The streets of Fez were bare and the sky was black as coal. The air felt mild, yet we were bundled in jackets and scarves. Not one person could be seen around as we boarded our private van, a little nervous and very full of anticipation for the day to come. As we knew we had a long day ahead, our heavy eyes guided us to the empty seats where we curled up to continue our sleep as the van began to move.
One by one we gradually woke as the sky outside lightened from complete darkness to cobalt blue, slowly unveiling the masterpiece which is the Moroccan countryside. As the van climbed in altitude, we entered the beginning of the Atlas Mountains to find snow sprinkled on the ground. The only animal residing in this forest is the Barbary macaque, the most well-known of the Old World monkey species. I’m sure just like us, they were still huddled up with hazy eyes.
As we drove through the valley, the sun began to rise to create a canvas of colors. Dark violet sat on the horizon, becoming pink then peach and aubergine before royal blue stretched across the sky. Stopping for a much-needed coffee break, we took the opportunity to capture these brilliant colors on our cameras.
Back on our way we watched wandering nomads by the side of the road and passed through Berber villages with a stunning backdrop of the Mid-Atlas Mountains. In what felt like no time at all, we arrived at an oasis overflowing with palm trees. Moroccan rugs had been laid out for our picnic lunch in the winter sun.
The rugs were soon dotted with the friendly stray kittens which had been playing nearby. A welcoming pot of sweet mint tea appeared within minutes which we enjoyed as we conversed and laughed while listening to the music of some local men close by, also sharing a picnic lunch in the shade.
Our G Adventures guide, Hassan, was incredible at informing us about the Moroccan landscape, history and the Berber way of life. When I asked, “Hassan, where does all the sand come from?” He laughed, then told us the story of how God had dropped a grain of sand in the Sahara for every sin man had made. That thought sparked my imagination.
For a few more hours we drove through ancient villages, alongside turquoise dams, and past vibrant green fields, stopping to take photos at various viewpoints along the way. The terrain began to flatten, becoming barren and parched. Soon there was nothing around us except an occasional humble home, where the family of a shepherd lives.
On the horizon, we could see a large Kasbah appearing in front of us. We were all incredibly surprised as we had been told by Hassan the camel safari was leaving from a guest house.
The walls were lined with traditional prints in the colors of the Sahara, and the doors had been made with such intricate detail. After being directed to the beautiful courtyard, we drank mint tea while arranging each other’s Berber tagelmusts, a headscarf to shelter our faces from the harsh elements of the desert.
In the distance, the camels emerged over the sand dunes in single file. Nervous and excited, we each allocated ourselves one before the Berber guides tied our overnight bags and water to the saddles. It was time for the moment we were dreading, the camel's ascent. I giggled and squealed as I awkwardly climbed onto his back. It felt like I was going to fall off forwards, then backward before my camel was securely standing upright.
As we rode along expertly led by our guide, we had time to admire the beauty of the Sahara. The light grains of sand gracefully danced in the breeze, and occasionally I spotted a beetle scurrying along and wondered where he was going. I caught myself imagining what life would have been like for the nomadic caravans traveling for weeks through this forever changing desert. Even in the afternoon, the winter sun was harsh on my fair skin, so was relieved to have my scarf to protect me.
With each dune we crossed, another larger and grander dune appeared in front of us. Soon we reached the highest peak to see our overnight camp below.
The spacious tents were positioned to face each other, with colorful seating in the middle, arranged in a circle to gather around a fire. The camp was scattered with stunning bronze ornamental lamps to light our way at night, and rugs to lead us to our doors. Our private tent was lined with royal red and gold velvet fabric. In the middle, two very comfortable beds were topped with fresh cotton sheets and woolen blankets to keep us warm throughout the night.
As sunset was approaching, we began the climb to the top of a nearby sand dune. The sand felt like we were walking in fresh snow, it was so soft it would collapse beneath our feet, feeling as though we were taking one step forward and two steps back. The wind had swept the dunes smooth so to look as if no one had ever stepped foot in this place before.
We reached the top of the dune in time to see the African sun light up the desert, casting deeper shadows off the peaks the lower it went. As the sun touched the horizon there was nothing but silence in the still air. Suddenly, my inner child decided to come out and I just had to roll down this gigantic hill. Nothing was going to stop me, so I wrapped myself in my scarf and let go, building up speed in no time before sprawling across the sand laughing uncontrollably with such joy.
The evening's activities had built up our appetites, especially as we could smell our dinner waiting for us in the main tent. Sitting at one long table like a big family, we shared stories and experiences from our own countries over hot tagine and the sweetest fresh fruit.
Our guides had been busy building a fire whilst we ate dinner so it would be ready for us post meal. As we sat around the flickering flames, the Berber guides joined us with taarija drums and began a rhythmic beat. At first, the beat seemed to be spontaneous but they soon started singing in unison. The men sang in the Berber language about the desert, drought, and family. The music was beautiful and our G Adventure guide joined in as well, expressing his Berber heritage.
As the synchronized beats went on, I snuck away from the camp to see the sky more clearly, far from the light of the fire. Lying face up in the sand, I was mesmerized by the stars which shone so brightly. They wrapped around the sky from horizon to horizon. I noticed when I gazed at them for too long, there were so many it almost seemed as if they were falling out of the sky.
Hearing the occasional grunt of a camel nearby, and the cheerful singing from camp, I couldn’t have been more at peace with the world in that moment.
Riding through the Sahara Desert on camelback to an overnight camp was at the very top of my Morocco bucket list. When I saw that it was a 12 hour drive from Marrakech to Merzouga, I started to doubt if that dream would come true.
I decided to join G Adventures on their 8-day, Morocco Kasbahs and Desert, Casablanca to Marrakech trip which included the overnight Sahara Desert camel ride.
G Adventures made our Sahara journey and Moroccan adventure so easy. We knew we’d be looked after by local tour companies we could trust and didn’t have to stress about the fine details. Our guide, Hassan, kept us informed at all times about our schedule, what we could expect from the day ahead, and what we needed to bring with us.
When I became ill overnight at camp, Hassan arranged for a driver to come and collect me in the morning so I wouldn’t have to ride the camel out. I was also very appreciative that Hassan stayed with me to look out for my well-being until we were reunited with the rest of the group back at the guest house. This is where the rest of our belongings were to have a much-desired hot clean shower and eat a breakfast spread full of pastries, fresh fruit, pure orange juice and of course, coffee.
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