Morocco Desert Tours Part 2: Camel Trekking! A Night at the Tent Camp

Great expectations.
Everyone who travels into the Sahara dunes brings with them a set of expectations that are very personal, and which are often founded on little more than an exposure to the occasional photograph, or perhaps a description in a book. Some bring very few: they have indeed seen pictures or hear stories, but have very little in the way of concrete knowledge about the Sahara, and come to the desert as an open book. I was like that on my first trip. Others come with a sense of excitement and anticipation, having had their interest piqued, perhaps in childhood, and the prospect of actually riding into the desert on a camel to stay in a nomad tent camp is the realization of a lifelong dream. No matter what compels you, no matter how many times you have visited the desert, no matter if you call the desert ‘home’, that sense of anticipation is aroused the moment the dunes first come into view when you are still 30 or so kilometers away. They are stolid, enigmatic, enduring, waiting. Patiently waiting to embrace you, entrance you! It’s late in the afternoon, and anticipation is kicking into high gear. Time to sort a few necessities into the backpack you will take into the tent camp with you – water, essential toiletries and clothing items, maybe a sweater or jacket “just in case”. You will leave the rest of your luggage in safe storage at the desert hotel which also serves as your departure point for your camel trek. The backpack enables you to have your hands free to hang on. (Remember Camel Ride Tip No. 3??) Some people prefer to wear a hat, but the best and most practical thing to wear on your camel ride is a long cotton scarf wound into a turban. Bring your own, or buy one for a couple of dollars at any market on your way to the desert. While the turban is often associated with some religions, it is not, strictly speaking, “religious apparel”. It is more strongly associated with various cultures, and for desert and nomadic people, it is immensely practical. That simple length of cloth (sometimes measuring 10 metres or more) can be used as a shawl for warmth, as shelter, as a blanket, a towel, a mat, or as protection from the sun, heat, and sand. And when not in use, can be conveniently stored wrapped around one’s head! Practical! The guides patiently help each trekker wrap the turban. For most of us, we’ve never had an opportunity to see how a turban is wrapped, and it’s a little bonus to learn how different wearers decide where to place the foundational knot along the length of fabric (“How long a tail do you want to use as a wrap around your neck and face?”) And then, where you do place the knot on your head in order to obtain the final size and shape desired? Ah, the mysteries of the turban revealed! Then it’s up onto the camels, and the trek begins! The sense of being enveloped by the dunes can only be described as an embrace, and it begins almost immediately, or within the first few minutes of being in the sand. With the hotel out of sight, the landscape surrounding you is a “sandscape”: initially, it may appear featureless, but that is one of the great deceptions of the desert dunes. Your eyes and sensibilities are gradually, gently coaxed into a new awareness and appreciation for how the sand has acquiesced to the insistence of the wind, forming soft golden curves and purple shadows. How intrepid tufts of bright green grass defy all logic, not to mention the relentless heat. How the delicate tracery of tiny insect tracks attest to some little creature’s daily pursuit of food and life! Life, life, LIFE! It’s everywhere! Thankfully, there is also a trail of camel tracks (not to mention camel poop) that provide reassurance that out there, somewhere, in that great immensity of sand, there is a camp. Humanity. A destination. Dinner. And a bed. There is often little conversation on the camel rides. Something about the dunes speaks to a quiet place in our soul, and many people are content to allow that space to open and expand. Or maybe it’s the acoustics. Despite the scale of the landscape, there is an acute sense of intimacy in the dunes. Voices drop, speech is almost reverential. People bend into each other, the better to hear and be heard. The sand absorbs all but the closest sound, the lowest registers, muting everything – even gleeful shouts and laughter – to softness. The gentle sibilance of sand sifting through the camel herder’s sandals staves off silence. The sharpness of the heat has abated somewhat, and sunset is approaching. You’re getting closer to the camp, but you only know that because you have faith: you were promised you would arrive at camp in time to watch the sun set over the dunes. Otherwise, there is no sign: the emptiness of the dunes is complete. Lulled into the rhythm of the ride, then, you’re scarcely prepared when, as you crest yet another knife-edged ridge, there it is! There down below, in the cradle of the dunes, the welcoming sight of the tent camp! The next adventure is about to begin…
Nomad camp   Erg Chebbi group of tree