Camel riding in Sahara
I remember very clearly my 2 weeks in Tunisia when I was young. Back in 1999 we had an unforgettable time there with my family. It was my first time to Sahara desert and we also rode camels. Sounds like fun, right? And it was! Apart from getting of the camel afterwards.
As I don’t have many photos from those days but clear memories, an online Polish friend of mine Kami from My Wanderlust shares here her experience of camel riding in Sahara. Kamila didn’t visit Tunisa but Morocco which is still on my bucket list.
When I planned my trip to Morocco I followed the advice of awesome travel bloggers out there and included Merzouga in my itinerary. Everyone recommended this village as the great desert getaway and well, you don’t get to visit Sahara every day. I have never seen it before and I was really excited to explore the endless sand dunes. That was actually my only plan for there, to wander around in a completely different landscape, surrounded by nothing by the sand and a silence.
But, as it often is with travelling, the life had a different plan for me. The night bus from Fes arrived to Merzouga at 5am in the morning, two and a half hours ahead of schedule. It was dark, cold and everything was closed. Besides me there were two Australian backpackers and a mother with her teenage son from South America. We all were still half asleep when we were kicked out from the bus at this incredibly early time. But the luck was on our side, it turned out that family pre-arranged the Berber guides to take care of them and these two guys have been already waiting. They took all of us to their office, offered us some tea and few moments later I found myself agreeing to the camel trekking across the Sahara…
I have a confession to make here: I’m afraid of big animals. I can admire them from a safe distance but when I get closer to them I’m simply terrified! I’ve never been horseback riding and up to that moment I’ve only met camels in the zoo. But I’ve thought that riding a camel must be safe and easy, after all so many people come to Merzouga just for that so what could happen to me. I was really confident and even excited until the moment I met Jim Morrison – my camel…
He was huge! And didn’t really look all that friendly! What did I get myself into? But since I’ve already said yes, I had to stay no matter what. From the very beginning it turned out to be a challenge. Hoping on the big creature was really difficult and there was no grace at all in it. I had to use the help offered to me by my guide, Mustapha, as there was no way I’d have got on the camel on my own. Only a moment later it turned that was the easy part and what was about to happen was so much worse.
The camel had to stand up somehow and it was an awfully terrifying feeling – first he pillowed on his front knees (or elbows?), then he stood on his back legs and finally on front legs. Three strong yanking, lots of screaming from me but we were up and I was sure it was gonna be easier from that point. Well, it really wasn’t. With every step the camel took I was certain I’m gonna fall down any second. I was holding the holder so hard I could see my fingers turning white. The thought of spending more than one hour on that camel, before reaching the oasis, seemed like an endless nightmare at that moment.
But soon we entered the desert with its smaller and bigger dunes and it did get easier. The best moments were when we were going up hill, the camel seemed to be the calmest then and I could relax a little bit too. I even took my camera off from my bag and managed to take some random, bad pictures (holding my camera with one hand only, not actually looking in the viewer).
When Mustapha offered to take a picture of me on the camel I agreed cheerfully but regretted that few seconds later when he gave me the lead of the camel, walked few steps away and the animal still followed him slowly. In that moment I already had the image of the crazy camel galloping through the desert with me on. Fortunately Jim Morisson turned out to be a well behaved camel and listen to Mustapha, stood still in one place and posed gracefully for the picture.
Still I was looking forward to finally reaching the oasis and I even considered walking back to Merzouga. Especially that we reached the phase when most of the way was downhill. And even if these hills were really small they were the worse. With every step the camel took he caved in few inches in the sand and I felt like I’m gonna fly over his head right into the next dune.
When I finally saw the oasis in the background I’ve decided it’s the time I start walking. For the first few minutes after jumping off from the camel I couldn’t really feel my legs but at least I felt much safer. Still walking on the sand in that heat wasn’t the easiest thing to do but at least there was the oasis waiting for me ahead where I could relax in a complete silence.
Of course all good things come to an end and my few hours in the oasis went by way too quickly. It was time to start walking back to Merzouga before the sunset. Somehow this time jumping on the camel was easier (but I still needed help) and instead of screams I only shrieked a little bit. But this way there were more crazy downhills and with every single one I was closer to falling down. At some point I almost slid down from the camel’s back, half of my body was hanging dangerously in the air.
But then, half an hour before we reached Merzouga, I miraculously figured out how to ride the camel in the less scary way. Why didn’t I come up with that at the very beginning? It was such an easy trick and would have made the whole journey so much more enjoyable. For all the time when we were going downhill my whole body moved forward whereas it should just lean back. Easy! At least I could enjoy the last minutes of riding a camel, focusing on the beautiful landscape around me, admiring Merzouga in the sunset light.
Even if for most of the time I hated riding the camel and was to terrified to see the beauty that was surrounding me I’m very glad I’ve decided to go for it. Now I see it as a great adventure and a fun experience and I know that without it my visit in the desert wouldn’t be completed. If only all my muscles wouldn’t have hurt me so badly for next few days…