Camping In the Sahara
“Why did you go there?” That’s usually the first question friends ask when I tell them I’ve just returned from a trip. How do any of us decide where to spend our vacations? My reasons for visiting Morocco were numerous. Traveling with Overseas Adventure Travel, we were promised a small group of travelers with an itinerary to the large major cities of Casablanca, Rabat, Fez and Marrakech. The real lure of the trip was that we would camp in the Sahara and visit smaller towns, with opportunities to meet with people in their homes.
The most memorable part of the trip for me was the time we spent in the Sahara. After a rather sedate ride along a paved two-lane highway, we abruptly turned into the roadless Sahara. It was here that the fun began. The drivers, all men in their thirties, each took a different track; there seemed to be a touch of competition in the air. We skimmed across the rocky terrain, occasionally crossing somewhat established roadway and passing isolated, primitive inns. As the sun began to slip below the horizon, we stopped to view the most incredible sunset. We dutifully ooh’ed and aah’ed and snapped numerous photos. Suddenly from out of the shadow, a young girl emerged carrying some little dolls that she had made, offering them for sale, a scene to be repeated numerous times, throughout our adventures.
After we made our commercial transactions, we continued our sprint across the desert. At the base of the Erg Chebbi, a huge, drifting expanse of sand dunes, we found the pristine white tents that were to be our homes for the night. The tents were quite comfy with two cots and thick foam mattresses and sleeping bags. Candles in brass lanterns provided illumination.
We spent the early evening under the open sky, sipping tea, watching the sky darken, stars twinkled above us. We were served a lovely dinner in a dining tent. Later, a group of Berber musicians began to play and sing by the light of a campfire. Sipping more tea, we first served as an audience, then were drawn into the festivities. We danced, drummed and chanted along with musicians for what seemed like hours.
After a breakfast of crepes, jam, juice, more coffee, and fruit, we set out on our first hike in the Sahara. Our destination was a tiny dot on the horizon, a Berber tent. We ambled across the flat, rocky desert, pausing from time to time, to admire a particularly beautiful rock or watch a lizard skitter away from human intruders. The tent seemed to stay the same distance away for a long time and then suddenly it loomed right in front of us.
It was a low hung affair of brown woven fabric. One side served for storage and as a kitchen; the other was the sleeping area. In between, the mother of the group worked her loom. We presented them with some of the food we’d purchased and were invited to sit in the tent. The oldest son served us hot mint tea and we were educated on the nomad way of life. The mother, with a daughter at her side, never stopped weaving. A son periodically used binoculars to scan the horizon for their camel herd. When we exited the tent we found little displays of homemade primitive dolls, stuffed camels, and jewelry for sale.
We visited several more encampments. We stopped at the local well where women gathered to wash their clothes and visit. Piles of plastic jugs waited to be filled with the precious liquid.
Leaving the desert was hard. It had been so special that I knew I could have gone home happy if I’d had to leave that day. It had been an extraordinary experience.