Morocco Debrief: Thru the Atlas Mts and to the Sahara 2 of 2

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All week I’ll be posting about Morocco – here’s the 4th post of the series! The other posts cover the city of Marrakech, our hammam experience, 10 things to do in Morocco and how to travel to Morocco for cheap. Stay tuned!

So picking up where the last post left off – we spent the night in a hotel in the Dades Gorge. It wasn’t the most comfortable, but we were so exhausted from our travels the day before that it felt like a Godsend.

From the hotel in the Dades Gorge – we headed to the Todra Gorge, which was simply breathtaking. There’s a cute hotel located inside the gorge, the Yasmin Hotel. If you’re looking to stay inside the gorge, that’s the place to be!

Sahara camping: Hotel in the Todres Gorge
Hotel in the Todres Gorge
Sahara camping: Todres Gorge
Todres Gorge
Sahara camping: Donkey! :-)
Donkey! 🙂

From there, we began our long trip into the Sahara Desert! We stopped along the way at our guide Mohamed’s house. He lives in a small town about 45 minutes from the Sahara. He opened his home up to us and we had a lovely homemade lunch of tangine, with fruit for dessert (the sweetest oranges ever :-)). The children of the household were ADORABLE – Moroccan children are easily the cutest kids I’ve ever seen. They each greeted us by giving us all a kiss on the cheek.

Sahara camping: village that Mohamed, our guide lives in
village that Mohamed, our guide lives in

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Upon leaving the village, we began to notice that the wind was REALLY picking up. We expressed concerns that there could be a sandstorm while we’re camping out overnight in the Sahara, but all Mohamed would say is “You’ll be okay. Inshallah!” Didn’t do much to soothe our fears, I’ll say.

The Sahara was much different from what I thought it would be – there are actual towns within the Sahara, before you get to the sand dunes. There’s even a DOOR to the Sahara! Who knew?

Sahara camping: The door to the Sahara Desert
The door to the Sahara Desert

We took one last pit stop before heading to camp, a gas station in the Sahara, aptly named Afriquia!

Sahara camping: gas station in the Sahara
gas station in the Sahara

We were able to get any last snacks or bottles of water we wanted, and a last chance to use a real restroom, although it lacked soap and some of the stalls lacked a porcelain throne. Better than what were about to experience! After leaving the gas station, the sand dunes came into sight and we were on our way to meet our camels.

Mohamed tied me up Berber style in a scarf, because it was so windy outside. Sand was blowing EVERYWHERE and if it were not for my scarf and sunglasses it would have been in my mouth and eyes. My camera actually stopped opening completely due to sand getting beneath the lens.

Sahara camping: Mohamed, our guide!
Mohamed, our guide!

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Sahara camping: our camel caravan - I'm on the lead camel
our camel caravan – I’m on the lead camel
Sahara camping: sand dunes of the Sahara
sand dunes of the Sahara

The sand dunes of the Sahara are much higher than they look on tv – its one of those things that you only understand once you see it. The climb would be extremely steep and our poor camels would have to readjust their legs several times on the way back down a dune. I admit to being a little scared of our camel ride beforehand, but it worked out well. After an hour and a half ride (which actually was not as uncomfortable as people claimed it would be), we arrived at our camp for the night. It looked a lot better than I thought it would!

Sahara camping: our camp in the Sahara
our camp in the Sahara

There was a tent for each couple, a tent for our 2 Berber guides and a dining/entertainment tent. As you can see below, the tent didn’t have beds, but pallets and lots of blankets. You still felt like you were sleeping on sand – and as you can see, there’s sand EVERYWHERE.

Sahara camping: inside our tent
inside our tent

We had time to take in the beauty of the Sahara before dinner – it’s gorgeous out there.

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Sunset in the Sahara…

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We enjoyed a dinner of chicken tangine (what a surprise!) and our Berber guides entertained us with drums and songs and quite a few corny jokes. Due to a 5am wake up call the next day, we all decided to retire to our tents early, but not before I asked a pertinent question –

“Where’s the chamberpot tent?”
Guide: “is Sahara. Go anywhere!”

That was my biggest shocker of the night – everywhere I read online said there would be a tent for us to use the restroom. Unfortunately, that was not true of our camp. Everyone split off into pairs with their flashlights into the pitch dark night to find a dune to relieve themselves of the copious amounts of mint tea we’d consumed. To say that it’s challenging to use the restroom as a woman, in pitch blackness, on a sand dune, in the Sahara dessert is definitely an understatement! It all worked out eventually, but I found myself regretting that I’d had so much to drink during dinner! I told my sister before the trip that I wanted to buy one one of these for our trip and she scoffed at me. Boy do I regret not getting it…

We retired to our tents for the night – our sandy beds and pillows – hopeful to get a good night’s rest. Seems a peaceful night’s sleep was not in the cards for us! About an hour or two after we’d retired, the wind began to violently pick up again. The roof of our tent lifted, the rods holding our tent together swayed and creaked and shuddered. The sandstorm was back. The best way to describe a sandstorm would be a hurricane with sand, basically. Sand began to fly into the tent from all directions, the roof of the tent flapped, the tent itself lifted, groaned, tilted and shook. and I definitely feared the worst. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it was the longest night of my life. I didn’t get much sleep out of fear of the tent blowing off, or worse, a support beam from our tent falling or striking me or my sister. I spent the whole night praying for morning and boy was it a long night.

Needless to say we made it, because I’m here blogging about it.

In the morning we had a breakfast of yogurt, fruit, bread and mint tea. We got back on our camels (different ones this time) and headed out of the Sahara in time for sunrise.

Sahara camping: sunrise in the sahara
sunrise in the sahara
Sahara camping: my favorite camel! he was so sweet
my favorite camel! he was so sweet

Overall, my night in the Sahara was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. It was incredible. I found out that I’m a lot tougher than I thought I was – I’m the type of girl who is scared of her own shadow. But I’m glad that I did it. During the sunrise camel ride I almost shed a tear seeing how beautiful it was out there. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Mohamed was waiting for us at the edge of the dunes and we rode back to Marrakech thru the Atlas Mountains, where it had snowed a day or two before. Funny how in Morocco you can see desert, snow, mountains and city all within a few hours of each other.

Sahara camping: The Atlas Mts had snow when we went thru on our way back
The Atlas Mts had snow when we went thru on our way back

If you read this post because you were considering doing a Sahara tour – DO IT. You won’t regret it. However, you will find sand in your belongings for days, weeks and months to come. 🙂

PS: click the pictures to enlarge and see them full size

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