. We were so tired of being sandy! :)
Our camel trekking tour was done by Omar's Camel Trekking. If you're looking for a good company to go with, Omar and his team are a great choice! And no, I was not compensated in any way for giving him this review, I just really enjoyed my trip!