Friday, 18 September 2009

Camels across the Sahara

Given that we had made a decision not to trek back through Todra, we found ourselves with two extra days going spare. We were always going to do a camel trek across the Sahara an spend a night in the desert, we decided to make it two nights.

The Sahara was fun. The dunes are spectacularly other-worldly. And the camels really sucked! The smelly beasts stank to high heaven and the worst part is, we could have easily done all of it on foot. Keep in mind that we are seasoned hikers, perfectly comfortable with travelling on foot over difficult terrain for many hours, even when hauling luggage. We just climbed Toubkal, for example! Walking through the Sahara would have been easy in comparison, and much faster than the camels. To prove this, I chose to walk on day two, granted I left my luggage on the camel.

Anyway, the dunes we were on - Erg Chebbi, alongside the tiny village of Merzouga - is on the western edge of the Sahara and the eastern edge of Morocco, the Algerian border not far off.

My recommendation for future hikers - don't waste your time with camels. Don't even waste your time with an organised trek or guides. As long as you have a compass and know how to use it, you can make your way into the desert on your own easily enough from Merzouga. Heading due east in a straight line from Merzouga, you will cross the entire width of Erg Chebbi in about 3 hours. 1 ~ 2 hours in would be a great place to set up camp, ideally in a trough between the dunes to be shielded from the winds. Take a warm sleeping bag, a tent if there is risk of rain, and lots of water. About 3 litres per person per day. And enjoy the beautiful and starry night! And remember that the best time for walking in the desert is between 5am and 10am, when there is plenty of light and the temperatures not too high. Sunrises and sunsets are both spectacular when viewed from a high dune.

Anyway, back to our story - we spent one night in the dunes and the second night in the wastelands just east of Erg Chebbi with a bunch of nomadic Touareg. Yeah quaint, but ultimately very boring. We had many hours to kill since we crossed the dunes in record time.

Eventually we crossed Erg Chebbi again to Merzouga, and got the long overnight bus to Marrakech. Stay tuned for the next - and possibly final - leg!

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