We pulled into Merzouga with our eyes glued to the orange dunes touching the blue sky surrounding us. The small “village” on the edge of the Sahara was close to the Moroccan/Algerian border and was a hub for tourists to come and experience the desert. We booked a guided camel trek and a night in a desert camp.
A line of camels arrived in front of us and mine was taller than the rest. We learnt that all camels used for treks were male. Mine appeared to be the strongest and therefore carrying the most gear. Due to his apparent strength I decided to name him Hercules. As Hercules stood up ,I had to lean far back and hold on very tight so I didn’t fall over the front of the camel. Since he was holding all the food prep while all the other camels only had a blanket over them, my legs sat uncomfortably high instead of around his torso.
The group of us rode into the desert for an hour and a half, eventually gaining the confidence in our balance, and taking photos without holding on. Our leader was a goofy Berber, the pre-Arab inhabitants of Northern Africa, who made up most of the population in Morocco. He spoke relatively no English, but made us laugh by imitating us when he heard anything he could relate to an American film. He would run ahead occasionally and skip through the sand dunes effortlessly, an act that would have made the rest of us double over in exhaustion.
We arrived at the base of the highest dune in the area, where half a dozen camp tents were already in place. Since it was late afternoon we immediately began our trek up the dune after dismounting our camels. We wanted to make sure we would be at the top in time for the sunset. The dune was steep, and every two steps we trudged up we slid one step back down. By the time we reached the top our lungs were burning and our cheeks were crimson. We collapsed onto the soft sand with the expanse of view surrounding us. There were dunes for miles.
After a few minutes of taking pictures, a local women suddenly came into view with her son who couldn’t have been more than eight years old. They had trekked up to try and sell handmade camels to tourists who came every night to see the sunset. A couple of us bought them at 50 dirham each, which was about 6 Canadian dollars. It was a smart sales tactic, making the customer feel guilty, having seen the woman and her young son trek so far just to attempt to sell her product.
After waiting about an hour for the sun to set, we’d gotten our desired photos and ran down the dune, skiing through the deep sand. We were greeting by some well-deserved Moroccan red wine and our Berber guides awaiting our return.