Moroccan Desert Trek

During our months of travel, we scheduled ourselves 2 big splurges. The first was getting SCUBA certified in Thailand. The second was taking a 3 day escorted tour from Fes to Marrakech, stopping at different highlights and spending a night in the Sahara desert.

Keeping it real, the 3 days were a mixed bag. Our guide was a bit on the dodgy side and some of the sights get a bit repetitive. Seeing the Atlas mountains up close and personal, wandering through the Dades Gorge, and exploring historic Kasbahs was fantastic. But what really took the cake, and made the trip more than worth it, was the camel trek into the Sahara.

One of the great Kasbahs
Atlas mountain pass

We arrived at a resort on the edge of Erg Chebi desert as sunset was approaching. After quickly packing an overnight bag and storing our backpacks, we were introduced to our camels. I LOVED my camel. Mahmood (named for the young boy that cared for it when its mother died) was calm and steady, gently plodding along and swaying side-to-side as we made our way. He was a sandy caramel color and had giant, soft brown eyes. Alas, the love was not reciprocated and he remained unimpressed with me throughout our time together, often groaning when I got on or off. Kolt’s camel was more vocal and curmudgeonly. He loudly protested his role in transporting a tourist but still obediently plodded on.

My beloved Mahmood

Once in motion, our camels settled into a quiet rhythm of hooves on sand. We trod over dune after dune as the sun sank and the orange sand shifted colors in response to the sky. Riding camels is like riding a horse sideways. Instead of moving forward and back, you slide side-to-side. Riding camels for over an hour is like riding a horse for 8 hours. Parts that shouldn’t go numb do, and parts that you forgot were there start announcing their displeasure at this side-to-side business. But despite the discomfort, my mind was constantly distracted by the striking beauty of the desert scenes around us. As we climbed up and down the dunes, soon out of sight of any roads or buildings, our surroundings resembled a Dali painting- colors and textures melting together. The air turned cool but the heat from the sand radiated up, keeping us warm as darkness set.

A group that trekked along with us into the dunes

After about 90 minutes on the backs of our camels, we arrived at a campsite hidden amongst the dunes. Dropping our bags in our tent, we eagerly awaited dinner which was cooked on site and served to us at a romantic candlelit table for two. As an added bonus, there were some wild desert cats (about the size of a large housecat but appearing to be a different species) that hung around for scraps while looking adorable. We listened to nomadic music around a fire before climbing a dune to stare at the milkyway. While we tried to sleep in our tent, it was too hot from the warm sand below and we ended up dragging our mattress outside to sleep under the stars.

Music at the camp

Our guide woke us before dawn and we sleepily clambered back onto our loyal dromedaries, though not without hearing what they thought about it. We were silent as we watched the colors change again, the sand shifting from greys and dark blues to a brightening amber. The stars slowly faded until they were replaced by rays of sunlight and we found ourselves sitting atop a dune across the road from our resort, taking in a few final moments before breaking the spell.

Black sand fields leading to the orange dunes of the Sahara

Deanna Martin

Originally from New England but having spent 10 years in Chicago, I'm a hybrid. A Physician Assistant by profession, I love medicine and most things science-y (not space though, I'm apathetic about space). I also love trees, the ocean, languages, and the vast array of people throughout this breathtaking world of ours.

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