Racing the Sun
For those interested in having a “desert experience” in Morocco, the options are endless. In fact, many tour companies will organize a night under the stars within 30 minutes of Marrakech. After doing a healthy amount of research, we were convinced that traveling to the opposite side of the country – to the eastern dunes of Erg Chebbi in the Sahara – was the right move.
After 12 hours in the car and some breathtaking stops in the Dadès Valley, we were fired up for our 2-day Saharan experience. We didn’t know it at the time, but the long journey would prove to be well worth it. As far as getting there on time…well, here’s how it all went down:
- 6:50pm – arrival at Riad Madu
- 6:52pm – check-in complete
- 6:53pm – frantically throw all our bags into the luggage storage room
- 6:54pm – sprint to the parking lot; jump inside a waiting 4×4 (driver has the engine running!)
- 7:02pm – arrival at the edge of the dunes; exchange pleasantries with our guide
- 7:03pm – D saddles up on her camel, without incident
- 7:04pm – A attempts the same; is met with loud, guttural sounds, indicating severe displeasure
- 7:05pm – departure into the dunes
- 7:10pm – sunset
- 7:50pm – arrival at Riad Madu Luxury Desert Camp
Despite our whirlwind race against the clock, we both found ourselves very much at peace, only a couple of minutes after our departure.
reflections from D: Picture this: the sun is setting, we’re surrounded by vast, open landscapes on one side, and beautiful orange dunes on the other. We’re trying to become friendly & familiar with these two beautiful camels – who are doubling as our current mode of transportation! I didn’t seem to have any issues during the ride, but A wasn’t so lucky. It appeared that his camel, well, just wasn’t very fond of him. What are all those curious noises? I really hope that’s the camel…
reflections from A: Man, this is incredible! So beautiful & peaceful out here. But why does this guy hate me so much? And look at D up there: her camel legitimately loves her! They’re like, bonding. Maybe D’s a camel-Avatar? What are those things called again? The ones that the blue people touch tails with and then fly away on? Wait – if D’s an Avatar, can she hear me right now?”
As the sun faded into the background, we soon found ourselves completely surrounded by the soft Sahara dunes, still dimly lit by the sun’s glow. It was easily one of the most peaceful moments we’d ever experienced…pure tranquility…and as we swayed gently forth and back on camelback, we traveled mainly in silence…until…
… Cue default Nokia cell phone ring! Nope, not D’s…not A’s…but our guide’s! With one hand still holding the halter of D’s camel, his other hand reached deep into the folds of his djellaba, fished around for a bit, and finally pulled out his flip phone. After conducting a brief conversation in Arabic, he apologized to us for the interruption, and we continued in peace. Welcome to 2017 in the Sahara!
Glamping, Morocco Style
The “Luxury Desert Camp” that we would call home tonight was an extension of Riad Madu. We arrived in complete darkness and were greeted by staff members who welcomed us with hot mint tea and delicious fresh fruits, and then took us for a quick tour of the campsite and dining area.
Now: because of our frantic race to check in at the Riad and race to the dunes, we had packed absolutely NOTHING for the evening aside from D’s camera, our phones and the clothes on our back. At first, we felt quite under-prepared for a night in the Sahara Desert, until we entered our private tent. HUGE win…ridiculously awesome amenities, including a king-size bed, some lamps, a floor layered with maybe a dozen Berber carpets, and a bathroom with a toilet, sink & shower! We transitioned quite easily from “frantic camel people” to “chilled-out glamping folks.”
Saharan Drum Circle
The dinner itself – a multi-course meal of traditional Moroccan dishes – was both delicious and nutritious. What really made our experience that evening so memorable, were the people that we shared it with: a mother-daughter-friend trio from America and a lovely family of four from Austria were the only two other groups of people at the camp that night.
We began to engage in friendly conversation with both groups during dinner, but things really began to heat up after the meal was over! The camp staff escorted all of us away from the dining tables and over to a fire pit, which was surrounded by large Berber carpets. Each carpet was set up as somewhat of a “mini-lounge” – with pillows, lanterns and a small table in the middle. Each of the three groups got settled on separate carpet, but the separation didn’t last long.
Four or five staff members began to lead a mellow drum circle. The drumming soon gave way to singing; the singing gave way to dancing. Soon, every one of us was on our feet, dancing around the fire pit, and things were not so mellow anymore!
This drum circle was one of the top “nightlife” experiences of our summer. The singing and dancing evolved into lessons on how to play various Moroccan instruments, and how to properly conduct a shisha session – all the while laughing, bonding and sharing stories with our fellow travelers and the camp staff. A few amongst us eventually began to retreat to the comfort of their glorious tents, and soon the last four standing were DnA + the two Austrian brothers (ages 20 and 22).
The Schnapps Party
To say that these guys were hilarious, was an understatement. They happened to be from the same hometown as Arnold Schwarzenegger, so for them, meeting a couple of Californians was – as they described it: “like meeting distant cousins!” The camaraderie was immediate, and much hilarity ensued:
- Many “Guvernator” jokes were made
- We recall at least one “GET TO THE CAMELS!!!”
The conversation eventually turned to two very relevant topics: 1) politics and 2) Schnapps. Long story short, that evening marked the inception of a promising political power known only as… “The Schnapps Party.” Now, no one was quite sure what The Schnapps Party stood for (aside from the consumption of Schnapps, of course), but the four of us were convinced that this party – this MOVEMENT – had some serious promise to gain a following and improve the state of many things around the world…
…then we all came back down to earth, and went to bed. Great night!
We slept briefly, but well, until the morning sun came calling around 5am. After D’s brief bathroom encounter with a scorpion (which she handled like a boss), we decided maybe some fresh air would be good.
We emerged from our tent to capture some photos of the desert sunrise. Despite the pestering sand flies and ominous rain clouds, the morning photo shoot turned out beautifully.
A light breakfast followed around 6:00am, before our return to the Riad for a relaxing morning by the pool.
We’d slept very little in the last few days, but today was far from over. Three more memorable experiences would leave their mark in the travelhelix journals forever: one musical, one edible, and one fueled with adrenaline…!