avatarDarren Weir



Riding a Camel In the Largest Desert On Earth

I was captivated by the beauty of the Sahara

Camel shadows at sunset in the Sahara Desert — Darren Weir

I was in the Sahara Desert. I couldn’t believe it. It was on my bucket list even before I knew I wanted a life full of travel.

I caught the travel bug from my dad. I would sit spellbound as he spun his tales of his travels around the world with the Canadian Navy. I was fascinated by the magic of his stories and it inspired me to see the world one day.

One place he didn’t visit was Morocco and the Sahara Desert. But I always knew that I would.

I’d visited other deserts, including the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, India, the Black and White Deserts in Egypt, and the deserts of Jordan and Israel. But none have the same allure as the Sahara. It is the big one, the largest hot weather desert in the world.

Orange, gold, and pink sand of the Sahara Desert — Darren Weir

We made a quick stop along the way at a roadside souvenir shop to buy a kefiyya, a scarf that’s worn as a headdress as protection from the sun and the blowing sand. When we got to the desert the sun was setting and there wasn’t any wind. But at least we looked the part.

Every color of scarf to choose from; me in my kefiyya — Darren Weir

We arrived in the town of Mergouza, right on the edge of Erg Chebbi, one of the largest of Morocco’s so-called sea of sand dunes. The hills of powdery soft sand stretch for as far as the eye can see, created by the Scirocco, the powerful wind that blows across the desert.

Sand dunes and waves caused by the strong Scirocco winds — Darren Weir

We were told to quickly get ready for the camel ride before the sun went down. It wasn’t my first rodeo. I had ridden camels before and couldn’t understand why I signed up for another. It’s not the most comfortable ride in the world. I even convinced my friend that he would enjoy it. And the thing is, he actually did.

We had about an hour before the sun set so we got in the four-by-four for a quick drive to the camels. We were joined by a couple from Vancouver. There’s always an instant connection when you are in a foreign country and meet someone from your homeland.

I was relieved to learn we wouldn’t have to worry about our luggage. It would be brought to camp in the four-by-four.

Raquel’s camel stands up - photo courtesy of Greg Ruark with permission

We mounted our camels and held on tightly as they awkwardly stood up. They’d lift their butts, and get on their knees before finding their footing. My camel was calm and always looked like he was smiling. Camels usually have a deadpan look about them, but mine seemed to be smirking or smiling as we trudged through the desert.

On our camels and ready to go; my smiling-faced camel — Darren Weir

I think camels are smarter than we give them credit for. The camel behind me seemed like the class clown and when we were getting our photos taken, he photo-bombed me. My camel looked like he was in on the joke. You can see him smirking in the same photo.

Camel photobombed me and my camel looks like he’s in on the joke — Darren Weir

The four dromedaries were all tied together and our guide Mohammad led the way, walking in front. He had the tough job, walking for kilometers through the deep sand, up and down the dunes.

Mohammad leading the way Darren Weir

We rode across the waves, glowing a golden red from the setting sun. I was stunned by the beauty all around me, the silence of the desert, the changing colors as the massive dunes captured the light, creating shadows and highlighting the natural angles.

Shadows on the dunes in the Sahara — Darren Weir

Before we knew it the sun was dipping below the horizon and we were told to dismount so we could take some photos from ground level.

Colors of the Sahara — Darren Weir

As I clicked off dozens of photos we were met by people out for a desert ride in dune buggies that were bouncing across the sand. Others would amble by on their camels, giving us a wave. I think everyone here was in the same state I was, experiencing a sensory overload.

Dune buggy ATV; passing camel train — Darren Weir

Our guide asked if we wanted to continue to ride the camels for another hour back to camp or with the light going down we could take the four-by-four the rest of the way. I was surprised my friend wanted to continue on the camel ride. But the rest of us were ready to get to camp, get something to eat and drink, and relax.

Mohammad asks if we want to stay with the camels or drive back to camp — Darren Weir

The four-by-four drove up a few minutes later and it was a wild ride. We were spinning around, speeding up the sides of the dunes and then racing down the other side. It was like a roller coaster on sand. I kept feeling like we were going to flip over but there was no fear, just ear-to-ear smiles.

There were glasses of lemonade waiting for us when we arrived. The camp was clean and laid out thoughtfully. There were several tents (more like cabins) around the perimeter, a large dining tent at one end, and a central sitting area with seating and red drapes that could be closed to block out the sun. All the “sidewalks” through the camp were Berber carpets.

Our camp — sitting area looking toward dining tent — Darren Weir

The tents appeared more permanent than the typical camping tent. They were made of camel skin and were very sturdy. Our room was large, with a king-sized bed, a seating area, and an attached bathroom with a shower. We were told that the camp follows ecological guidelines to leave a small footprint. The water is solar heated so by the time I had a shower in the morning, it was freezing.

Tent seating area; attached private bathroom — Darren Weir

My friend was hoping a good sleep would fight off the cold that he was trying to get over. I left him to sleep it off while I enjoyed a delicious four-course meal.

The dining tent — Darren Weir

After eating we gathered around a firepit for an evening of soulful Berber folk music. The music was lively with a few of the guys playing drums and singing along.

It contrasted with the subject matter. They told us the songs highlighted the Berber’s loss of freedom as nomads when Morocco was colonized and borders were established between neighboring countries. It destroyed their way of life. They were no longer free to roam across the desert as their ancestors had.

Sitting around the fire listening to Berber folk music — Darren Weir

The night sky was full of an infinite number of stars, the Milky Way was clear and the moon wasn’t interfering with our view. It was a magical night and I wanted to remember every moment. At one point as I sat gazing at the night sky and listening to the music I paused and thought to myself, life is good, this is what it’s all about, moments like these.

The night was cool as the temperature dropped to about 15C so it was a chilly morning when I got up at 6:45 am to enjoy the sunrise. This may be my only chance to watch the sun rise over the Sahara Desert and I wasn’t going to miss a single moment of it.

The camp at the break of dawn — Darren Weir

I walked out of the tent with bare feet and sank my toes deep into the cold, soft sand. I climbed one dune but there was an even bigger one beyond that. My feet sank down, ankle-deep, as I trudged up the steep incline. When I got to the top the view was spectacular.

Morning view of the mountains in the distance; the changing colors of the sand as the sun came upDarren Weir

The sun continued to rise, changing the color of the sky and the color of the sand. It was red, pink, and then golden before changing back to pink when the sun finally broke over the horizon.

Changing colors of the sand at sunrise — Darren Weir

Other guests from the camp came out of their tents and walked out into the desert to watch the sunrise but none climbed up to the top of the dune where I was enjoying my solitude.

Walking into the desert at sunrise; watching the sunrise together — Darren Weir

Finally, I sat down to just take it all in. I was in the Sahara Desert watching the sunrise. Could it get any better? I thought of my dad and how amazed he would be at the beauty that surrounded me. How amazed he would be at the travel adventurer I’ve become.

Riding off into the sunset — Darren Weir

“The desert, when the sun comes up. I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the Earth began.” Tom Hanks

Thank you for reading.

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