Golden Sand Dunes and Camels – The Sahara Experience
Travelling abroad was something that many of us had taken for granted, at least until the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Two years of being confined to our tiny nation-state has caused me to sorely miss the array of sights and sounds outside of Singapore, where amongst other things, vast landscapes and snow capped mountains parade. With borders opening and normalcy (hopefully) returning, travelling abroad can soon feature again in our schedules.
My last holiday abroad before the COVID-19 pandemic struck was to Morocco, in North Africa, where the Sahara Desert finds its soil.
A night’s stay in the Sahara Desert was the most memorable part of my trip to Morocco. The Sahara experience started at the fringe of the desert, where we were greeted by camels, partly sand and partly gravel terrains, as well as our camel guide. It was mid-afternoon and the sun was blaring in our faces. We were excited to embark into the Sahara Desert on our four-legged friends – each of them with a hump and long eye lashes. Our camel guide promptly taught us to wrap our heads using scarves and very soon, we set off on the camels towards the camp site in the middle of the Sahara Desert where we would spend the night.
Our four-legged friends trotted along in a single file, bearing our weight and obediently abiding by the camel guide who led us on foot. The sheer expanse of the land and glowing sand in the Sahara Desert was magnificent. A massively refreshing change from the concrete jungle that Singapore is. With orange-red hues of sand and sun all around us and gusts of wind (and occasionally sand) in our faces, I felt particularly small in the midst of such an expansive scale of nature.
We were carried a long way into the Sahara Desert, up and down several sand dunes. The seasoned feet with hoof-like characteristics of our four-legged friends (though not scientifically the same hooves) trotted past a number of four wheel-drive vehicles ferrying passengers/ tourists in or out of the Sahara Desert. Our ride was at times jerky, but I quickly got the hang of the camel’s trotting momentum and was thrilled to be commuting through the Sahara Desert by a more eco-friendly and significantly more memorable way.
Time flew by as I immersed myself in the natural sights, sounds and environment in one of the world’s largest deserts. After about an hour or so, it was clear that the sun was setting far across the horizon. Our camel guide had picked a prime spot for us to dismount our camels and catch the sun set. In order for us to dismount, the camels had to sit. We were told to hold on tight as the camel’s action of sitting down could potentially cause us to lose balance.
Once down, I leapt off and the soft fine sand quickly buried my shoes. I climbed to the top of the sand dune where the setting sun glowed on the horizon; it was a sight to remember. The sand gently tickled my toes and the wind brushed wildly against my cheeks. The head scarf was great in preventing sand from getting trapped in my hair and ears.
We then continued our camel ride towards our camp site without any compass or Google Maps, and arrived just as dusk fell. We bade farewell to our four-legged friends as well as our camel guide. By then, I had noticed that save for the lights at our camp site and the stars in the night sky, it was completely pitch dark in the Sahara Desert. Just as our camel guide turned around and began leading the camels away on foot (presumably to return to where we had started our ride), I curiously asked how he would find his way back to the starting point in pitch darkness. He pointed to the scarf which he had wrapped above his head, and said with a grin, “this is my GPS.” By then I was full of appreciation and respect for him. It is indeed no mean feat to be a camel guide in the Sahara Desert. Till today, I wonder why he had not hopped onto the front-most camel for his return journey – that could have saved him the effort of trudging through the sand for another hour or so, in his sandals.
At our camp site, we were greeted by a warm local host who welcomed us with Arabic greetings and refreshing Moroccan mint tea. We were then led to our tent with en suite facilities which presented an extremely comfortable stay for the night – a king size bed, proper bathroom facilities including a hot shower as well as a wall-mounted heater just in case the temperatures dipped at night.
We were awoken the next morning by knocks on our tent door, beckoning us to catch the sun rise. We stumbled out just as dawn cracked and climbed up a nearby sand dune as cold gusts of wind cut across our faces. We were in time! The sun soon peeked from the horizon and again, it was a sight to behold.
After breakfast, it was time for us to pack up and head out of the Sahara Desert – this time by way of self-driven quad bikes. We hopped onto a quad bike each and soon found ourselves zipping across the desert sand, with a mix of excitement and trepidation. The quad bikes had surprising power and speed, and I found myself gripping tightly onto the handles, particularly as the bike skidded slightly across some portions of the sand. We had been told that some sand may be too soft and may be dangerous where the bikes could potentially sink – we were thus advised to strictly follow the guide’s lead and not deviate too much.
Our guide soon assessed our appetite for adventure and led us onto somewhat sharp and snaking manoeuvres, up and down sand dunes of various heights and steepness. Great adrenaline rush indeed. We took a few short breaks and couldn’t miss photo opportunities. The quad bike ride was exhilarating and certainly offered a sand-in-face experience of commuting through the Sahara Desert.
We eventually bade goodbye to the Sahara Desert, and continued our trip to other parts of Morocco. It was truly an amazing and unforgettable experience.