It was late October 2003 when I made my first foray into the Moroccan Sahara. Having spent most of the day travelling down from Marrakech on a two stage shared taxi journey (a unique experience in itself!), we arrived in Zagora in the late afternoon, tired, grubby, smelly and not least of all, pretty famished. Therefore it was no small relief to walk into the Hotel to find the smiling face of Brahim Elaabdouli already there waiting for us! With half board accommodation already sorted, it was a quick shower and change (the last opportunity for such luxury for a couple of days), and then up the road for a full debrief of the plan for the coming days. Oh, and of course, a few glasses of mint tea!
Up early the following morning for the hour long journey south. The palmeries grew fewer and further between as we crossed from one valley to the next, and soon enough small sand dunes began appearing. As soon as we alighted in Ouled Driss Brahim set about readying the team, and left us with his brother, and an endless supply of mint tea. By the time we were on our third glass, Peter and Bakher the camels had arrived. 15 minutes and a lot of grunting and groaning later they were fully laden with all the kit and we were ready for the off. After another glass of tea. We were fast learning that in the desert, wherever you are, whatever the time of day, and whoever you are with, there is always time for some more tea.
Although it was October, temperatures were up in the 80’s as our mini caravan strode out of town. The camels were lead by Said and Mohammed (Brahim’s brother), leaving Brahim to walk with Holly and me . I am not sure how the camel trains cope with the heat and the thousands of miles they traverse, but after an hour and a half, and probably about 4 miles, we were certainly ready to rest up under a large tree for a couple of hours, while Mohammed prepared a salad for our lunch.
A couple of hours more walking in the afternoon and we had reached Erg Lihoudi, a series of dunes up to 50 foot high, which was to be our camp for the next two nights. As the guys set up the tents and the camels wandered off to do whatever it is camels do in their spare time, we sat around, simply taking in the quietness, the freshness and the vastness of the place.
About 5 miles away across a stretch of hammada (stony desert) we could see another series of dunes, against which were pitched a long series of large, permanent tents. Occasionally a dozen or so Land Cruisers would show up and drop off another batch of package tourists for their one night in the desert, in a proper bed. After watching the spectacular sunset, while they were no doubt enjoying their evening of planned entertainment, we were feasting on a freshly prepared tagine and sand bread, and enjoying the company. Mohammed, incidentally, is surely the finest tagine chef in Morocco!! Ours was surely the much better way to enjoy the desert!
The rest of the evening was just spent laying around chatting and watching for shooting stars. With no light pollution in the desert, it is incredible just how many more stars you can see than back in the UK. And with hardly any noise pollution, the only sounds to be heard were from what sounded like a full blown Touareg rave taking place at some far off well!!
The next day we were treated (???) to a camel ride across the hammada to a nearby well. Whilst I am glad to have taken the opportunity to ride a camel, I am not sure I would rush back to one! Their surprisingly awkward gait doesn’t make them the most comfortable ride in the world – call me a city boy if you want, but I’ll take the car any day! The rest of the day was much the same as before – more chatting, laying around, sunset watching, star gazing and tagine eating. But that was definitely a good thing! It was brilliant.
On the final morning, we got up with the sunrise, packed up (well, watched as the guys packed up for us!) and ambled back to town. At one point, Holly was even given charge of the camels. And she did very well. Until something upset them and they started bucking and rearing up, but they were soon brought back under control by Said and we carried on, no harm done! Our taxi was ready and waiting for us when we got back to Ouled Driss, and we were in Zagora in plenty of time for the afternoon bus Ouarzazate. After one final round of mint tea, that is!!
All in all, I could not recommend this experience highly enough. Until you go to the Sahara, it is not possible to appreciate what an enchanting place it is. And when you have a dedicated team of 3 (and the 2 camels!) as knowledgeable, helpful, interesting and skilful as Brahim, Mohammed and Said; you cannot fail to have a good time. I just wish we had had more than 2 days, and cannot wait to return for a longer trip!!James Hathaway, 23 March 2004