Sleeping through your alarm, waking up after only a few hours of sleep, packing your bag in the groggy moments of darkness when you first awake and rushing down the streets of Marrakech on foot with no water in your system would not usually be the start of something good. In my case it was. This was how I began the morning on my trip to the Sahara. Seven of us loaded into a big white van, a mix from Poland to America and headed south toward the Atlas Mountains. The scenery ranges from bleak and harsh mountain climates to pink flowered oases in the ravines. Through an 8-hour trek spotted with Berber settlements, small Moroccan towns, and desert movie studios we all lull in and out of sleep in the heat.
Once we arrive at the town or Zagora we say good-bye to our driver Akhmed, who after continuous jibes and secret hand shakes I have built an endearing father-like relationship with. We put on our indigo turbans and mount our new friends- The Camels. The camels are tied in two lines and we set off in a caravan lead by a couple of Berber tribesman. The camels are much wider than a horse and so your defenseless crotch takes much more of a beating. However once you get into the groove with your camel the ride is as pleasant and surreal as you may expect. The desert winds were mild and the heat of the evening was bearable. As we trot on the dunes of sand start growing and our camels wide hooves get put to good use. The timing is right and as we pull into our desert camp we catch the sun setting over the desert.
We are greeted with ‘Berber Whiskey’ a sweet and spicy herbal tea that actually contains no alcohol. But even in the heat it revitalizes our sore and sleepless bodies. Along side the tea the Berbers perform traditional drumming with Arabic singing as our dinner is being prepared. Mila and I opt to chat with the Berbers in a mix of broken French and English because their company is more enjoyable than the mix of tourists outside of the tent. They tell us about their lifestyle and how their families live in the nearby mountains. They are extremely hospitable and we soon find ourselves completely abandoning the other people on our tour.
Dinner is served and the tent is jubilant. We are served traditional chick pea soup to begin, a giant cous cous platter to follow, and finish dinner with a plate of fresh and juicy watermelon. After dinner people split up into groups and chat, slide down sand dunes, play games at their leisure. Mila and I have brought along our new Hookah despite the rushed start and we sneak off with the Berbers to smoke apple sheesha under the stars. We made close friends with a Berber named Ahmed (not the be confused with our driver) and he gave us each a gift of the dessert. Mila he gave one of their hand crafted plates and me he gave one of his turbans. It still smells of Berber today.
We were woken the next morning right before sunrise so we could see its ascent from behind the low-lying mountains in the distance. Then we took our first shower in days under the slow trickle of the desert water reserve. We made our way into the tent for breakfast where more Berber whiskey was flowing and fresh flat bread was served with butter and a variety of fruit spreads. There was a divine fig jam that was fresh and not preserved that was to die for. Figs, dates, and olives are grown all over Morocco, even in the borders of the Sahara. We then took our camels back into Zagora and the lovely Akhmed took us on our return journey home to Marrakech.