During my last post, I gushed about how amazing Morocco Active Adventures is. Among the many wonderful things we did with the company, my favorite activity was the night we camped in the Sahara Desert.
Much of Morocco is rock desert, but as we drove further east we started to see the sand dunes of the Sahara rising up in the distance. They are massive, and reach heights of 500 feet.
So do I!
But before we reached the Sahara desert there was one important step we needed to take.
Earlier in our trip, our guide Youssef had explained that Moroccan men call cute girls “gazelles” because apparently gazelles are cute animals (never having seen one myself, I’ll take his word for it).
My cousin Marisa and I tried not to be insulted when he jokingly called us gazelles for the first time… when our faces were almost completely covered!
We didn’t cover our faces just to look like gazelles. We were ready for the Sahara Desert, and were protected from the heat (it’s about 115 degrees in the desert!) and the blowing sand.
We also wore closed-toed shoes to protect ourselves from scorpion stings (which will hurt but not kill you) and snake bites (which will both hurt and kill you). If you’re looking for a pair of closed-toed shoes for the desert, I’m obsessed with these.
We boarded our camels and were off, riding about an hour and a half into the Sahara.
Riding a camel for an hour and a half across the desert isn’t as comfortable as it sounds. It was much more hardcore than our earlier camel riding experience!
But it was cool. Really, really cool. I’ve never experienced anything like the immense quiet of the desert, where the only sound you hear is the blowing sand.
And I learned something desert people have known for centuries:
When you’re riding the last camel the scenery never changes!
We stopped outside camp to go sandboarding. It’s just like snowboarding, but with one key difference.
And even though I’m terrible at snowboarding, I nailed sandboarding!
We then wandered into our home for the night, a Berber camp in the middle of the desert.
It was too hot for a fire, but we sat around the fire pit watching the sky change. Before long more camels rode up and we were joined by two British and two German tourists. We chatted about politics, culture and language while the wind picked up. Our mouths became crunchy with sand, but we didn’t care, we were enjoying the scenery so much we didn’t want to go inside.
Nightfall and the promise of dinner finally brought us into the main tent, where we dined on heaps of Berber food, joking that there was now one less camel at camp.
The Berbers are especially good at flavoring meat with spices.
And served much of their food in traditional tagines, which are cone-shaped pots used to cook in.
And then after dinner there was music!
You can listen to a slice of it here:
Then they taught us how to play, and for some reason we didn’t sound quite as good! But we enthusiastically joined in the Berber songs, and sang an English song from the band Oasis for no other reason than that all of us tourists knew the words.
And the music ended with one special song arranged by Youssef: Happy Birthday sung to me in Arabic, Berber and English.
We then lay on the floor of the main tent, talking with some of the Berbers and hearing about their nomadic, desert childhoods that were strikingly different than my own. While we talked we waited for the wind to die down and the stars to come out, and when they did it was well worth the wait.
The sky was white there were so many stars. It was the most stunning sky I’ve ever seen!
Youssef took us up to the highest dune in the darkness. And although it was possible we would step on scorpions or snakes in the dark, for some reason I wasn’t scared and just enjoyed the moment, trusting it would be ok.
At the top of the dune we lay in the sand, digging our hands in a little bit to feel the warm sand under the cooler top layer. The sand in the Sahara Desert is the finest sand I’ve ever felt.
We looked up at the stars, resting in the absolute quiet while gazing up at the heavens. I made a wish on a shooting star, and it was such a perfect moment that I just know my wish will come true.
Much too soon the clouds rolled in, settling the desert into blackness so dark you couldn’t see anything in front of you. The smart thing would have been to head back to camp, and we did, but not before deciding it was the perfect time for night sandboarding.
It was exhilarating flying down the dunes in the darkness, not knowing what terrain you’d hit next (or what desert animal)! It’s not the safest thing I did in Morocco (sorry mom!) but it was certainly fun!
Then eventually, reluctantly, we dragged ourselves back to camp, where we pulled our beds outside the tent to sleep in the open air. Before we went to sleep, Youssef told us to dream about a white camel, which apparently brings good luck.
I feel asleep dirty and covered in Sahara sand, but completely happy. And I slept well, so well in fact that I didn’t wake up when it started raining in the middle of the night!
A mere few hours later the sun rose again, and I woke up before 5am after white camel-less dreams (that’s ok, I make my own luck)!
Even though we got very little sleep, none of us cared, since the night before had been so incredible.
We climbed back up to the tallest dune to watch the sky brighten.
And then we hopped back onto our camels and headed back to reality.
The only thing we took home with us were the memories… and a significant amount of Sahara sand which had found its way into our shoes!
They say you either stay in the desert for one night or for the rest of your life, meaning you either hate it and never go back, or you love it and leave a piece of your heart there forever.
And I left a piece of my heart in the Sahara Desert.