It wasn’t the most appealing invitation. The Berber guide who had spent the last five minutes frantically trying to calm down a decidedly unhappy and not-too-pleasant smelling camel was now beckoning to me to get on it, even though it was clearly (and loudly) still working through some unresolved camel-issues. Uncertainly I detached myself from the rest of the group, which had shrunk back towards the minibus. Here goes…
It had all seemed like such a good idea just one day ago when we booked the two-day Sahara excursion through our riad. We had spent the previous four days raptly manoeuvring through the chaos and colour of the ancient city of Marrakech, taking in the steaming night market, the labyrinthine souks, the crumbling palaces and the stunning landscaped gardens. Having had all our senses assaulted, we felt it was time to explore beyond the city, into the mountains and desert that surrounded us.
So at 7am the next day we delivered ourselves into the hands of our skilled Moroccan driver and sped away from dusty Marrakech and into the lush countryside, overtaking everything that moved along the way. We had considered car hire in Marrakech, which you can do fairly cheaply, and making the journey ourselves – an Italian couple we had spoken to at our riad had done it – but as we climbed higher and higher into the Atlas mountains on unmarked roads with sheer drops and not a barrier to be seen, it became clear that we had made the right choice. Plus, this way we could sit back, (sort of) relax, and take in the staggeringly beautiful scenery. The one thousand year old UNESCO world heritage site of Ait Benhaddou made a great place to stop for lunch on the first day and gave us a real sense of just how ancient the path which we were now treading was.
After eight hours of fiendish driving, we arrived in Zagora, ‘the gateway to the Sahara’, and were now faced with the herd of camels that were to take us on the final leg of the day’s journey. The only problem (apart from my camel, which looked as though it was about to spit or bolt at any second) was that we were late. Very late. The promised ‘romantic sunset trek’ took on a rather more urgent, forbidding quality as our camel train was hastily dragged along by our anxious guides, pulling us deeper into the almost-total blackness of the desert.
One hour… two. Was this the end?
Relief flooded over the group as eventually the lights of the Berber camp burned into view up ahead. Safely and gratefully dismounted, we were at last free to marvel at the millions of stars twinkling into life above us, enjoy the delicious tagine that was cooked for us, and warm our cockles by the large open fire before hitting the sack.
Stiff-jointed but oddly energized, the next morning we (somewhat reluctantly) got back in the saddle to begin the camel trek back to the main road, the one that would lead us once again into the rough and tumble of Marrakech. Memorable and spectacular – it’s what all travel should be …
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