After my first visit to Morocco in 2012 I didn’t think that it was a country that I would ever return to. I found it smelly, crowded, and the fine layer of dust that covered everything bothered me. Immediately after stepping off the plane I was in total culture shock. So how did I find myself back in this foreign land 3 years later and heading off for a camel trek through the Sahara Desert?
You can imagine my surprise (immediate regret?) when I spontaneously booked a flight to Marrakech and planned a 10-day adventure across a good portion of the country. My friend from high school, Kelsey, was flying to Spain to meet me before heading off to Africa. Also joining us on the trip was a Canadian man, Jesse, who I had linked up with via couchsurfing because he was looking for travel buddies and a similar experience.
We landed in Marrakech and the sensory overload quickly returned.
Motorbikes, donkeys and children whizzing by you at every turn, woman with syringes filled with henna ink who won’t take no for an answer, and stall after stall of brightly lit lanterns, leather goods and colorful pottery. It was all coming back to me now. 10 more days of this….what was I thinking? After the typical tourist night out in Jemaa el Fnaa we called it an early night at our hostel. The next morning’s wake up call would bring another adventure of it’s own. We needed to pace ourselves.
At 8am we were picked up at our hostel by Abdul, a young Moroccan man who would be our tour guide for the next 3 days. Abdul was dressed head to toe in traditional Moroccan garb including a bright blue djellaba and goat hair sandals. There were immediate good vibes when he, like many other locals, welcomed us to his beautiful country. We scurried through the bustling medina trying to keep up with him. After bobbing and weaving (did I mention there were children, animals, and vehicles EVERYWHERE) we exited through the medina walls, piled in to his Jeep, and took off for the Sahara.
The next nine hours were spent whizzing through the Atlas mountain pulling over every few hours to snap pictures of old Berber villages and beautiful vistas and get our fix of the traditional mint tea. We spent the first night in an old riad in the Dades Valley. A delicious dinner of couscous and tagine was prepared for us and we ate on a veranda overlooking the mountains and listening to the muezzin’s call to prayer. If you’ve never heard the call to prayer it can be quite eerie. A distant voice bellowing over a foreign town, with no distinct origin. Because it happens five time a day you quickly become used to it and look forward to it’s sound, finding comfort in it’s exotic tradition. After dinner we sat on our balcony with an equally unbelievable view and stared up the stars, recounting how fortunate we were to be able to experience moments like these.
The next morning it was back on the road and deeper in to the Sahara. Half way down the Road of A Thousand Kasbahs we were stopped by a small group of local men and children. Immediate nerves struck me as Abdul and them exchanged in a language I could not understand. Abdul opened the door and told us we’d be stopping for a moment. Keeping calm I got out of the car and one of the men asked me to sit around a small pot of mint tea that was boiling. We spent the next 30 minutes enjoying tea and sweet treats with their family and friends. Although we couldn’t communicate with them in the same language, we conveyed that the food was delicious thanked them for inviting us to join them, as if we were old friends passing through. Moroccans are some of the most hospitable people I’ve met while traveling and continue to confirm one of my travel ruled.
Never say no to an invitation.
Later that afternoon we pulled in to a remote hotel that had exactly 4 visitors; Abdul, Jesse, Kelsey, and I. A little oasis in the middle of the desert. Because Abdul didn’t believe in air conditioning, it was only minutes before the three of us plunged head first into the pool. Laying poolside at a gorgeous house in the middle of the Sahara Desert? Add that to the list of places I never thought I would be.
Now the moment we had been waiting for! We hopped on our camels and started the trek out to our desert camp for the night. My nerves started to calm as these massive animals walked us deeper and deeper in to the desert. Sand dunes surrounded us in every direction and the sun setting behind us cast an orange glow over everything. It was a scene I had only ever seen in pictures and it truly took my breath away. While the camels took a rest we went sand boarding down the dunes and sat in silence (and awe) as the sun set further in to the horizon. The remainder of the night was filled with amazing food (the best tagine I’ve ever eaten), traditional Berber music around a camp fire, and shared jokes that left us crying from laughter. When it was time for bed, we pulled our mattresses outside and fell asleep under the stars. We were hundreds of miles from the nearest city and the stars plastered the sky with light like I had never seen before.
The next morning I woke up alone at 5am and hiked up a sand dune to watch the sun rise over the mountains of Algeria. I felt total peace as I watched the sun come up and a Berber man take his camels out for a morning walk.
The ride back to Marrakech was a little less glamorous. Ramadan had begun while we were in the desert so we felt uncomfortable eating or drinking around Abdul. This was only made more unbearable by the 100 degree heat, lack of air conditioning and the slight stomach bug that I had picked up somewhere along the way. I sat most the way with my head in my hands trying to control my breathing and not throw up. All good things must come to an end right? It was a long 12 hours to say the least.
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Sahara Desert Camel Trek Tour booked through Top Desert Tours. Ask for Abdul as your guide!
Want to Shop Moroccan goods? Check out what I brought home here.