Camel Trek & Sleeping Under the Stars in the Sahara Desert, Morocco <3
After the whole shit in the toilet incident, 5PM could not come any sooner. Right before dusk, we stepped outside the hotel to find our camels already saddled and ready for our journey into the Sahara. Erg Chebbi sand dunes were located literally right behind our hotel. Our camel guide was a very young man, 24 years old, named Muhammed. He would be guiding us through the sand dunes to our tent in the desert. Yay! So exciting! I am about to cross of another check off my life bucket list! I have rode horses before and was initially a bit afraid since horses are so tall, but these camels are a completely different story. I was literally 20-25 feet in the air on top of the camel, the tallest I have ever been :wink: Riding a camel was a bit bumpy, but not as bad as riding a horse. Usually my butt hurts from riding horses, but the camel ride was completely fine. Slow enough to indulge in the golden landscape surrounding our camel caravan, but fast enough to feel like I was being rebellious and about to fall off when I tried to take a selfie.
We stopped right in the middle of the Erg Chebbi sand dunes to sit and watch the sunset. This was one of the most magical sunsets I have experienced in my whole life. The yellow golden color of the sand started to change into a burnt copper reflecting the colors of the sun rays and radiating the royal purples and blues of the changing sky. It was an incredible delicate moment, where it seemed like all of the world just stopped right there, so that Bonnie and I could admire the colors fusing and blending into a piece of art. It literally left me breathless.
We hopped back onto our camels and rode for another 45 minutes to our nomad campsite. The tents were set up with colorful thick Berber rugs as the walls, ceilings, and floors. We were welcomed by Usif (aka Bob Marley), who was a bit awkward, but very kind. Usif had a great view on life, to "simply live it!" No phones, no TV, no computers, no Facebook or twitter... just you and nature, enjoying the present and living on just the necessities.
Speaking of necessities, by this time, Bonnie and I were exhausted and famished! I guess the excitement of camel trekking in the Sahara subdued my hunger, but now that I was sitting and relaxing, my stomach was screaming for attention. Muhammed and Usif prepared chicken tagine and Moroccan tomato salad. To be honest, Bonnie and I were getting a little tired of tagine and Moroccan salad, but this meal was the most delicious and the most memorable that we've had all throughout our trip.
The tagine was unrivaled by the others we've tried. This chicken tagine was fresh, homemade, savory, and so flavorful. Not only were my tastebuds in a state of euphoria from all the deliciousness in my mouth, my sight was just completely captivated and stimulated by the amazing blanket of stars entirely submerging us. It was actually a bit romantic, as we dined in the light of one candle held by Sahara sand in a water bottle and the luminescence of the stars. After dinner, wine, and beer, Bonnie and I literally lined our dinner chairs up, laid face up on the chairs, and admired the diamond filled sky. The moment was so unreal yet the realest moment I have experienced in my life. The deep silence of the dessert, sand in my hair, glowing stars completely surrounding me, the scent of Moroccan spices, with the lingering taste of Moroccan wine on my lips... my senses were on fire. I thought experiencing the Sahara during the day and at sunset was a moving experience, but Sahara at night was incomparable and utterly extraordinary. It amazed me how God continually reminds me of His grace through these supernatural and magical moments in my life.
After 2-3 hours laying like this, Muhammed and Usif suggested to take a midnight hike through the sand dunes. Their English was pretty terrible, but their Spanish was great! Studying Spanish for 4 years in high school and visiting Mexico twice as well as Spain 3 times... I STILL SUCK AT SPANISH! haha With only the light of the moon to direct us and me and Bonnie's broken Spanish yelling at our guides, we slipped and slide (more like climbed/hiked) right along the peaks of the sand dunes, tripping and falling with the unconsolidated sands. If you lost control when you fell, you would continually fall down 300m!!!!!!!! OMG. HOLY SHIT.
It was extremely impressive how knowledgeable Muhammad, our camel man, was with the sand dunes. Muhammad knew the desert like it was the back of his hand. Even with the glow of the full moon and after Bonnie and my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the desert night, it was still difficult to see where the sand dunes dipped and rose. Muhammad was so confident in his directions that he even left his sandals in the sand on our midnight trek. BRAVE MAN. There's no hope for those sandals. I would have lost my sandals the second I took them off!
Bonnie and me, panting and sweating our asses off, finally made it to the second tallest dune in Erg Chebbi. Here, we rested, laid in the cool sand, and admired the scattered gems across the sky. We even saw a handful of giant shooting stars! The sand here supposedly has magical healing powers for joints and aches so many people across the country take the long journey from the city into the desert sand dunes to heal rheumatism. Muhammed and Usif wanted me and Bonnie to experience the sorcery healing powers of the Saharan sand, so they made us sand beds, basically burying us neck down completely in sand (similar to how you always bury your friends in the sand and put fake boobs and penises on them, except minus the boobs and penis part).
We laid in our sand beds staring at the stars, feeling the nice desert breeze through our hair, and we both started to feel the relaxation taking over. I actually fall in and out of sleep in my blanket of sand and under the blanket of stars! I would wake up here and there to continue talking to Muhammad and Bonnie, laughing at how stupid we look/sound trying to talk to Muhammad in broken Tex-Mex Spanish. Usif fell asleep too and would occasionally wake up from his slumber screaming "SILENCIO POR FAVOR" and fall right back asleep hahaha.
At about 3 or 4 AM, we decided to go back and rest. Walking to the camp was just a difficult as leaving it... Bonnie and I were slipping and falling all over the fuckin place, so Muhammad had to hold both of us, one on each arm, and guide us back. He even picked up his sandals. WTF. HE FUCKING PICKED UP HIS SANDALS! He knew exactly where he left them from earlier that night. Now that's an extraordinary skill to have. I'm sure he picks up the ladies all the time with that one ;).
Once we got back to our camp, we went into the tents to find bed cots and Berber blankets set up, but with such a beautiful night out, how could we sleep in this covered tent?! We pulled our cots out from the tents into the open space and decided to sleep with the starry night as our night light. Once everyone got settled in their beds outside, I had to really fart... It was SO quiet though so I couldn't get myself to do it. Bonnie advised me in a whispered voice that if I spread my cheeks wide enough, I won't make a sound when I fart. I laid there, contemplated it, and... well, what the hell why not.
BOY WAS SHE WRONG. In this serene and completely silent precious moment under the stars, I fucking farted a loud one. WHY?! WHYY!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? WHYY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF AND WHY AM I THE MOST AWKWARD PERSON IN THE WORLD?! In the most silent place in the entire world, I have to fart a 'loud and proud' one. As my little cousin would say, 'loud and proud' farts are perfect for parties.... But the soundless desert IS NOT a party!!! It was so quiet at that moment that I am sure all the desert animals, the Berber village townspeople, and all their fucking moms heard my damn fart. To make things even more awkward, Bonnie started to whisper crack up, so I started to whisper crack up as well. By 'whisper crack up,' I mean the type of laughing where you are laughing so hard, but trying to be quiet, so you keep your laughter on the inside, then your stomach starts to hurt, and then you start to cry. Yeah, that kind of cracking up laughing. We did that for a good 45 minutes straight until we literally cried our eyes out. Luckily, the exhaustive laughing drained me and Bonnie, so we ended up passing out afterwards. I hope no one heard...
Muhammad woke us up right before sunrise, so we went right behind our camp to enjoy the sunrise. It was not as colorful as the sunset from the night before, but it was just as beautiful. It was never ending glowing of gold, everywhere! The dramatic lighting from the rising sun and the shifting of shadows on the ripples on the sand was just spectacular to watch. We also took some pretty damn cool photos!
Muhammad and Usif saddled our camels again and we headed back towards Merzouga. Me in the front, Bonnie in the back this time... literally the whole time Bonnie would just make fart noises from the back to tease me of the night before... THANKS BONNIE. WAY TO BE SUTTLE...
The sun was high in the sky by this time and it changed the whole desert! The lighting throughout the day completely transforms this fascinating place. We stopped right in the middle of the dunes and had a photo shoot (again). Every opportunity for a photo-op in the desert is a good opportunity! In all honesty, how cool and badass do Bonnie and I look in our turbaned out camel swag?! Here, we gathered some sand to take back home as well :) Such a great souvenir to have to remind us of one of an amazing night in the desert!
Bonnie also wanted to take home rocks that she saw on the ground. She was so ecstatic, "Ooooooh!!!! Rocks! I'm going to take them home too!" But I looked at what she was grabbing for, and they did NOT look like rocks... Right before she laid a finger on these "rocks" I ask her, "are you... sure... those are rocks...?" Ended up being camel poop that's been dried out by the sun! HAHAHA. Close one Bonnie. Some wise advice, please don't pick up anything that look like rocks in the Erg Chebbi sand dunes... seriously, they are not rocks.
At the end of our trek, Muhammad started to pull out fossils, and more fossils, and more fossils... similar to the rug co-op in Fez. We felt terrible because he was so great the whole camel trek, but he was trying to sell us these fossils that we really were not interested in buying. We stopped him before he could reach for any more... You may be pressured in this way to buy something, but just be firm and be honest! Say "NO" early on! Also, it is a really good idea to give your camel man tip! Especially if he did a good job!
This camel trek through the Sahara Desert initially was just another "check" off my life bucket list, but after actually doing it, it was so much more.... SO much more. My time here was one of the best experiences and by far the best night I have ever had in my entire life. It was truly a memorable night reflecting on the world, my life, and God... I am so amazed everyday by His power, especially when I travel and have the chance to physically see the wonders of the world. This unbelievable night in the desert could have possibly changed my life. It was a haven away from the world, to admire and be apart of an art piece at sunset, to reflect in silence, to become overwhelmed by the beauty of the galaxy, to see how small I am in comparison to the world... I had a deep calming peace just knowing that He loves ME, despite the fact that I am just a tiny speck of sand in this huge desert universe. I am just so extremely grateful to experience all this, especially with my dear friend Bonnie :) <3.
Another thing I have learned from this trip, is that the cleanest toilets in all of Morocco are actually located in the desert. So clean, that I was not afraid to walk in shoeless!! There are even actual toilet seats on the toilets! Wow! Who knew?!
From here, we hopped back into Iddir's 4Runner and the Moroccan journey continues towards the direction of Marrakesh...