We sat silently, surveying smaller peaks of the rolling dunes below, the orange of the sun overflowing and casting long shadows. The air up here, on the tallest dune at Erg Chigaga, was still, allowing our thoughts to follow suit. Here we sat, at the edge of the famous Sahara Desert, miles away from civilization, under a globe of stars that were just about to show. In this moment, I felt full—of life, of joy, of wonder. In this moment, life was incredible.
On the second day in Morocco, we went to the Sahara Desert. This experience was possibly one of my favorite experiences EVER and it will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Luckily for us, our Couchsurfing host was an experienced guide; we knew going in that he would help us organize a small trek into the desert, which is EXPONENTIALLY more affordable than booking something from Marrakech. (I’ll write a more detailed tips article about this later).
Also, I apologize for the quality of some of these photos. The first time I was in Morocco, I didn’t want to bring out the bulky DSLR so I used a GoPro the entire time. This is a collection of GoPro photos and GoPro video screenshots. I also took more videos than I did photos, so here’s a short video compilation of the one day/one night excursion from M’hamid!
We left M’hamid around 3PM for an hour long drive through about 5 different types of landscape to arrive at Erg Chigaga, one of the largest dunes of the Moroccan Sahara Desert. When he referred to the dunes by name, I wasn’t that impressed. Even when he said that this particular large dune stood at a height of 300 m and spanned miles, I didn’t bat an eye (mostly because of the metric vs. imperial system confusion… thanks America). When we arrived at the gigantic spread of mountains made out of the finest sand, I was blown away.
It was more than I had ever imagined! And we had arrived at the perfect time… sunset! We scurried for a bathroom break before Hicham hurried us to the camels that would bring us halfway up the dune. The rest of it was up to us!
Once we reached the base of the dune, we ran up quickly, not wanting to miss a second of the setting sun. I don’t know if the sun is larger in Morocco or if the circumstances of me sitting on top of this beast of a dune, enjoying the stronger rays warming my body, but this sunset was the most unique and beautiful I have ever seen.
It seemed like ever since I’d been a child, I’ve held a fascinating terror of the desert. Books had filled my head with worry about people dying of thirst and entrapment in Egyptian pyramids, but even these facts didn’t stifle my immense curiosity. It just so happens that it was the Sahara Desert that I encountered first.
The sands that this part of the Sahara is made of… were surprisingly fine. I didn’t really think to think about how the sand would feel between my toes. I figured it would feel the same as being on a beach. But no, Sahara sand felt immensely different… more comforting, more alive. It felt like skin; it felt like Egyptian cotton, silky and cool running through your fingers.
At night, we were prepared a gorgeously spiced meal—a traditional Moroccan feast. Unfortunately, the GoPro is lacking in night vision, so you’ll have to imagine. Afterwards, our host and his friends graced us with some traditional nomadic music. They sat in a line next to each other, all of us sitting on a few couches in the main tent arranged in a semi-circle. They each held a specific type of drum, switching every now and again depending on the song.
I had mixed feelings when they stopped: relief and sadness. On one hand, I greatly enjoyed the music they provided; however, on the other hand, I have a strong repulsion of anything staged. I didn’t know this about myself before this excursion, but anything “touristic” reminds me of being at an amusement park, especially when it comes to false interactions between locals under the guise of “getting a glimpse of local life” when it’s really a performance, a service, put on for tourists.
Later that night, after even remnants of the sun was fully out of sight, Hicham and his cousin took us out once again to the dunes, this time lit by the light of the starry sky. Of course, for us, the light the stars offered meant little to nothing. But for them, nomads who are used to navigating and seeing in this dimness, they strode confidently where we stumbled. Under the stars in the rapidly cooling sands, they buried us from neck to toe—a therapeutic method to help relieve stress physically and emotionally. During this time, the four of us bonded and joked in our stilted bi-linguality, meandering the dunes until neither me nor my friend knew our way back.
“You know, if my mother knew that we were out in the Sahara with two men that we don’t really know… she would have a heart attack,” I told my friend in whispered French.
“Mine too…” she whispered back.
After a while, our bravery faltered as we grew more and more tired. The uncertainty of where we were or how much we were at their mercy battered at us until we cried fatigue and asked to be led back to our camp. We needn’t have worried because they actually took very good care of us—it was just a feeling that I’ve never experienced before, being so independent all my life. It was almost like infancy again.
After what seemed like 30 minutes, we arrived back at the camp and my friend and I retired into our little clay hut, falling into a quick and deep sleep.
The next morning, I rose quickly hoping to catch the sunrise, but it was too late. Having already risen, I settled instead for a quiet moment alone on top of the nearest small dune. This is where Hicham found me and we fell into an easy conversation. He ended up teaching me a few words in Arabic and how to write my own name in the language.
Unfortunately, it was time to leave. We headed out, stopping in the middle at a town well, before arriving back to M’hamid.
If you want to visit the desert, a tour guide is absolutely necessary! Not only are they the ones that drive across the difficult dunes and rocky terrain, they’re the ones that know the ways to the different bivouacs where you can stay for the night. I’m guessing you can’t locate them with a GPS, even if you managed to get the hang of driving through sand. Having a guide with you takes the worry out of things so you can enjoy the specific serenity that only the Sahara can offer.
At this point in time, I thought we had all the adventures we could possible have in Morocco and that everything afterwards would just be anticlimactic. However, Morocco kept proving me wrong.
Linking up with Travel Tuesdays!