I got up and chatted with a group of Germans at breakfast who had just returned from a night in the dunes at Erg Chebbi. It sounded amazing. The hotel owner’s brother was with them and explained to me two different camel treks options. One was to do a sunset/sunrise thing staying in a desert camp overnight; the other was to make a full day of it on day one with an extra hour and a half of camel riding and time spent chilling at a desert oasis during the heat of the day. I said I would think about it and let him know.
In any case I wasn’t that keen on heading to the dunes today as the recent travelling had taken its toll and I was now feeling sick with sore throat/cold symptoms. I asked him if there was a pharmacy anywhere to which he replied ‘no pharmacy, only hospital’, explaining that if any medication was needed I could get it couriered in from Rissani. I responded to say that actually I wasn’t that bad. In fact, all I really needed were a few throat sweets, a decent amount of rest and to ensure I didn’t get dehydrated and sunburnt. I later got hold of some Halls throat sweets anyway which were being sold individually in a shop (I bought four for 1/2 a dirham each!).
I spent the middle part of the day chilling out in a cafe, reading my book the Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, and listening to disc one of James Zabiela’s new Balance album for the first time whilst staring out at the dunes in the distance.
It was nice to have some down time as the constant moving around when on the road does have its trials and tribulations especially if like me you turn up in a new town with no concrete plan or hotel reservation. Of course, I could rigidly plan it but I find it half the fun rocking up and seeing what happens. Plus it is the complete opposite to what is an increasingly planned and structured existence back home.
By the evening Chez Julia wanted an answer on the trip as the camel needed to be assigned. I opted for the shorter trip as I didn’t really want to spend 900 dirham for a full day, especially as I still wasn’t feeling that great and also with my dodgy back I didn’t want to push the boat out too much on camel time!
There are also plenty of options for adventure activities in Merzouga and on my second day the Germans had decided to go quad biking. I had the option to join but I wanted to rest up and so had a similarly chilled out day. By 4pm, though, the moment had come and the hotel owner’s brother told me that my camel and guide were waiting!
I travelled helmet-less on the back of his motorcycle to a road just outside of town where I met my camel. I was expecting to encounter a load of camels here but there was just one waiting. This felt like a properly personalised service. The fact that I had been delivered there by motorcycle, with the contrast between this as a mode of travel and the slower pace of the camel, just added to the surreality and sense of anticipation.
I saddled up my camel and soon we would be on the move. What unfolded was a cracking trip. The time before sunset is such a great time of day. The surroundings were spectacular with a sense of stillness in the air and the changing shades of light as the day transitioned into night.
Just before sundown we arrived at camp 30 km from the Algerian boarder. I quickly ran up a dune to take a few photos before the sun disappeared in the distance.
On returning to the camp the only other tourists there were an Italian couple. We were extremely lucky to have the place all to ourselves. It was nice to have this solitude given the location. The camp could hold over 100 people at capacity which would have been a completely different experience.
The girl spoke English well, the guy less so. He initially didn’t seem to want to speak but then burst into trying to explain what stars we were gazing at in the nighttime sky. Big respect as that’s not the sort of vocabulary I’d be setting out to master in a foreign tongue. To my amusement I did, though, manage to translate for him ‘Via Lattea’ as the Milky Way. It was great to spend some time gazing up at the stars – you just don’t see skies like that living in a big city and it was an awesome sight to see.
We ate chicken tagine and were treated to a tribal bongo drumming display by our guides. Whilst we could here drumming from other tour groups far off in the distance, by 10pm it was time for bed in anticipation of an early start at 5am for the sunrise.
I didn’t sleep well as the placid looking ‘camp guard dog’ preceded to bark for much of the night. Plus I often struggle to sleep when I know a really early start is required. Soon enough it was time to get up and at 5.30am I was back out on the camel. The plan was to ride the camel for about an hour and then go up a big dune in the middle of the desert for panoramic desert views as sun came up. This didn’t disappoint.
Watching the sunrise over the Sahara desert was an awesome experience and one that I will remember for a long time. I could spend ages writing about it but really best to just check out the photos! Riding a camel had been a great way to travel (although an hour at a time was probably about right as it begins to hurt after a while!). With its slow methodical pace and the elevated position you get from atop it really does make for a great way to fully take in the surroundings. I’d certainly recommend it!