An overnight stop in the Sahara Desert in an exclusive tented camp has been on my bucket list for a long time. I have sent others to do this trip and they all loved it. Now it was my time. Getting there is not that easy – a long drive and then into a four wheel drive and into the desert. Although it was hot the ever-present desert wind kept things cool and while our guide and cook had a snooze we were too excited to sleep and decided to go exploring.
”Don’t get lost” our guide told us “Algeria is just over the mountains”.
Now walking on sand dunes is not easy – the sand is deceptive and seems to be as hard as concrete and then suddenly gives in when you are least expecting it and you find yourself disappearing ankle deep in sand as soft and fine as talcum powder. We got the hang of it eventually and went for a long walk on top of the dunes – just miles of nothingness – very peaceful.
As we got back to our tent we noticed the camels. Oh my goodness. Here we go. I was a bit nervous I must admit. But really – what could go wrong? They are such patient creatures and we got to know a little more about them from our guide. They all have names and they travel in “families” not really related but sort of a group. They don’t like to travel without each other so this was the reason we had 3 camels although just 2 of us were riding. Our trusty Berber guide was going to lead the camels on foot. I felt better about that. I didn’t feel like I wanted to try any trotting or whatever camels might do.
Mmmm I was a bit wrong there – my feisty little camel just wanted to be number 1 and not number 2. She kept pushing ahead of Peter’s camel in front and every so often did a little trot which freaked me out no end. Deep into the dunes our guide stopped and got the camels to kneel so we could get off. He then unpacked a thick woven blanket and we all climbed up to the top of the sand dune so we could watch the sun go down.
This is where we learnt about the camels and their behaviour with a strange conversation with our guide. He spoke no English, a little Spanish (the Berbers still have strong links in their history to the Spanish) and a little French. Well – seems like a million years ago since I did French at school in England and my Spanish consisted of Dos cervezos por favor. Not exactly the best thing to ask over Ramadan. But he laughed anyway.
We used sign language and the desert sand as a way of communicating. The Sahara sand is really strange. It is so fine that you can draw in the sand and the lines remain sharp and easy to read. He seemed quite young and really liked having his photo taken. I think he was maybe part of that strange in between land that you often see when you travel to exotic places …. part anchored in ages old tradition and part anchored onto a cell phone.
Eventually we remounted our camels and rode back to our camp where a dinner had been prepared for us. Early night because we needed to be up at 5 am to see the sun come up over the sand dunes.
Let me say that I am not a morning person… however …. after being nagged a few times I was out of bed by 5.10 am and out to explore the dunes and see the sun come up. I was not disappointed. It was amazing. The sand dunes took on all different hues and shadows and even though it was a bit cloudy it was delightful. But wait …. what is that? A couple of girls in local gear just sitting on top of the adjoining dune. How strange.
As we finished our viewing they made their way towards us and while we were taking photos they patiently sat down on the top of the dune and emptied out their bags to display their wares making, in effect, a temporary shop. Scarves, miniature leather camels, carved stones…. all manner of Knick knacks none of which I really needed. But you know…. you do the touristy thing and support the local industry. Why not? So while Peter went back to the tent to get money we chatted. Again we had limited language skills but again the Sahara sands served as our chalk board. I asked them how old they were and found out one was 14 and the other was 21. The 14 year old was still at school. Wow she must have got up at 3 am to make this trip to sell a few goods. So then I told them that I was a grandmother (that involved a complicated family tree in the sand) and said that I knew all about teenagers and we had a good laugh about that.
By the time Peter came back with some cash we had had a good chat in the sand dunes and I happily bought a lopsided hand made leather camel and an embroidered scarf. The interaction with these two was worth way more than the trophies I carried away.