Sahar-Adrenaline Rush: Dune Buggies in the Moroccan Desert
Ode to the Moroccan desert
Top of the Moroccan desert; late one afternoon;
An adrenaline boost was needed; it may have been day 2;
After only a few hours here, you’re gonna start feeling loose;
How dreams suddenly become true; rollin’ over these eastern dunes.
This is the story of our experience; so follow it if you choose;
Take a nomadic walk with us; a little wander in our shoes;
As the sun sets in the desert, look to the dark side of the moon;
We’ll see you on top of the world; just keep strollin’ across these dunes…
The past 24 hours had been a rollercoaster. We never could have guessed that our sunset camel trek would transition to a turnt-up Sahara drum circle. Or that we would join another drum circle 12 hours later, led by a brilliant group of musical Pigeons. But the true icing on the cake was the late afternoon stuffed pizza we ate.
It was hot. We were exhausted. Our stomachs were painfully full. One might even go so far as to say that we were feeling emotionally vulnerable.
We needed to let off some steam. So for the 2nd time in 24 hours, we ventured into the dunes for a Sahara sunset, though this time, we traded out an ill-tempered camel for an all-terrain dune buggy.
A man born of the Moroccan desert
We had signed up for the last excursion of the day and quickly found out that we were the only people to do so. Which meant: we were able to enjoy this adrenaline-fueled experience essentially on our own…along with our guide.
In buggy #1:
Our guide, Omar, who told us, smiling with pride:
“I was born in the Sahara; I can do this with my eyes closed!”
In buggy #2:
Team travelhelix–very likely to keep all eyes open.
Omar gave us a quick tutorial on how to operate the vehicle and some very clear instructions:
“just follow me; go where I go; do what I do.”
Seems simple enough!
Language barrier? Cultural opportunity
Omar’s English: not so good. DnA’s Arabic: ehhhh…also not so good. But we quickly determine that all 3 of us speak mediocre Spanish, so all conversations for the rest of the adventure were conducted en español!
We pull away from Riad Madu and drive past other local riads, scattered herds of dromedaries, and a few groups of dune buggies heading back from their afternoon adventure in the dunes. Ours is just getting started.
We soon arrive at the lower foothill dunes of the Erg Chebbi and follow Omar up, down and around a dune-filled racetrack that feels like a course out of Mario Kart. OK–this is awesome!
Maybe 15 minutes in, we notice the dunes becoming bigger…taller…steeper…and we begin to climb.
During the ascent, I get the buggy stuck on a steep dune. I am simply unable to resolve the situation. Omar comes to the rescue.
Sand dunes: 1 – A: 0
After another 15 minutes on these more extreme dunes, we reach a point where Omar stops his vehicle and jumps out, then gestures for us to do the same. We remove our helmets, jump out of our buggy, and are immediately floored by the dramatic, majestic landscape.
For the last 30 minutes, we had been so focused on following in Omar’s tracks and so engaged with what was immediately around us, that we didn’t realize how far we had traveled or how high we had climbed.
Omar leads us by foot to the peak of the dune. On one side, we can see Merzouga far off in the distance; on the other side–Omar points to the Morocco-Algeria border.
It feels as if our 2-buggy caravan has climbed to the top of the highest dune, and we’ve got the entire Sahara to ourselves. We spend another 15 minutes just soaking in the moment and engaging with Omar in friendly conversation.
reflections from DnA: there we were on top of the world, gazing over the seemingly endless sand dunes of the Sahara…just a couple of wanderlust Americans…and a local Moroccan “born of the desert”…soaking in the moment and discussing life’s greater meaning…all 3 of us using our absolute BEST marginal Spanish!
Soon, it’s time to head back to the buggies and saddle up for the return trip. This time though, it’s D’s turn to hop in the driver’s seat.
During our descent, Omar makes a sudden U-turn and begins driving back toward us yelling:
“Desert fox! DESERT FOX!!!”
He’s pointing excitedly at a small creature moving quickly over the dunes, less than 10 yards away. We try to follow our furry friend, but quickly lose track of him as he darts back…and forth…and then away.
Desert fox: 1 – D: 0
Shortly thereafter, the buggy spins out of control and nearly tumbles down a dune. Fortunately, D handles it like a boss and saves the day.
Sand dunes: 0 – D: 1
Hop in the passenger seat with D, as she helps us narrowly avoid disaster!
The dunes begin to get smaller as the sky becomes darker. We arrive back at Riad Madu shortly after dusk, express our deepest gratitude to Omar for the experience, for keeping us safe, and for sharing his home with us.
Two nights in the Moroccan desert; two epic ways to travel during a Sahara sunset; two incredible experiences in tranquility. This adventure was truly something special.
Next stop: Fes. But first, we’ve got a long road trip ahead of us!