One of the highlights of the trip was our night in the desert camp which we rode to on CAMELS! So cool.
We knew we were headed out to the desert, but it was still a bit of a surprise when the minibus randomly turned off the highway. Of course our driver knew exactly what he was doing but it didn’t look like a road. As far as the eye could see it was a flat, grey, rocky landscape. We bounced and jolted along for what seemed like an hour, before arriving at the desert camp outfitting base. The rocky plains ended fairly abruptly at the sand dunes and strung out in both directions we could see other outfitters. Presumably these desert camp excursions are popular. Our trip was timed so that we arrived at the base in the late afternoon, rode out into the desert and stayed overnight at the desert camp, before departing the next morning. But the outfitters also had hotel type rooms presumably for people who need to stay overnight before or after their camel trek. We stored most of our luggage here as we just took enough for the night with us on our camel. The closest town to where we were was Merzouga and the dunes we visited are on the edge of the Sahara in an area called the Chebbi Erg.
One of the things that people asked me before my departure was whether the camels we were going to ride on had one hump or two. Everyone seemed to envision sitting between the humps. However the camels we rode were the dromedary – with one hump. The saddle was a kind of giant doughnut shaped pillow that sat around the hump and then was draped with blankets. It was slightly uncomfortable. Camels are wide, and the saddle makes things wider still, which was a bit of a strain on the hips. Also, I’m not sure about how everyone else was making out, but my camel’s hump made a bump in the middle of the saddle and dug into my pelvic bone for the duration of the ride. However, despite some small complaints it was actually really fun. There was a handle to hang on to which was 100% necessary when the camels stood up and sat down. Basically, you get on the camel while it is sitting (like in the above picture), and then it stands up with it’s back legs first, nearly throwing you off the front, and then raises it’s front legs. I found I didn’t need to hang onto the handle with both hands while we were actually walking, but some people appeared to be hanging on with an absolute death grip. It was pretty windy on our ride out in the desert so we all had our scarves wrapped around our faces. If you are thinking of doing a desert trip…..take a scarf! One person didn’t have one and ended up tying a long sleeved shirt around their head.
The desert camp was made of a number of tents. There were about five sleeping tents arranged around a little “courtyard”. Then there was a dining tent and a tent for the two men who cooked our evening meal and the camel wranglers…. and maybe our tour guide, I’m not sure. There were actually two flush toilets in a little cinder block hut thing. There must have been a septic tank or something. We all brought in our own drinking water and there was a barrel for hand washing, which unfortunately ran out quickly and we reverted to hand sanitizer.
The tents were made of what looked like bamboo tied together and then draped with wool blankets. We had expected it to be cold, as it can be very cold in the desert, especially in February, but it was actually a really mild night. I had borrowed a silk sleeping sack from a friend and that’s all I slept with But there was bedding in the form of mattresses laid on a carpets and then covered in blankets. And each tent had a single electric light. I’m still not sure what the power source was.
After dinner they lit a bonfire and there was drumming. One of the things I loved was the absolute darkness, with light only from the moon and stars, and the quiet. No city noises…..lovely.