Riding a camel is no joke. We were about 15 minutes into our hour long trek out to the Berber camp and it was becoming clear that this was going to be an uncomfortable experience. Perhaps it’s like the monkey bars; they rip your hands raw, but if you can build up calluses you’re golden. I would never get the opportunity to build up those camel riding calluses, but knowing that this was probably the only time I would be on a camel in the Sahara, I focused my attention on the surroundings and tried to ignore the discomfort in my nether regions.
It was late in the afternoon, and it was easy to envision Clark Griswold stumbling along with his pants strapped to his head. We were a caravan of three; Salim, our guide, leading us on foot. My camel was an obedient plodder, following on Salim’s heels, never looking left or right. Brett’s camel however, was a very curious guy. He had a hard time staying in line, and was always looking around. It’s a good thing he was tethered to us as I’m convinced he would have bolted.
In the distance we could see sand mountains. That’s the only way to describe them. They weren’t dunes and they weren’t hills, and as we came around I could see the camp about 200 yards away, nestled between two mountain ranges. The trekking company has everything timed perfectly; we arrived at this spot in time to sit and watch the sun set. It was a highlight of my life. Salim left us there to enjoy it alone, and told us to walk over to the camp when we were ready. I don’t know if the sunset we saw that day was a run of the mill Saharan sunset, or if we got lucky, but we watched the tiny, perfect, glowing, orange dot descend amidst vibrant crepuscular rays, shooting up into the heavens, illuminating the clouds, and I had chills. Okay, I’ve never used the term crepuscular rays before in my life, but the sunbeams of that sunset deserve respect.
Walking into camp, we were greeted by Salim with snacks and met the other travelers who would be sharing this experience with us. There was a couple from Norway, two friends from Malaysia, two brothers from England (who happened to be the same ages as our sons, 22 and 19) and a solo traveler from China. After dinner, we all sat out in the large “courtyard” between the tents on colorful cushions and pillows chatting. Salim and the other guides emerged from the dining tent with drums, a keyboard and other instruments and put on a show for us. It was very interactive and a blast. I’m such a sucker for stuff like that. Then they passed out the instruments to us and we put on an impromptu show for them. When I broke into The Maple Leaf Rag on the keyboard, one of the women from Malaysia said, “that’s what I was going to play!” Next I tried my hand at a Moroccan drum. It made me miss my musician sons very much because I knew how much they would have loved this experience. We were a bunch of strangers from all corners of the world, bonding and laughing, singing and dancing. Music is truly a universal language.
Our guides were calling it a night, and before he left us, Salim pointed to a big mountain behind the tents. “If you want to see the sunrise, start hiking up that no later than 6 a.m.”, he said. For the next hour or so, Brett and I laid on our backs in the courtyard looking at the stars with the English brothers. Being the same ages as our sons, I felt a special connection with them and it was interesting to discover that parents all over the world sound the same. They were telling us stories about going to university and their parents’ advice about life and it all sounded very familiar. Meanwhile, the Milky Way and billions of stars were luminous above us. I will never forget it.
After a fitful night in a VERY hot tent (learn from our mistake and sleep in the courtyard), we were on the sand mountain at 6 a.m. I was happy we had brought our headlamps because it was pitch black. Hiking up sand is very difficult and my heart was pumping. With every step you slide back down quite a bit, so it takes a tremendous effort to go anywhere. We finally made it to the summit, and due to lack of sleep, Brett and I were both a bit cranky. The sunrise was beautiful, and we were proud of ourselves for making it to the top, but we were both exhausted, and just wanted to get down and have some breakfast. Getting down was so easy and fun! Step, sliiiide, step, sliiiide, step, sliiiide. I felt like a little kid, and it improved my mood tremendously.
After breakfast we felt much better and it was sad saying goodbye to everyone. As our caravan of three departed, I knew that our 18 hours in a Berber camp in the Sahara was an experience that I will always cherish. I never would have believed it then, but even the discomfort of riding a camel has become a special memory.