‘Let’s go,’ sang out our guide, Hassan. Six jeeps gunned it down a narrow road that soon petered out into a broad track on the Saharan sands. The jeeps fanned out, zig-zagging their way over patches of scree and dunes of soft sands. Too many jeeps in a row and the tracks would become treacherously deep, trapping the unwary up to the axels in soft sand. Engines roared – it was something out of an epic action movie. When we were well into the desert, Hassan raised a hand, motioning the drivers to stop at a nomadic Berber encampment. For thousands of years, Berber nomads have moved between the desert and the rich pastures of the high Atlas Mountains.
We piled out of the jeeps and stood in front of an enormous camel-hair tent. Several women, one holding a squirming small child, were within sheltering from the sun. ‘About ten people live in this tent,’ Hassan explained. ‘The men sleep on the right and the women on the left. The women work at their weaving over there,’ he gestured to a small stone building. ‘And there, beside it, is the kitchen. Here the women prepare meals of barley couscous, camel or goat’s milk, flat bread, dates, and occasionally the meat of a sheep or goat. When the nomads move on, these buildings remain and they will return to them later.’ The men were out with the flocks of black goats and white sheep, only a small black kid remained in the camp, tethered to the wall of the kitchen building. He sniffed and kicked at the restraining rope, trying to figure out a way to free himself.
What did they make of us – strange, pink-faced people whispering in an incomprehensible language?
Then it was back in the jeeps to continue our way to our camp. When we arrived, we were met by camel drivers who all wore long (up to 16 feet!) Berber scarves wrapped around their heads and necks. We met our camels. ‘These are good camels,’ Hassan assured us. ‘They don’t bite or spit.’
I swung a leg over her broad back to sit on the padded saddle covering her hump. ‘Lean back and then forward!’ Camels rise with their back legs first and then their front.
I clutched the metal bar in a white-fingered death grip but it turned out to be a lot easier than it sounded. We rode to our tents. I like to think I was camping, but it’s hard to convince someone that a tent with a queen sized bed and internal plumbing is roughing it. Once we had our belongings settled, we remounted and rode out into the desert. We stopped to watch a spectacular sunset with a sundowner clutched in our hands.
Back in our camp, we had a three course meal in our dining tent. (Okay, okay, I’ve lost all credibility for roughing it now, haven’t I!)
Clutching hot water bottles to our chests we scuttled back to our tents after the meal. It’s freezing cold when the sun goes down! But the obsidian sky was thick with stars and the moon lit our way. I slept like a baby, clad in tights, trousers, a shirt and a sweater under two duvets and cuddled up to my hot water bottle.
A spectacular sunrise roused us the next morning...
... and we were on our way back to civilization.
I'm Kirsten Marion. After a series of life-changing events, my husband and I decided to spend the kids’ inheritance and see as much of the world as possible. Our bible? A Thousand Places to See Before You Die.