Sand, Stars, and Scarab Beetles: A Night Spent in the SaharaMonday, September 02, 2013
The man leaned in close. I could smell his breath, a mixture of tobacco and a pungent, unidentifiable spice. His arms were stained slightly indigo from the traditional robes he wore. He was a Tuareg, a true “Blue Man” of the Sahara. Though he was only in his mid-fifties, his face bore the wrinkles of a lifetime spent in the sun.
“This is very difficult,” he said to me in French, and I nodded. We were sitting by the fire under the desert sky of Morocco, and he was helping me to untangle the necklaces I wore around my neck. I had bought the strands of colorful glass beads in the souks of Marrakesh only days earlier, and he worked quickly and carefully to free me from their knots.
We were dropped off in the tiny town of M’hamid, on the edge of the Sahara. There, enormous tagines of couscous and vegetables awaited us, and we spent the evening drinking mint tea. Local boys played drums and danced, their blue robes swirling around low tables. They kept their faces hidden, but each was distinguishable in his movements and his rhythm. We were shown to our hut, a tiny structure with a mattress on the ground, but we didn’t flinch – this was an adventure, and adventures are supposed to push us out of our comfort zones, to push our boundaries.
The next day, we rode even further into the desert, stopping to collect fossils from lakes long dried up. The jeep bounced along, up and over the low dunes, and I wondered how the driver knew where to go: it all looked the same to me.
Back at camp, we finally got a tour of where we’d be staying: there were separate tents for us and for the guides, and a small tent for cooking. A firepit was in the centre, and the only bathroom was a tiny outhouse a few hundred metres away. As night fell, we were once again given couscous, this time with lamb and mint. Tea was served in the special Moroccan way, poured back and forth from teapot to cup so that the tea mixes and cools.
“Sing for us,” Omar said, as the men had been playing drums and singing traditional Berber songs. My mum and I looked at each other – what traditional songs could we sing from Canada? We settled on songs by a band we knew all the words to, though they weren’t Canadian: The Beatles. It was so surreal, to sit under the Sahara’s night sky, clumsily singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. The men clapped and whistled when we were done, and there was laughter all around.
“It’s nothing,” she mumbled, and I attempted to fall back asleep. I remembered all of the scarab beetles we had found in the dunes earlier, and tried not to imagine how many of them must be in our tent at that very moment.
When I pulled back the flap of the tent the next morning, I burst out laughing: there was a huge pile of dung right outside our door. There HAD been a beast trying to get in. Ali informed us that it must have been a stray camel, perhaps one of the ones we would be riding later. We had a quick breakfast, hot coffee and thick bread, and it was time to move on.
How to Make This Trip Happen:
- Unfortunately the tour company I went with in 2008 is no longer running. Touareg Trails comes highly recommended on TripAdvisor, and Intrepid Travel offers a variety of trips through Morocco and the Sahara.
- Most tours leave from Marrakech, and it takes a full day’s drive to get to the desert from there, so plan for at least a few days to experience this adventure.
- Make sure you pack a scarf, which is so versatile. It can be used to protect your face from the wind and sand, as well as be draped over your shoulders to protect you from the sun.
- Leave your luggage or big backpack and just bring a small carry-on-sized backpack. Do not take more than what you need for one night. You do not need your laptop, cell phone or gadgets.
-You will want to dress comfortably. Try to avoid skirts (for girls) or shorts to keep your bare legs from rubbing against the camel’s saddle. Dress in layers to prepare for any temperature. The temperature can change from very hot during the day and freezing cold at night.
Check out more Sahara preparation tips from Travel and Escape.
Brenna of This Battered Suitcase has been on the road since April of 2006, travelling through all of the continents but Antarctica. She is currently based in London to start a Master's degree in writing. She is eternally single, unemployed, and homeless, but happy and loving her life.