This is where Peter O’ Toole famously became Lawrence of Arabia. The Sahara is also where we made idiots of ourselves on Camels!
On that point; there is a common misconception that when you embark on a trip into the Sahara, your mode of transport will be camel. We are reminded as we approach Merzouga there are, in fact no camels in Morocco or the Sahara, only ‘Dromedary’. This is the correct name for the one humped mode of desert transport. Only the two-humped variety are called camels.
After a very long 2 day journey we finally make it to Merzouga; the gateway to the desert and close to our final destination of Erg Chebbi.
Another misconception is that the Sahara is made entirely of rolling sand dunes. This is not the case, it comprises of both sand and vast areas of flat arid rocky landscape as well.
We head to Erg Chebbi (Erg meaning sand or dune) approx. 30 Km from Merzouga, close to the border of Algeria this is one of the premier destinations in the Sahara for the iconic sand dunes. The other being Erg Chigaga to the south. Naturally we picked the place with the biggest dunes!
There are a number of small Auberge’s (small inns or motels) dotted along the remote drive between Merzouga and Erg Chebbi, these are sign posted with the name of the Auberge, a contact number. No address just the latitude and longitude!
When you arrive at Erg Chebbi you will be asked to take ONLY what you need in a small bag as you must carry all of your belongings and required water on your dromedary (camel for those who weren’t paying attention earlier!). Our bags were small as instructed, no one said anything about heavy (who said you can’t enjoy a few nice reds in the Sahara?!)
You will be introduced to your camel.
Mary to Camel Driver: “So this is my camel; What is its name? ”
Camel Driver: (with a confused look on his face): “His name is Camel!”
Once you are not so formally acquainted with your trusty stead (or dromedary), managed to mount and negotiate the whole business of the animal standing up (a very strange motion at first and not so graceful!) it’s off into the sand dunes of the Sahara.
It is almost surreal when you first head into the desert. The enormity of this potentially harsh terrain and incredible stillness, as well as the constantly changing colours of the sand is both overwhelming and peaceful. The same could not be said for my camel, there was no peace or stillness just noises and smells coming from each end!
Our accommodation was the traditional Berber Nomad camps that dot the Sahara. The Nomad camp sites are made up of a circle of traditional woollen tents with a central fire pit. Each tent is lined with traditional rugs and small sleeping mattresses on the floor.
A Tagine and, of course, some mint tea (Berber Whiskey as they call it) before bed, you couldn’t ask for more except maybe a little extra sleep.
It’s an early start in the desert and a cold one. At what feels like the middle of the night our trusted Nomad wakes us by playing a small set of traditional symbols. We rug up and load our camels again to set off in the darkness. Thankfully my camel is becoming more peaceful and less flatulent!
Once the sun begins to rise you are grateful for the early start and for the effort it took to get here. The sunrise is even more spectacular than the sunsets.
As fond of my dromedary I became, I still marvel at how man can cross deserts by way of this beast and not have some serious chiropractic issues! The caravans of days gone by were made of some tough stuff.