A Night in the Sahara Desert of Morocco, Berber Style

Morocco Sahara Desert Camp

Morocco Sahara Desert Camp

In my last post, I wrote about riding camels in the Sahara desert of Morocco to a Berber camp and watching the sunrise the next morning from the top of a 300 ft dune. Now I’ll tell you about what happened in between. The Berber camp was set up just for our group, not an actual camp where Berbers lived but done in the Berber way, with traditional camel-hair tents, a central fire pit and carpets laid on the sand, connecting everything. Inside the tents the ground was also covered with carpets. The low-frame beds were surprisingly cozy, with thick mattresses and warm, heavy blankets. This was November, so the temps dropped into the 40s at night. Everyone packed warm clothes for this experience and I heard no complaints.

Our camp consisted of about 20 tents. Besides the sleeping tents, there was a cooking tent, a dining tent and tents with toilets and showers. We have since changed to  sleeping tents with ensuite toilets, sinks and showers.

When the sun went down, we mingled around the roaring fire pit with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Dinner was elaborate, perfectly prepared and presented. How they managed a 5-star dining experience out of a tent, I don’t know; thousands of years of experience, I suppose. In the dining tent, the tables were beautifully set, with carpets underfoot and torches ablaze. One side of the tent remained open to the cool night. We had salads and soup and bread and tagine, trays of assorted sweets and a great volume of wine.

For me, the next chapter in the evening came on like a dream. I may have actually been nodding off, sitting at the dinner table in a warm, glowing space, lulled by the surrounding conversations, a little overfed, 60% sober, both fully present and having a vision of our tent from high above, an ember in a great black void (ok, 40% sober). In the midst of this trippy bliss I watched a striking group of men materialize outside, just at the edge of the light from the dining tent; our evening’s entertainment. The party was just getting started.

I remember the drums. There may have been other instruments but somewhere in my energy field those drums are still vibrating. The voices too, indelible. So we listened and we danced and we attempted to sing along. We gazed into the fire and we wondered into the pitch black beyond the camp and our mouths gapped unreservedly at the starry thicket over head. Well after midnight, I retired to my toasty bed. It was a good and complete day.


Camel Riding and Other Fun in the Sahara Dunes of Morocco

Baby camel in the Sahara Desert of Morocco.

Baby camel in the Sahara Desert of Morocco.
He’s smiling.

My favorite camel story is from a few years ago, while I was escorting a group of travel agents in Morocco. It was a group of twenty or so very experienced agents, mostly women. I have escorted quite a few fam trips in my 15 years with Ya’lla Tours and this was a particularly happy and relaxed group of intrepid professionals. Ronen (Ya’lla owner) was traveling with us for the whole trip, rather than arriving on the tail end, as usual. That took a lot of pressure off. He lives to schmooze. Me, not so much.

After quick visits to Meknes and Rabat and two days in Fez, we drove south over the Atlas Mountains and on to Merzouga at the edge of the Sahara desert. From Merzouga, we rode camels into the Erg Chebi, a vast area of wind-blown dunes, to our Berber camp. This part of the trip was the highlight for most of us and the mood in the bus was raucous and giddy as we pulled up to the herd of camels waiting placidly, mostly, for their next assignment. While the bus maneuvered into a parked position, most of the group was pressed to the camel-facing window, cooing and exclaiming. The camels sat on the sand facing back, unimpressed. Still in the bus, random group members called dibs on specific camels to whom they felt a personal connection, “The one with the red harness is mine!” “I want that one over there!” This became a trend until one of the women imagined out loud what was being said on the other side of the window, “The skinny one is mine!”  “I don’t want the one in the red t-shirt!”  “These people need to lay off the snacks.” Hilarity ensued.

Finally out of the bus, we paired off with our mounts. One camel had been complaining loudly since we drove up. I’ve never, before or since, heard a camel make such a protracted and adamant statement. He was mine. I don’t know what the fuss was about but he calmed down once we got moving. Tracy (Ya’lla operations manager) also met a memorable grumbler with a group she escorted in Morocco. They called him Chewbacca. Maybe Chewie and my camel were one in the same.

We didn’t ride far, just up and over a couple of dunes. We stopped and toasted the sunset with champagne and then carried on over a couple more dunes to our camp. From bus to camp, it was probably less than an hour. That was enough. Riding up and down sand dunes on the back of a camel is strenuous. On flat ground, it’s much easier. (If you’re considering a camel trek of more than a few hours in the Sahara, I recommend some months of Pilates beforehand for core strength and regular use of that machine at the gym that works the inner and outer thigh, the good-girl/bad-girl machine. You’ll especially need strong inner thighs so concentrate on the good-girl moves.)

The next morning, camels were available to anyone who wanted to ride out to watch the sunrise. I think most people chose to walk. I know I did. Walking up and down 300 ft sand dunes under your own power is no piece of cake either, but definitely worth the effort. You crawl more than walk on the way up and slide-sink/somersault-roll on the way down. Engage abs and quads, mind the knees.

Young “guides” from a nearby village gathered at our camp before dawn to offer their services. I followed a tweenaged boy into the cold, dark morning. We put 3 or 4 dunes behind us and at the top of number 5 he motioned for me to sit and stay and then disappeared. A few minutes later he reappeared with an arm load of a dry reedy plant that made a fine little fire to warm our hands. Now dawn was breaking and a great range of red sand mountains emerged around us.

Do you think I can find photos of any of this? No. I’m going to keep searching. In the meantime, here are a few from different fam trips to Morocco. They are illustrative even though the quality is not great. Is it better to have a post with medium quality pictures than with no pictures at all? I just don’t know.

Check out our Morocco tours here www.yallatours.com/morocco.