Erg Chebbi: Watching the Sunset in the Sahara Desert

Camels in the sahara, erg Chebbi, Morocco

Our ride awaits

Feeling like intrepid explorers, about to take steps into the unknown, we jump out of the vehicle we have been confined to for most of the day and stare out at petulant camels waiting for us to head out into the desert.

Taking just an overnight bag each with essentials – wash kit, warm clothing and far too much water -we meet up with our guide for the evening.

However, before we can head off into the desert we are presented with yet more mint tea and nibbles – there is only so much one person can drink before it becomes quite sickly and we are all eager to be on our way so down the beverages as quickly as possible.  At the same time, one of our guides making a passing comment – should we have a need to use the facilities feel free as this will be the last opportunity until tomorrow…did he really mean that there would be no form of toilet where we are heading??? Why do we do these things?

Ten minutes later and we are all stood around the caravan of camels choosing our ride for the evening – mine, a lovely cream coloured animal looked like he was going to defy me at every opportunity and even looked like he had a grin on his face.  Surely not!?!

Smiling Camel in the Sahara Desert, Erg Chebbi, Morocco

Is that camel laughing at me?

Climbing aboard a camel for the very first time I can’t quite decide whether it is fear or excitement I am feeling – then he stands up and a little noise escapes from me as I feel myself beginning to slide off the front – had it not been for the Berber stood next to me, supporting me I would have been head down in the sand.

After everyone is settled we head off into the evening sunset – what glorious surroundings.  So peaceful – it feels like no-one else has ever been here.  Up and down the dunes we travel watching the sunset as we go and not really paying attention to the length of time it has taken.

After a while we hear a voice in the distance, someone is running up behind us with what looks like supplies.  Now ever though I am feeling more comfortable with my four-legged friend the last thing I needed was for anything else to be attached to me – unfortunately I was not that lucky – being the first in the train meant that I was also to become the “pack horse” for the remainder of the journey.

As we travel along, at various intervals we have been making comments between ourselves to pass the time but up until now we have had no communication from our guide.  Clearly uncomfortable with walking in silence our new companion decides to spark up a conversation:

“Where are you from? Germany?” – No, England!

“Ah – You like Jimi Hendrix?” – Where did that come from?

Now whilst I have heard of Jim Hendrix, this is where I start to show my ignorance, I am not sure I can even name one song.  However, not to fear – my husband steps in and starts rattling off a few songs that he knows; thankful his innate talent for remembering songs and artists finally pays off.

“Do you like ‘Foxy Lady’?”

“Oh, I don’t know any of his songs!” – So why ask such a random question!

At the front, I start smirking to myself wondering how many times he has asked that question in the past and given the exact same response.  Soon after the conversation comes to an end; clearly we have all run out of things to talk about – not surprising really we are now nearly two hours in to this journey and realistically all I can now think about is “how much further?” – Everything hurts or has gone numb! Either way when I get off I am going to be doing a great John Wayne Impression!

It is also now pitch black, long ago before the sun went down, we could see where we were going now it seems we are just staring into a Stygian abyss.  Will we ever get to the end?

As I am thinking we are going to be spending the night on camels I see lights ahead and start to feel relief at the thought of getting off – I can hear noise and music and know that we are about to hit life!

Two minutes later, our camels come to a halt and once again I am nearly thrown off as my transportation goes done head first – I really must remember this if I ever get on a camel again!!!  I slide off, very unladylike, and begin to wander towards what I am assuming is our accommodation.

As we head in I become acutely aware that we are at a small camp, as requested, with very minimal facilities, maybe not quite the brief.  Four other travellers have already arrived, taking the first of only two tables in the middle of our camp. We make ourselves comfortable at the second.

Desert camp in Erg Chebbi, Sahara first thing in the morning

Camp in the Morning

Front of our basic tent, Erg Chebbi, Sahara, Morocco

Front of our tent

What’s it Like to Spend a Night in the Sahara Desert?

Fifteen minutes pass and we start to discuss the possibility that we may go without food this evening when our guide arrives with, yes you’ve guessed it, more mint tea!  Maybe this is dinner?  As of yet we have not been shown to our tents or know where the facilities are.  Now I keep mentioning the facilities, our friends, who we are travelling with, are not novices to camping in the desert – on all the other occasions they have had, although basic, a no frills toilet to use!

Promptly, after we start this this conversation the tables are laid and out comes bread and Berber Soup, followed by a Chicken Tagine and Melon to finish.  Fears of going hungry were unfounded.

Chicken Tagine

Chicken Tagine

As we are eating, our beds are prepped and they highlight which rooms we can adopt as home for the evening.  Basic mattress on floor and sheets provided as we expected – as a precaution for this we had packed sleeping bag liners to wrap ourselves up in.

Front door to our tent, Desert Camp, Erg Chebbi, Sahara, Morocco

Front door to our tent

Our Bedroom at the desert camp, Erg Chebbi, Sahara, Morocco

Our Bedroom for the evening

At this point my mind races back to a conversation I was having with my boss just a week before – “So, this desert camp, I imagine it’s going to be in one of those gorgeous Bedouin tents, with a four poster bed and luxury facilities?” – I need to remember to take photos to share as it is so far removed from their image of where I am staying that I will need to provide proof of my accommodation for them to believe it!

Regardless of our accommodation, the peace that this location provides is worth it.  As we are settling ourselves down for a serene evening of star gazing the Berber group we are staying with set up the evening entertainment.  Drums appear, along with some tambourine type musical instrument and then before we know it they are asking for us to join in.

An hour passes, along with several shooting stars, which complete startle me.  This is my first sighting –and what a magical moment.  I could continue to look up at the sky all night if I thought I would definitely see more however, during this time I also start to think about the other reason we have come out to the desert – the morning sun rise!

Not the only ones thinking that it is time to head off our camping comrades start to ask the question – “where is the toilet?” Our guide finds this quite amusing and replies with:

“To the left, to the right, find a dune and use it”

Well that solves that mystery – no toilet.

Putting on our head torches we head off into the darkness to find a spot when a ghastly noise stops me in my tracks.  Have you ever heard a camel snoring?  It is the most off putting noise and not one I was expecting.

Glad of the cover of darkness, it is not until the following morning that I realise there is another camp almost right behind us and extremely close to the dune I had designated as my toilet spot…could have been embarrassing!

Desert camps in the sahara, Erg Chebbi, Morocco

Desert camps nearby

Having no real guidance from the Berber group our friends take the lead and we arrange a 5am start up the dunes.  Oh my, what a climb.  Not really worrying about what I look like I start the epic climb up the side of the dune and soon realise the only way I am going to get even near to the top is to climb using both arms and legs – really attractive!

headtorch sahara desert camp

Washing by the light of my head torch

awake early on a desert camp in erg chebbi sahara morocco

Awake so early

After about an hour we decide that there is no way we will hit the top before sunrise and therefore take stock of how far we have climbed, considering it to be far enough and literally plonk ourselves down.

Footprints in the sahara, Erg Chebbi, Morocco

Footprints in the sand

Some of our fellow campers had clearly not thought about the time it would take to climb and only started to appear about 10 minutes before sunrise – by this point we were happily snapping away with the cameras and managed to capture, through them, what we must have looked like only an hour before.

Climbing the dunes for sunrise, Erg Chebbi, Sahara, Morocco

Climbing the dunes for sunrise

Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  The sunrise was incredible.

Sunrise over the Erg Chebbi Dunes, Sahara, Morocco

Paul watching the sunrise over the dunes

sunrise in Erg Chebbi, Sahara, Morocco

Sunrise in Erg Chebbi, Sahara, Morocco

Camels in the sunrise, Erg Chebbi, Sahara, MoroccoSliding back down the dunes, the thought of how we are getting out of the desert comes to mind.  Concern alleviated, or so I thought, being reassured by my friends that last time 4X4’s arrived for them.  This was cemented by two 4X4s speeding in and up the dunes.

The morning sun on the dunes in Erg Chebbi, Sahara, Morocco

Enjoying the morning sun in the Sahara

Over breakfast, however, reality hits as the 4X4s disappear and along my line of sight the camels reappear.  The pain of last night rushes back into my head – maybe I can walk alongside my camel?  Clearly, I was not the only one thinking this – the faces of both my husband and friends also showed they were reliving the night before.

Breakfast in Erg Chebbi, Sahara, Morocco

The boys enjoying breakfast

Back on the camels, trying to make the best of the situation, I put all negative thoughts to the back of my mind and concentrate on the current experience.  Every time we went down the side of a dune I slid forward, meaning that when we were on the straight and narrow I was constantly pushing myself backward much to the amusement of my husband on the camel behind.

Camels are loyal animals as I was quickly to find out.  Mine decided to work its way loose and then just stood there waiting for someone to come and collect him.  Which also meant the train behind me stopped – a stampede of camels was at least something that I could eliminate as a concern.

Finally, after a lengthy plod along we could see the building we left behind only 12 short hours before – relief flooded in – I was glad to see civilisation!

For the final time, my camel kneeled down to relieve himself of my weight and I have to say I was relieved to slide off.

caravan of camels, erg chebbi, sahara, morocco

Caravan of camels getting ready for our return trip

My fears of having a cranky camel never materialised but I feel this may be the one and only time camels feature in one of our trips – especially for that length of time.

Would I camp in the desert again – definitely! I would also return to a basic camp; after all that is how Berber tribes have lived for thousands of years.

Leaving the Sahara behind

Leaving the Sahara behind

Have you spent a night in the Sahara Desert?  Which camp did you choose to stay at?  Perhaps a night in the desert is something you are considering, if that’s the case would you stay in a basic camp or would you want something more luxurious?

6 Comments

  • Globalmouse says:

    Wow, what an amazing experience! I am completely torn as part of me thinks I would love to do it as it looks completely magical but hearing about how basic it was, I don’t know if I could handle it!! I’d love to think I could but I’m starting to need a few more luxuries these days!! It looks and sounds amazing, what an experience!

    • I do like a few luxuries so I am not sure I could stay in a tent without being close to a toilet for more than a few days but it was ok for a night (maybe two!!). Being an avid camper we are use to that part and really enjoyed being able to wake up to see the sunrise. The part I am not sure we could do again is the camel ride – that is that part that brings back some painful memories if I am truthful! 🙂

  • Freya says:

    I have been to Morocco a few times but I never stayed a night in the dessert. It looks like a unique experience. So peaceful, I can nearly imagine watching the stars at night and that sunrise looks absolutely stunning. I’m not a big fan of getting on a camel either.

    • It was extremely peaceful and surprisingly enjoyable. We would definitely complete a desert camp again in the future; maybe in a different area. The camel ride was ok for about the first hour and then the pain started to kick in.

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