Anna of Arabia – My Desert Experience

July 22, 2019 | Anna, International Studies and Modern Languages(French Immersion), Forum des Fédérations, Maroc,

In my time in Morocco I have been fortunate enough to travel and explore the country. One of my most memorable trips was to Zagora Desert which is on the edge of the Sahara. It is located around 700 km from Rabat the capital where I work and so I spent the majority of the weekend travelling.

Two friends and I traveled to Marrakech by train which took about 4 hours. In Marrakech, we joined an organized tour group called Marrakech Desert Trips who basically took care of everything for us. Our tour group consisted of 3 Greek men in their 40s, a Japanese man, a quiet American woman and us. We left Marrakesh at 8:30am and Jamal our driver began to drive through the Atlas Mountains. The Atlas Mountains are a mountain range which stretches an estimated 2,500 km through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and separating the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines from the Sahara Desert. The mountain roads were very crazy and often times we were driving with only a small barrier between us and the bottom of the mountain. Jamal drove with ease and an air of calm which helped me to relax and enjoy the trip.

At lunch, we stopped at Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou a UNESCO world heritage site located in Ouarzazate province and is described as “a perfect synthesis of earthen architecture of the pre-Saharan regions of Morocco”. The historical site is featured in many movies and TV shows such as Game of Thrones which I thought was super cool.

After our lunch of lemon tagine chicken, we got back in our van and drove to Zagora. When we arrived just before sunset, we were put on camels and led to the desert camp. The camel ride was about an hour long and while I enjoyed every minute of it, the reality is that camels are very uncomfortable. Camels are not a smooth ride and you sway a lot when you are on them and therefore, it is difficult to keep your balance. There are also different types of camels, the ones with one hump which are the ones used in Morocco are called Dromedary camels. Dromedaries are native to Northern Africa and aren’t found in the wild anymore since they have been domesticated after hundreds of years of use by nomads.

After arriving at our desert camp, we settled in and had tea on the dunes with our guide Youssef who led us by camel through the desert. Moroccans love very bitter mint tea with lots of sugar and to cool the tea and make a foamy top they will pour it into the cups and back into the pot several times. At around 10 pm, we were served a dinner of chicken tagine chicken and watermelon which was delicious. Then at around 11:30, the guides made a campfire, got out their drums and began to sing. They sang in their native tongue Berber while we watched in fascination. Youssef and the other guides are Berbers or Amazighs (which is what they prefer to be called) meaning free people. They are an ethnic group of several indigenous peoples of North Africa who predate the Arab invasion. The Amazighs do not have their own country because when colonizers divided Africa, they created borders straight through their lands meaning that the majority of the estimated 30 million Amazigh are divided across North Africa.

We went to bed in our tent at midnight knowing that we had to be up for our 6:30 am breakfast. As you probably know the desert is really hot! During the day it was +45 degrees and at night, it was a cool 30. It was an absolutely brutal night because I had to keep drinking water (which was so hot it could have been tea) to stay hydrated and because I continued to sweat more than I ever have in my life despite not moving. The desert is an eerie place especially at night because there is no sound. It is not a peaceful silence like you get camping in Canada because there is no rustling of trees, birds or any other sound. It’s like a void. Any sound you make seems to travel so even whispering sounds loud. It was also a full moon so the entire desert was illuminated, and you could see everything meaning that one didn’t need a flashlight to travel between tents. It was like a huge blinding streetlamp. Understandably, I didn’t sleep very well and maybe got 3 hours of sleep.

In the morning, we had a small breakfast of toast and tea before taking some last photos and getting back on our camels. After a short 30-minute ride we got back into our van with our tour group and began the long drive to Marrakech. During our trip back to Marrakech we stopped at Ouarzazate nicknamed the door of the desert chiefly inhabited by Amazighs it is the site of many Kasbahs for which the area is known.
I finally made it back to my apartment at 11pm feeling gross from all the sweat, sunscreen, and sand but also incredibly happy to have seen and experienced something so incredible.

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