High Upon Ships of the Desert

For me, as for many I think, my mood often hinges on the weather. Thick gray clouds, torrential rains, blizzards…chances are you won’t catch me smiling at the sky. So the cold weather in Morocco had been a bit disheartening so far and you can imagine my disappointment to wake up on the morning of our long-awaited camel expedition to some seriously pouring rain.

For some reason, in my despair, the power of the Sahara to withstand sogginess hadn’t occurred to me. Yet as soon as we passed over the High Atlas the sun broke through the clouds and the temperature soared. This was more like it.

The first stop on our tour was Ait Benhaddou, a scenic kasbah on the far side of a river only crossable by donkey. We could see immediately why this place was chosen for a starring role in the movie Gladiator. In addition to its striking location, the village looks as though its been there forever growing out of the hillside.

But we’re not here to talk about villages and Russell Crowe. My dad wants to hear about camels.

We arrived in Zagora, from where we would lead our trusty desert ships into the Sahara. Here are some things you may or may not know about camels: You can put as many blankets as you want on top of their pointy hump but it’s still going to bruise your butt. Secondly, they are extremely tall and the first time they stand up with you aboard you’re sure their wobbly legs are going to give out and dump you seven feet to the ground. And lastly (and most fortunately) their digestive system works more like a deer than a horse.

So with Berber guides at the reigns we were lead into the desert to our tent where we would spend the night. The scenery went from construction laden access road to dusty, rocky and palm tree strewn to soft sand dunes. Every time I spun around to look at Radek he had a goofy smile on his face and, to be honest, if there are had been someone in front of me to spin around and look, they would have seen the same. The entire journey, although just two hours and really only to the edge of town, seemed epic. Camels in the Sahara!

Once at camp we were treated to mint tea, tajines and some festive Berber music. After a moonlight stroll of the dunes we turned in to sleep in the cold desert air. However, I can’t say I slept all that much. For some reason the desert is populated with many stray cats, who all took turns pouncing on me throughout the night.

The next morning we wondered at the unreality of the situation: waking up in the famed Sahara, exploring the dunes and waiting for the sun to rise. Then it was back onto camels, back into the car, back through the mountains and back to Marrakesh, where we were to suffer extreme butt and back pain for the next 24 hours. Seriously, those humps are pointy.

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