The ships of the desert

Days: 466-467 (4 October 2015 – 5 October 2015)

Total distance travelled: 124,018.4 kilometres (77,030.04 miles)

Depending on how it’s delivered, to simply tell you that we bid farewell to Colin and Francis, thankful for a good time had, but nursing sore arses, some sort of sorted sexual tryst might be something that would spring to mind.

Thankfully, it was all a lot more innocent than that.

Sadly for us, the sore arses was something that we did truly have to contend with.

I’m pretty sure Mezouga was the closest large town to where we were, but without the aid of GPS coordinates, we couldn’t pinpoint the actual location.

We can say with some confidence that we were in the Sahara desert, and both Colin and Francis, the source of our discomfort (through their diligent service, not malicious intent), were our trusty camels.

The previous day we’d been driven to the deserts fringes. A point where the barren rocky ground on which we’d journeyed gave way to the rolling orange dunes of the desert (rather than white or yellow one would normally imagine).

Here, we’d each been allocated a trusty steed and encouraged to bestow upon them names, thus Colin and Francis entered the tale proper.

Being amongst the first couple of people to mount, also saw Sarah and I near the back of our camel train (I was in fact in last place, a position desired for photographic purposes), and to be honest, I think we were looking forward to the whole experience a little more than some others within our small group.

Welcome to the western reaches of the Sahara Desert (Click on image to enlarge)

Welcome to the western reaches of the Sahara Desert (Click on image to enlarge)

The mounting process had been fairly simple, as all of the camels sat patiently waiting for us to join them (no ladders necessary), although this did mean we had the joy of experiencing them then rock their way into an upright position.

Losing our way was not a concern, as our posse of camels, separated into two parties, were all tethered to one another, although even had they not, I’m sure these experienced steeds would have taken us along the correct path in any case.

So after a sudden lurch backwards, followed by a similar uneasy feeling forwards, we were upright and moving in our slow convoy into the desert.

Beginning our journey into unknown

Beginning our journey into unknown

It wasn’t long before my flip flops were removed and tucked into the saddle blanket (Sarah was way ahead of me, having hers off before we’d even departed), and we settled in to the rocking motion that was camel riding.

This was in fact my first such experience, but for Sarah, she’s done so in other desert locations as well. First in Egypt, and more recently (by recently, it’s still almost eight years ago) in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

Comfortable aboard 'Colin'

Comfortable aboard Colin (my camel)

The heat factor was up, but that was to be expected, and at least we were doing better than several others who had opted for trousers or shoes for what promised to be close to a two hour journey across the baking sands.

Our guide Younes, I’m sure long over the novelty of the camel riding experience, was like our animals guides, on foot, and in prime position to assist in taking photos of and for the group from all manner of angles.

That said, we caught some pretty good angles of him as well as he trudged atop the crests of the dunes.

Younes of Arabia... (left) & The leader of the pack guides us through the desert (right)

Younes of Arabia… (left) & The leader of the pack guides us through the desert (right)

Other than random chatter between those of us mounted atop the camels, the wind whistling across the dunes and the plopping of little nuggets as our mounts took the occasional shit without even breaking stride (I took bets in my head as to which round ball would reach the base of the dunes first), we were able to enjoy the silence of the desert.

It was a time when you could get lost in your own thoughts, often centred around the discomfort your bum (bottom) might already be feeling, and enjoy our natural surrounds in peace.

That is as long as you consider the roar of dirt bike engines peace?!

Definitely heard long before they were seen, eventually a pair of riders crested a dune right beside us, thankfully having the courtesy and patience to allow our train to pass below, before zooming off into the distance, lest they spook one of our rides.

The peace and quiet and... the roar of dirt bikes...

The peace and quiet and… the roar of dirt bikes…

Who knows what damage their fun might cause to the often fragile eco-systems that are sand dunes, a similar situation that we’d already faced in the desert sands of Peru, near Huacachina.

Our loping ride across the desert sands continued, a continual series of stunning dunes, awesome shadows (as at times we could see our entire camel train as black outlines on the dunes below) and the hot, hot sun.

Eventually, as the fiery orb above began to dip lower and the shadows lengthened, the dunes gave way to a flatter part of the terrain, and we were there… wherever there was.

A series of large communal tents had long stood erected, a sleeping option should we so desire, or the other ultimately more popular option was to set up a mattress beneath the open sky.

But first, some time to explore our immediate surrounds before the sun set.

Colin, who barely broke a sweat hauling my arse around (left) & The desert sands under the late afternoon sun (right)

Colin, who barely broke a sweat hauling my arse around (left) & The desert sands under the late afternoon sun (right)

We were quick to race up the nearby dunes, eager to take in views of the camp, the surrounding dunes, and most importantly, what promised to be a beautiful sunset.

Of course there was the obligatory selfie as well.

It’s not every day you’re in the Sahara Desert after all!

Our desert camp (Click on image to enlarge)

Our desert camp (Click on image to enlarge)

Just hangin'...

Just hangin’…

We dined on a surprisingly delicious dinner with the aid of solar powered lamps, before being treated to some local Berber music (which was followed by an invitation for anybody else to participate… for the record, my drumming efforts were shithouse).

It wasn’t much later, and we were all easing our tired bums onto some well worn mattresses and gazing upwards towards the incredible blanket of stars above.

Not so enjoyable for the majority of the group, was the late night snoring choir (my efforts here were no better than my drumming) that eventually erupted, a solid effort from just three or four members of our travelling group.

Desert rhythm after a delicious dinner (left) & Rising from our slumber, as Venus begins to set (right)

Desert rhythm after a delicious dinner (left) & Rising from our slumber, as Venus begins to set (right)

An early pre-sunrise wake-up call got us all up and about, and it wasn’t long before our aching bodies were feeling a little worse, as we were soon once again aboard our trusty desert steeds.

The morning chill saw most donning heavier coats or sweaters, although it wasn’t long before the layers were shed by most, our convoy eventually halted at a point deemed perfect from which to watch the sunrise.

Awaiting our desert sunrise...

Awaiting our desert sunrise…

In truth, I thought it was a bit of a fizzer, and soon enough we were again bouncing our way across the tops of dunes, our halting gait seeing us creep ever so slowly towards the deserts edge.

As the sun gained a little elevation in the sky, the views most definitely did improve, and one of our party who’d refused to re-mount his camel that morning, could often be spied on the horizon as a silhouette, seemingly wandering along behind Younes, like that ever faithful manservant Passepartout from Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’.

Losing that morning chill

Losing that morning chill

I can't help but think of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout when I see this photo...

I can’t help but think of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout when I see this photo…

Eventually our ride did come to an end, a healthy serving for breakfast awaited us all, as well as several glasses of sweet, warming tea (not that we really needed the warmth by then).

I bid a final farewell to Colin and Francis, who’d served us both very well, and just like that, like a mirage I guess (yes, a huge mirage that hugged our vision on our left flank for some time), the Sahara Desert was gone, and so were we.

A farewell to comrades (Colin and Francis) after they served us well

A farewell to comrades (Colin and Francis) after they served us well

 

Notes:

* Our flights from London Gatwick to Marrakesh (via Casablanca) with Royal Air Maroc cost us £88.09 per person.

* Our 15 night Morocco tour was booked through On-the-go travel, and costs per person vary depending on the season.

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9 Responses to The ships of the desert

  1. thatsbalogna says:

    what a cool experience! (minus the aching arses 🙂 Hope you both are well!

    • Chris says:

      It brought back good memories re-reading it. Watching the world fall to pieces in prime time has been interesting… how’re you guys?

      • thatsbalogna says:

        Oh we’re doing well. We have our own apartment in Medellin this year (we used to share before). It’s nice to have our own space again. How are you and Sarah?

      • Chris says:

        We’re well. Off to Spain and Portugal in a couple of weeks, so very much looking forward to being on the road again (but with more disposable income)!

  2. What a great experience. We’d love to ride camels across the Sahara. Those views are really amazing.

  3. Deserts can have a really huge impact on your life as it somehow changes your perspective about a lot things. You know that even barren sandy landscapes can be intimidating and somehow mysteriously beautiful as well. The harsh weather and the obstacles that you overcome can teach you a lot.

  4. neha says:

    Beautiful pictures. And wonderful experience. The desert safari is best experienced riding a camel.However, the tourism industry is often very cruel to these animals. Hope these camels are well taken care of

  5. Deserts make such great photography subjects. It looks like you had a wonderful desert safari experience. Your photos are beautifully captured with great composition and use of natural lighting!

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