Making it to the Sahara was a dream come true. I was incredibly anxious as Jay and I were loaded into a 4×4 and headed off far, so very far, away from “civilization.” After driving for ten minutes or so, I saw a red outline on the horizon. “Are those the dunes?!” I asked. “Jay, are those the dunes?! Just sticking up like that?” I persisted a bit more frantically. “No,” answering myself “the desert doesn´t just start randomly like that. Or does it?” I had no clue. My heart started to beat faster.
I don´t know why. I think that the couple of days before that I had just been overloaded with new experiences. We were very well taken care of by our staff lodging, locals we met on the train, and even lucked out enough to meet a fellow auxiliar from Madrid who spoke French on our flight. These peoples´ kindness got us to where we needed to be and set us off on the right foot, but I still had this underlying feeling of uncertainty.
In fact, the desert does just start up out of seemingly nowhere. In Merzouga, there are hotels lined along the outskirts of the dunes. We drove past the majority and then stopped at what would be ¨”our hotel” or, more appropriately, our launching base for our camel trek. We were ushered inside where we met with a few more people, including a Polish family meeting for a reunion and a young couple from Argentina. We took a break in the tea room for a cup of traditional mint tea, and signed a few papers stating we knew there was a risk we could fall from a camel. Being referred to just as “Amerikka!”, we were lined up and paired with our sweet rides.
I just need to push this out there… riding a camel is awkward. They´re slow and going up and down the dunes will get your rump sore in a hurry. What really made this experience incredible was entering the Sahara. Once the hotel behind us disappeared behind the dunes we entered a place of complete tranquility. The desert itself is silent and vast. As the sun went down, I couldn´t stop staring at all of the gleaming sand and rolling dunes surrounding us. We arrived to our camp at dark and I realized our experience was just beginning.
We were to stay the night in a Berber tent near a couple of actual Berber family camps. They had arranged the tents in a connected square, and the entire center was covered with rugs. It was such a pleasant surprise! I loved the look of it.
As we waited for dinner Jay and I wandered around the outskirts of our camp waiting for the stars to come out… but the temperature was quickly dropping. We ended up hiding in the common tent chatting with everyone. After about an hour, when I stepped outside and looked up, it hit me. It was the most incredible night sky I´ve ever seen. The amount of stars and constellations shining down on you at that point makes it almost impossible to believe we´re all there is.
That night we enjoyed a delicious meal, tagine, which is a literal pile of fresh vegetables stacked over meat in broth in the common tent filled with cushioned pillows and candles. We got to talk with other travelers about their experiences in Morocco so far and also our guides about their opinions of the country. Before bed, we huddled around a campfire and listened to our guides play Berber drums. We were encouraged to wake up early to watch the sunrise, and headed off to sleep.
Or I thought we were going to sleep! In our tent we had two full size straw mattresses and three large blankets. Turns out that wasn´t enough to keep warm in the desert in February. I slept about three hours due to the cold and the crowing of roosters in the middle of the night from our neighboring Berber camps, but I´m definitely not complaining. We were woken up a little before six o´clock by “Amerikkka!” notifying us we should head out. We stumbled around and climbed the dunes until we found our spot and sat down to rest and watch the dunes slowly change from dusty brown to sparkling red orange.
As we mounted our camels and headed back to the hotel, I reflected on what seemed like a daydream. Our time in Morocco came and went so quickly, especially this night in the Sahara, as it was what we were most looking forward to. I was and still am so happy that we took a leap to make that trip happen, and I now I feel there´s a world of possibility open to where we can go next.
My advice to anyone looking to book a tour in Morocco is to do a ton of research (for example, the first tour I was going to book was twice as much as this one and I almost did because I thought it was the only option). After you find some options, look for reviews. Make sure it´s not a scam.
We chose to tour with Fes Desert Tour led by the “Tihami Brothers” who are basically a group of coworkers, not actual brothers. They were not the cheapest option, but a good middle ground.
Advice for a night in the desert: If you´re like me, surely you want to look all cute on your camel ´cause you know you´ll be taking pictures and remembering this for a lifetime. If you´re like Jay, you don´t want to bring that much stuff with you to carry. Bring warm clothes. It´s so cold at night.