Morocco Desert Tours Part 3: A Night in a Nomad Tent Camp

We’ve been spotted! Just as we’ve eagerly anticipated our first glimpse of the nomad tent camp, so have our hosts been looking out for us. As we saunter down the slope of the dune, we hear a distant cry go up, and tiny little figures all in blue scurry between the tents so far below. Again, the desert dunes beguile: how close the camp looks, down there in the bowl… and yet, the little human figures provide the reality check: we’re still pretty high up. …But are we 200 feet up? 500? Or 50? I don’t know.Nomad camp In just a few short minutes, we’re in camp, and our hosts are there to meet us. They bring the camels down for us, and we slide off.   Ohhh yesss! No matter how comfortable the camel (everything being relative), that does feel good. As we get our bearings, our eyes are drawn back up, up to the dunes where the play of light and shadow is completely different than it was when we were on top. Others who arrived at the camp before us are already up there waiting for the sunset, and are either sitting quietly along the highest ridge, or “discovering” the sand: sliding in it, rolling in it, fruitlessly trying to run in it, or simply running it through their fingers. Despite having just arrived at the bottom, we’re eager to join them. But first, any baggage beyond our personal backpacks is unloaded and sorted, and we are shepherded to our assigned tents where we unburden ourselves. And then we’re right back out, heading for the dunes, eager to scamper to the top again and catch the last rays of the sun.       You know, it’s hard work! We all know what great exercise it is to walk on a sandy beach… OK, but now that beach is on a 30-degree incline! In our eagerness to catch the sunset, we all start by attacking the climb with vigor and enthusiasm, but most of us are forced to face our limitations about a third or a half of the way up, and we stand for a few moments, surprised by the challenge of the climb, gasping to catch our breath. We look back down, startled again by how tiny things seem, then gaze upward, mentally assessing the distance still to go, and our chances of actually making it in time to see the sunset. Some combination of ego and determination gets us going again. We press on. And then, there we are.   Having made the ridge, the strain of the effort vanishes, and the new priority is to pick a good spot. Of course, there is no bad spot. Way up here, straddling the ridge, the narrowest of connections to solid earth, there’s nothing between us and the setting sun. Its Midas touch turns the dunes red, orange, ochre… we are golden, we are tangerine… then the sun slips away, and we are… laughing, shouting, pulling our purple shadows along behind us as we career down the dunes towards the camp. The spell is broken: where’s dinner? Erg Chebbi Sunset       It’s waiting for us, of course. With the lifting of the carpet serving as the door to the dining tent, we are carried forward on the aroma of a richly-furnished tagine. “Mouth-watering” doesn’t begin to describe it. We are suddenly famished from the exertions of the camel trek, the dune scramble, and the exhilaration of just being there – being in the Sahara Desert!   It’s a traditional dinner, of course: We start with a delicate creamy vegetable soup and a lovely Moroccan salad platter: diced tomatoes, cucumber, onion and green peppers in a simple olive oil and lemon dressing, studded with wrinkly black olives. The main event is chicken stewed to tender perfection beneath an artful array of beautifully-arranged vegetables: potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, peas, and zucchini. There is couscous, and of course, the ubiquitous bread. We wash it down with water or “Berber whisky” (mint tea). (Ah-HA – someone brought in beer, and someone else has wine.) The camps usually allow you to bring in liquor, but you can’t expect that they will supply it.     Just as we are about to roll back on the cushioned banquettes, glistening fruit trays are delivered for desert. Irresistible! The quality of fruit is outstanding in Morocco. They grow virtually every imaginable kind, and since it never has to travel far, it’s picked at peak ripeness, and is always fresh, always juicy and sweet. We are lucky-lucky-lucky: it’s melon season, and someone has brought in meltingly-tender and sweet Casabas. There are also oranges and Morocco’s tiny little bananas: they are velvety and dense, intensely flavored, and very sweet.Erg Chebbi campfire   While we’ve been gorging ourselves, it’s grown dark outside. A few take the lead and head outside, then we gather ourselves and follow. The hosts are building a small fire – a sure sign that there will be entertainment tonight. It is the only light. We melt into the darkness, and there they are – the stars! Muffled voices tell us that some have worked their way back up onto the dunes to see them better. We do the same. We wriggle into the sand that is at once powder-soft and – urk! Rock-hard! The top few inches are still warm from the sun, but not far below, it’s surprisingly cool. We lay there in silence and in the swaddling dark. The stars are impossibly bright, sharp, clear. And close. So very close that it feels like they actually touch our upturned faces. There are no words. A camel brays.     We are drawn back to earth by the muted sounds of the drums, beckoning us back to the camp where it is the fire, now, that bathes us in gold and red light. Nothing exists for us beyond the circle of light, and soon we are singing and dancing, entranced by the energy of the music and the flying fingers of the drummers.   Elaine and Murray Wave This is the rhythm of life, the pulse of an ages-old culture. Our own hearts beat in time as we head for our tents.