The one thing that my mother desperately wanted to do was to ride a camel in the Sahara Desert. Of all the things that I could have guessed that my mother would have on her bucket list, this would not be one of them. But it was and the fact that the camel ride option was only offered on the longer tour drove her decision for this trip.
We had a delicious lunch of delectable grilled beef and chicken, meatballs, various salads, couscous, and pasta at an oasis. The surrounding desert is a barren place with little more than sand and persistent scrubby vegetal life that stubbornly cling to life. Whenever you see plant life standing more than ankle high, you know there’s some water there. The oasis is a marked difference from the surrounding desert. A cluster of palm trees, about 8-10 feet high at most, stand indicating that there’s a source of life giving water. We ate at picnic tables underneath tents at the oasis. Desert life is harsh, but we never experienced a moment of it with the neverending food, water, and comfort provided by our travel tour.
After lunch, we drove in 4×4 jeeps and took a tour of the eastern end of the Sahara Desert. I’ve seen sand dunes before, but I’ve never seen sand dunes like these. Khalid, our guide, had warned us, but there’s no way to properly prepare for it. For hours I had seen what I had assumed were mountains in the horizon. As we got closer, the mountains grew larger and larger. When we were closer to the base, I was startled when I realized that those “mountains” were all sand dunes. Magnificent sand dunes. Sand dunes literally the size of mountains.
They loomed over us like giants. I had no idea sand dunes could be so large.
Camels with a single hump are dromedaries and compose about 94% of the camel population. To mount a camel, the camel must first be lying down. You get on the saddle and then grip onto the horns of the saddle for dear life, while the camel lurches up. It’s unlike mounting a horse. First, there’s a sudden motion back and up, then you’re jerked forward, and all of a sudden, you go up. Someone in our group almost fell off because he wasn’t gripping hard enough.
There wasn’t much to riding a camel. We were led by a guide, so we had nothing to do but not fall off. When a camel walks, there’s a gentle ambling motion. The ride to the dunes lasted 20 minutes at most, which we were a bit disappointed in because we would have liked to have ridden longer.
To get off, the camel has to go down. The same violent motion experienced earlier is experienced again, but in reverse order. Down, forward, back.
We climbed up the sand dunes and marveled at the view before us. As far as the eye can see, nothing but undulating red sand dunes. No plant life. Nothing. It wasn’t completely devoid of life, we saw a scarab scuttle by and one of our guides found a sandfish, a skink given its name because it “swims” through the sand. I was afraid to hold it at first, but I overcame my fear to have it placed on my hand. The skin was cool and smooth. Its tiny claws felt like prickles on my skin.
Our guide also encouraged us to try on his Touareg clothing. The Touareg are one of the indigenous Berber tribes found in Morocco. The French nicknamed them les hommes bleues (the blue men, the original blue men group), not because of their traditional blue garb and turban, but because they rub the mineral indigo all over their skin as protectant from the harsh desert sun.
We sat on top of the dunes and watched the sun slowly set. As the sun lowered, the colors of the desert changed from the bleached out taupe to a desert rose and finally to a deep mellow pumpkin.
As soon as the final rays disappeared below the horizon, our guides hurried us to our camels so we could head back. It would grow dark quickly.
As our camels ambled along, I marveled at the beauty of the desert. I grew up in California, so deserts are nothing new to me, but every desert is different. The eastern Sahara Desert was completely devoid of any plant life, so the desertscape reminded me of a clean canvas upon which anything could take place. Around the corner, Ali Baba and his forty thieves could alight upon you. Aladdin and his magic carpet could be waiting to take you away. Who knew what adventure was waiting just beyond a sand dune?