Riding Camels in the Moroccan Sahara Desert

My mom and I took a road trip to the Sahara Desert and I’m not sure where to start.

How about our longer than expected (which translates to “I didn’t Google Map the distance until the night before, and for some reason I thought it was a four hour drive?”) 10 hour drive from Marrakech to Merzouga in the desert…

Or, I suppose, first I should mention our cheap online car rental that served up a Kia with a bumper that flapped in the wind and had about 38 scratches/dents on it (don’t worry, the guy marked them all on the pre-rental inspection form. He at least had the decency to laugh while he did it.) and a passenger side door that didn’t open. Proof:

SEE ALL THE DENTS?

SEE ALL THE DENTS?

Quote of the road trip was when it started raining on our drive home and mom put the windshield wipers on; I said, “Well… at least they move.” These were how low our standards were, I honestly was impressed that they moved.

Here’s the bumper dent. We had to keep pulling over to click the left side of the bumper back into place, otherwise it flapped in the wind and sounded like a flat tire. This photo doesn’t really show how bad it was!:

Our car... see the bumper!?

We set off over the pass of the Atlas Mountain range heading from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. Hairpin turns brought us up into snowy, rocky mountains…more rocky than snowy.

Shop hovering over the rocky edge of Atlas Mountain road

This was the story for much of our drive. It was a bleak landscape, so dry! Along the way we did pass a few wild roaming camels and a ton of goats. Passed through numerous towns ranging from slightly empty to ghost town empty. The gates below were found along the way in quite a few spots, and not always near a town. I’m not sure what determined their location:

Moroccan city gates

Beautiful red rock:

Beautiful red rock

There were a few towns that were more built up and populated, and some with nice lush palm tree borders fed by a passing river. But we were on a mission to our desert stay so couldn’t stop anywhere for long!

We arrived at 7:30pm in darkness. The Auberge de Sud Hotel at that point was an oasis – the most friendly service, a lovely room all lit up for us, hot tea, almonds and raisins waiting in the tea room of our hotel villa, and dinner ready to be served. Here is our room:

Our amazing hotel room in Auberge de Sud

Our amazing hotel room in Auberge de Sud

Tea room in Morocco

Our tea room in morning light

Tea, Almonds, Raisins

Comfy pillows, tea, almonds, raisins, fruit….. I was loving the Moroccan snacks

Before the end of dinner my mom and I had already booked an extra night. In the words of my mom, “I just want to have nothing to do tomorrow! I want to be bored!” After busy days in Marrakech and then a ten hour drive, we were ready to be bored. Let the vacation part of the vacation begin!

The next day was spent lounging by the amazing pool. When I look at these photos, the feeling of the stress from the drive flowing away from us is palpable.

HEAVEN!

HEAVEN!

Mom luxuriating in our pool day

Mom luxuriating in our pool day

That evening we set off on our overnight camel trip into the desert. We were off to stay in Luxury Tents about an hour camel ride from the hotel. My mom was convinced she was going to get the rogue camel we saw sprinting wildly across the dunes earlier, but in the end they gave her the lead camel – i.e. the oldest and “most intelligent” camel – so she was in good hands.

I, on the other hand, had an ornery guy who really resented having to stand up or sit down. Listen:

He was so ready to bolt that he was the only camel that needed “parking brakes” around his knees:

See the camel up in front - that is my camel, he needed "parking brake" ropes to keep him from getting up and being feisty.

See the camel up in front – that is my camel, he needed “parking brake” ropes to keep him from getting up and being feisty.

But once he was up he was great. The camels were so cute! We were a string of four camels (my mom, myself, and two other tourists behind us) all led by our guide on foot.

The camel behind me kept creeping up on my left to where its head was next to my body rather than behind my camel; I would only know this because I could feel gusts of his hot breath on my elbow and from the smell I am guessing they don’t brush their teeth (this description is no exaggeration).

Some more camel trip photos ’cause I just can’t get enough:

Camel silhouette. Goofy guy!

Camel silhouette. Goofy guy!

A string of camels

A string of camels

Waves of desert sands

Waves of desert sands

We are ready!

We are ready!

OHAI.

OHAI.

Once at the “tents” we were treated to tea and snacks at low tables sitting on top of layered colorful rugs on top of desert sand. I put “tents” in quotes because they were so beautiful and ornate that that word doesn’t do them justice! It felt like a once in a lifetime Aladdin experience!

LUXURY TENT

LUXURY TENT

For dinner we were served again at tables outside under a sky of brilliant stars that came out once the sun set. Afterwards a couple guys who worked there made a campfire and performed some Berber music with drums and guitar for us. It was all an amazing experience! Here is the setup in the morning light:

Morning light on the dunes

Morning light on the dunes

The next morning we all woke early to climb a nearby dune for sunrise. The colors were golden orange and the views were beautiful. Of course I was up there 20 minutes longer than everyone else taking some self-portraits….

What a glow!

What a glow!

Me in black and white

Me in black and white

In the distance here you can see tents set up — these are military outposts along the border between Morocco and Algeria which has had a closed border since 1994. Strange to be able to see into another country that we can’t enter.

Another interesting fact I learned — there are very few wild camels here. Since camels have been used as a way to transport drugs across the border, the government takes action to round up any unowned/unclaimed camels found and they are tagged and sold. Poor guys, they didn’t choose to be drug runners but pay the price!

The morning camel ride back to the Auberge was my favorite part of the trip, although it’s hard to say why. I think the combination of the morning light and the quiet ride let my mind slip into the Saharan rhythm. That hour ride back felt different, remote, and somehow so peaceful. Nearing civilization we saw these two camels heading out into the sand, unbridled and free.

Camels going off into the distance

Camels going off into the distance

Looking down, just me and my camel!

Looking down, just me and my camel!

MORE PHOTOS FROM OUR ADVENTURE TO ERG CHEBBI:

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