With souls full of music and bellies full of Medfouna, we figured what better way to wrap up this memorable day, than with a strong dose of adrenaline?! 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.
We had chosen the last excursion of the day and quickly found out that we were the only people to do so, so we were fortunate enough to have this experience with a private guide.
In buggy #1: our guide, Omar, who jokingly (yet proudly!) told us, “I was born in the Sahara; I could 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.” Seemed simple enough!
quick sidenote → Omar’s English: not so good. DnA’s Arabic: ehhhh…also not so good. But we quickly determined that all three of us speak mediocre Spanish, so all conversations for the rest of the adventure were conducted en español!
We pulled away from Riad Madu and drove 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 was just getting started. We quickly arrived at the lower “foothill” dunes of the Erg Chebbi and followed Omar up, down and around a dune-filled racetrack that felt like a course out of Mario Kart. OK – this is awesome! Maybe 15 minutes in, we noticed the dunes becoming bigger…taller…steeper…….and we began to climb.
incident #1: during the ascent, A gets the buggy stuck on a STEEP dune; A is unable to resolve the situation; Omar must come to the rescue. Sand dunes: 1 – A: 0.
After another 15 minutes on these more extreme dunes, we reached a point where Omar stopped his vehicle and jumped out, then gestured at us to do the same. We removed our helmets, jumped out of our buggy, and were 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 led us by foot to the peak of the dune. On one side, we could see Merzouga very far off in the distance; on the other side – Omar pointed to landmarks that indicated the Morocco-Algeria border. It felt as if our two-buggy caravan had climbed to the top of the highest dune, and had the entire Sahara to ourselves. We spent another 15 minutes just soaking in the moment and engaging with Omar in some friendly and personal conversation.
reflections from DnA: there we were on top of the world, gazing over the seemingly endless and geometrically flawless sand dunes of the Erg Chebbi…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 three of us in our absolute BEST broken Spanish.
Soon it became time to head back to the buggies and saddle up for the return trip. This time though, it was D’s turn to hop in the driver’s seat.
incident #2: during our descent, Omar makes a very sudden U-turn and begins driving back toward us, yelling “desert fox! DESERT FOX!!!” and pointing excitedly at a small creature moving quickly over the dunes, less than 10 yards away. We tried to follow our furry friend, but quickly lost track of him as he darted back…and forth…and then away. Desert fox: 1 – D: 0.
incident #3: buggy nearly spins out of control and tumbles down a dune; D handles it like a boss and saves the day. Sand dunes: 0 – D: 1.
Check out the clip below, and hop in the passenger seat with D, as she helps us narrowly avert disaster!
The dunes began to get smaller as the sky became darker. We arrived back at Riad Madu shortly after dusk, expressed our deepest gratitude to Omar not only for the experience and for keeping us safe, but for showing and sharing his home with us.
Two nights in the Sahara; two epic ways to travel through the sunset; and two incredible experiences in tranquility.
This adventure was truly something special.