Imprints on the desert dunes of Erg Chebbi

After our whistle stop tour of the Berber village, we headed south from Tinghir, stopping for lunch and bottled water near Erfoud, a dusty oasis-like town whose streets were lined with date palms. Soon we were on the road towards Merzouga, one of the many gateways to the Sahara Desert.

Morocco | Sahara Desert

Along the way, we encountered one of the few highway patrol checkpoints on our travels. Clearly emboldened by being so far removed from any sign of civilization, the lead patrol officer flagged down our vehicle and asked our driver for his papers.

Seemingly unsatisfied with what was presented, he politely asked the driver to step out of the vehicle and then led him out of sight and out of earshot to the back of the bus where we presume some sort of transaction took place. Our driver returned after a few minutes and nonchalantly resumed the journey. This after all was Africa. Stuff happens and life goes on.

Morocco | Berber Village

Buildings, minarets and small settlements in different shades of red mud appeared to be carved out of the rocks on either side of the road as we drove along. Soon, the terrain leveled out into flat, barren land and the ubiquitous mountains receded further and further. On one side they were lit up by the sun. On the other side, they were shrouded in haze. The Sahara desert loomed closer with every mile.

We eventually veered off the tarmac and headed towards a little village settlement where we were received by Berber guides. Our excitement increased as we noticed a caravan of  kneeling camels patiently waiting to bear us to our desert abode to begin our overnight desert experience. With grand visions of romantic Arabian nights, we loaded up our gear and clumsily became acquainted with our camels.

Morocco | Sahara Desert | Camel Trekking | Camping

Searching on Twitter or Instagram for ‘Morocco desert trek’, will most likely turn up loads of incredible images of golden desert sands undisturbed by nothing more than winds. Those photos only tell half the story. The other half of the story involves awkwardly balancing on a camel and trying not to fall off as it ungracefully navigates the majestic sand dunes. We developed a new respect for cultures whose only form of transportation is this majestic beast.

Morocco | Sahara Desert | Camel Trekking | Camping

As we were one of the early groups to arrive, our caravans set off in different directions led by Berber guides who knew the terrain like the back of their hands. Guiding us through the best available routes, we soon arrived in a sand dune valley where a tent camp made up of thick Berber blankets and carpets had been set up in a square formation forming a courtyard at the centre. In the middle of the camp was a functioning well…although no one expected us to drink from it. If we were looking for the perfect place to truly unplug (read: no WiFi, no electricity), we had found it.

Somewhat satisfied with the basic lodgings, there was just enough time to choose a tent, throw our bags in and join other sun seekers to hunt for the highest sand dune from which we could watch the sun set. As we trekked, clambering up and down sand dunes, each step was almost immediately covered up with sand, leaving very little imprint. The shifting sands of Erg Chebbi would soon forget we were ever there. It made us think about how many of us will probably go through life without making any significant impact. Like the ever shifting desert sands, people come and people go and most are barely remembered.

Morocco | Sahara Desert | Sand Dunes | Erg Chebbi

Intrigued by these thoughts, we talked about how we truly want to make an impact on lives, our community and our world. We learned a lesson in that moment: that the imprints we make on sand would fade…but those we make on the lives around us would endure for a lifetime. We resolved to be a positive and motivating influence. In that moment, even the height of the sand dunes were no match for our hopes and dreams.

On top of a sand dune, as we watched the sun make its descent on New Year’s Eve, we symbolically pinned all our failures and disappointments on it; confident that the first sunrise of the New Year would offer up a clean slate for us to begin again.

As we trudged back to the camp, the stars began to appear. Immaculately clear skies unaffected by pollution meant we could make out a number of formations including Orion’s Belt. The interstellar cast made us feel like heaven had put on the greatest opera we had ever seen. Although so very far away, we had never felt so close to the stars.

 

A fiery new dawn

Meanwhile, with an impressive level of organisation, the Berbers had managed to feed everyone and had somehow converted the dinning tent into sleeping accommodation.

A few hours to midnight, someone (bless them!) had the good sense to start a fire on a sand dune just outside camp. Few things bring people of diverse cultures together than food, music and fire. The first one had been dispatched and so logically there was a natural migration towards the only source of heat available.

Morocco | Sahara Desert | Sand | Camping

On that cold desert night, our Berber hosts sang and danced to the discordant beat of their own drums. Before long the Mexican Waves began to appear. This wierd Sahara Desert New Year’s Eve party was in full swing. As the clock ticked slowly towards midnight like sand filtering through an hourglass, a great countdown chorus began, “Ten, nine, eight…three…two…one!” A new year was ushered in under a perfect midnight desert sky.

Morocco | Sahara Desert | Sand | Camping

Eventually the fire died and everyone drifted off to find shelter, saved from certain hypothermia by layers of ingeniously engineered Berber blankets.

The next morning, with sky painted an eclectic mix of pink, orange and red, the colourful canvas only broken by the fledgling rays of the first dawn of the New Year, we joined the great throng of the unwashed on the return camel trek back to civilisation.

Morocco | Sahara Desert

Soon we exchanged our four-legged steeds for their four-wheeled replacements and headed off to continue our journey through Morocco. Although the camp fire had long since died, hopes and expectations for the year ahead leapt in our hearts like unquenchable flames. We hoped that this fire would continue to burn long after our footprints had disappeared from the sands of the Sahara Desert.

Morocco | Sahara Desert | Camel Trekking | Camping

HDYTI tip: We met tourists who had experienced other desert treks in other parts of Morocco who had mixed reviews of those treks. Be sure to read reviews before you book any. Also drop us a note if you have any questions about our own experience (which was overall a positive one).

Thanks to the lovely Miss Chaimae for helping us with the Arabic translations used above. We look forward to seeing you get your wings and fly!

To see more amazing images of life in the Sahara Desert, see Monika Mizinska’s beautiful photo story Bewildered In Morocco

DISCOUNT OFFER: Are you planning a trip to Marrakech and fancy a behind-the-scenes food tour of the city’s amazing cuisine? Our friends over at Marrakech Food Tours are offering our readers 10% off an afternoon or evening food tour booking. Simple enter the code HDYTIFOOD when booking. Note that the code will be good to use from until 5 June 2016 when they close for Ramadan and summer break.

Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).