The Sahara Desert

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The Sahara Desert

Happy Tears

Yes, it is true… I cried happy tears upon arrival to the gorgeous Sahara dunes at sunset.

They were absolutely magnificent and I had dreamt of experiencing them first-hand for so long.

The silky sand felt amazing under my bare feet and I witnessed the magic of our sun setting across the horizon.

“I am actually here!” I thought to myself in a truly surreal moment.

A day prior I’d flown to Fez, Morocco, to join a private tour 3-day tour of the desert the very next morning.

Mohammed, a local guide, picked me up bright and early and together we embarked on an 8-hour drive from Fez to Merzouga, a tiny village near the Algerian border, and gateway to Erg Chebbi, the famous sand dunes I’d soon be exploring.

He regaled me with his own life experiences living in the desert, taught me about the history of his Berber people, and also admitted he was saving money to be married.

We arrived to Merzouga near sundown, so I threw my backpack into an extremely modest hotel room and rushed back out so we could enjoy some drift driving in the dunes to catch the last rays of light.

Mohammed was a very skilled driver with a vehicle tricked out for this type of activity!

That first evening in the dunes was unforgettable and I’ll be forever humbly grateful as the memory lives on.

It was December 23rd, and I learned it got really cold in the desert during the winter.

After bundling up after a brief shower, the hotel chef prepared a delicious dinner with local delicacies. I love Moroccan food and promptly stuffed my face with everything the chef offered, as he giggled at my passionate appetite.

That night I shivered in my cold Berber-style cemented walls room under the heap of blankets and zero heater. It was all part of the adventure!

The next morning I arose before the sun and walked around the entire town, hot tea in-tow, and took photos/videos in preparation for a very long day of adventure.

By then, Mohammed knew my curious nature for culture and history, so he drove me south for a Sudanese musical & dance show, followed by a historical tour of ruins out in the parameter of the Erg Chebbi.

Then to my delight, Mohammed surprised me with tea in an authentic nomadic camp where I met a man with 4 wives and 13 children.

This fascinating experience chocks up there to my best cultural highlights in globetrotting adventures.

I knew very little Arabic and definitely tried my best with language, as I always do, and played with the cute children and chatted with the wives as they prepared tea and bread.

The children rarely got invited to the tent for tea and bread with guests, so our fun little event was special for them as they happily shoveled crackers into their mouths before their 4 moms shooed them off to play.

I noticed some of the kids looked sickly and they all were extremely dirty.

Mohammed explained to me some of their illnesses and if I would be generous to leave the nomads a little money for medicines.

$10 US dollars goes a long way out in that region, and I was happy to contribute to this cause, as I’ve long learned there will be tips and contributions paid nearly everywhere on guided tours.

Upon leaving the nomads, Mohammed and I took on more aggressive sand drifting and he brought out the long-awaited snowboard for some sand-boarding in the dunes.

The first hill he dropped me off on was massive and steep, so Mohammed took me to a slightly more gentle slope. I didn’t even strap in my feet and took a slow cruise down, no carving whatsoever. I’m a snowboarder and unaccustomed to the sensation of sand underneath.

My sand-boarding quest was short-lived, as I calculated my risk of a potential broken bone out in the Sahara on Christmas Eve. Later that day I boarded smaller hills near my Berber camp.

After lunch it was time to mount a camel and take the 30-minute ride into the dunes to the permanent encampment set up for dinner, dancing and an overnight stay.

I sang some Christmas songs from atop my camel as we swayed back and forth into the warm desert, and what Eve of Christ wouldn’t be complete with a rendition of ‘We 3 Kings.’

My camel was friendly female with a big case of gas; she farted all the way until my dismount at our camp, where I thanked her for ride and bid the animal farewell.

The traditional-style Berber camp housed 12 guest tents and a food tent, with a big fire pit in the middle, complete with an enthusiastic staff of young male Berbers.

My tent was luxurious and spacious for desert standards, and included a king size bed and attached bathroom with sink, toilet and shower.

Before sundown I explored the nearby area, took a sand-board out for a few spins and gleefully executed a Facebook livestream on the camp’s weak Wi-Fi signal. Wi-Fi in the Sahara Desert?!

The other camp guests were families from China, Italy and France, and we all congregated into the food tent for a special Christmas Eve dinner followed by Berber-style singing and dancing around the fire.

If you know me, you know I really danced!

Slipping outside the camp away from the firelight, I spent some solitude under the stars. The surreal beauty of an unpolluted night sky there in the Sahara was awe-inspiring, only to be ever rivaled by my nights on Mount Kilimanjaro.

After another cold night in the desert spent snuggling deep into the comfy covers of my big bed, I awoke Christmas morning to view a vibrant red sunrise, as a camel posed for me as centerfold.

The Berber staff fed me a hearty breakfast and kept me warmed up in the early morning chill with lots of hot mint tea.

Some guests chose to ride their camels back to town, whereas I opted for Mohammed to pick me up in his rig and do some more sand drifting before we left the dunes.

He was quite the considerate tour guide, and we stopped at his lifelong house so I could meet his mother for tea and bread.

She cheerily explained, with the aid of his translation, that she’d lived in Merzouga all her life just as Mohammed, and her daily activities were to to care for the children and animals, clean the home, tend to the garden, go to market for groceries and to cook the family meals. She added with a giggle how much she liked watched the soaps on television.

We hugged as I thanked her in Berber, as Mohammed and I departed for the long 8-hour drive back to Fez.

Together we found fun ways to make the road trip more enjoyable; Mohammed stopped for a photo-op so I could hold a pretty little white desert fox, he bought me a box of delicious dates from an infamous oasis, and we sang songs and told stories to pass the time.

Once back in the bustling city of Fez, I found settled into a well-known restaurant for my Christmas dinner as I gazed at all my amazing photos and videos.

What an adventure the Sahara Desert had been!

Alas, there was little time to rest for the next morning I was off to explore Chefchaouen, the Blue City of Morocco.

Enjoy the Photo Gallery below.


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