Camels spit. And drool. And when it’s mating season, they hang their enormous tongues out the side of their mouths, inflate them, and grunt deeply. They’re cantankerous creatures who are used to desert solitude, long sandy stretches without food or water, and they’ll snap at you if you get too close. They’re also amazing creatures with incredible capabilities and tons of personality and are worthy of some serious respect. We all quickly fell in love with the beasts that led us into the heart of the Sahara Desert.
Our adventure began in the bustling Moroccan city of Marrakech, where we explored the seemingly endless souks of Djemaa el Fna, and were intrigued, hounded, and inspired by the merchants who create and sell the wares.
We then visited the Ben Youssaf Medrasa, an Islamic college constructed with incredibly intricate work in wood, plaster, and tile.
We spent several hours exploring Ait Ben Haddou, one of the oldest kasbah (citadel) villages. The area, which is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, was stunning but the real treasure was meeting an inspiring and forward-thinking couple, Said (pronounced “sayeed”)and Fatima, whose ancestors have lived in this same area since the 1100s!
The drive from Marrakech to the Sahara takes one through the windy Atlas mountain range and then the fertile Draa Valley, where we feasted on an endless supply of dates that tasted like candy. It was here that we had legendary tanjeen, a traditional dish with lamb, beef, or chicken, potatoes, and carrots, and where we met our host Ismail.
We drove until the road literally ended in the Sahara, which was our rendezvous point with our desert guides, who had our 18 camels saddled and ready for us upon arrival. As the camel stood up, leaning forward and then backward on its double-jointed legs, and the rider was lifted high above the desert sands, reality set in. We were riding camels. Into the Sahara Desert.
We rode, then dined, then rode some more into our camp, where we feasted on tanjeen, learned how to bake sand cakes, and were lulled to sleep by Moroccan drum music in our nomad tents.
The next day we continued on camel deeper into the desert until we rendezvoused with guides who had 4×4 Land Cruisers waiting to carry us through the final range that lay between us and the tallest sand dunes in Morocco. Along the way, we stopped at the “Sacred Oasis” and lunch.
Our tents were at the base of the sand dunes, which simply stunned us with their scope, color, lines, and majesty. After we recovered, our guide said he would give us a tour, but before he was ready we were carried, as if by some primal or childish instinct, to explore these incredible dunes without him! We sandboarded (yes, this is a real thing!), wrestled, hiked, and played, and got to the peak of the dunes just in time to watch the sunset. The whole experience was surreal and fantastic.
After we returned to civilization, we visited what was once considered the richest library in North Africa. Originally established in the 11th century, this impressive little building held over 4,000 hand-written books and scrolls, many boasting tiny and impressive annotations in the margins. The experience gave us a new perspective about the value of reading, books, and transgenerational communication. Mr. Ure captured this short video just outside this library.