CAMEL TREKKING IN MOROCCO
The warm, late afternoon light as Charlene and her camel led the way into the Sahara Desert.
Intro: From Riad Nezha in Merzouga, we headed out into the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert camel trekking as the sun slowly set behind us, on one of our favorite experiences in Morocco so far.
A trip to Morocco isn’t complete without a visit to the Sahara Desert. And not just any visit, but camel trekking during sunset and an overnight stay at a desert camp. The day had already been filled with several cultural activities, ones Charlene and I will cherish for a very long time. From trying on jabadors and visiting a Berber family, to experiencing a Gnawa music performance and having lunch at a local Moroccan restaurant, it seemed like anything else would just be icing on this large, delicious cake! But we knew that as great as the first part of the day was, the second half was going to be even more memorable!
Not too long after arriving back at Riad Nezha from our action-packed morning and early afternoon, we met our camel trekking guide Ahmed in the lobby. My first impression of Ahmed was that he had a kind and heartfelt aura about him. I’m sure he’s done hundreds of camel treks with other tourists, but something about him told me he not only cared, but was passionate about his profession. Maybe it was the way he spoke, in such a calm voice, or his warm smile, but just that first interaction with Ahmed assured Charlene and I that we would have an amazing time camel trekking in the desert!
My shadow in the late afternoon light, complete with backpack, tripod, and camera, ready to camel trek into the Sahara Desert.
It was already a day filled with many wonderful surprises, but our dear guide and friend Youssef had one more trick up his sleeve (or rather his jellaba’s sleeve). Before Charlene and I made our way to our camels with Ahmed, Youssef was so kind to not only lend, but actually give me HIS jellaba. Similar to a jabador, a jellaba is a one-piece robe that goes over a person’s body, covering from your neck to wrist and right below the knees.
But unlike what I purchased earlier in the day, my understanding of a jellaba (and I could very well get it wrong here), is that it is made of thicker material and will actually keep you warm. When Youssef saw that I only had on a shirt and light jacket, he insisted I take his jellaba so I wouldn’t freeze at night in the desert camp. He didn’t have to be so thoughtful, and I certainly felt bad taking his jellaba, but at the same time I was very appreciative and touched by his generosity!
The exterior of Riad Nezha where our camels were waiting to transport us into the Sahara Desert.
We said our goodbyes to Youssef at Riad Nezha and walked about a hundred feet or so outside to our camels. For the life of me I can’t recall the names Charlene gave them, but I believe camel in Arabic is “alahome”. I don’t know what’s less surprising, that Charlene gave our camels names or that I don’t remember them.
A young staff member from Riad Nezha who helped mount us onto our camels.
One of the friendly staff members, a young boy whose name…once again I forgot :(…assisted us in getting on our alahomes. The tricky part wasn’t just getting on, but doing so with a backpack and tripod, as well as a camera attached to a strap around my neck. And of course, I had to be dressed for the occasion, like I was Marco Polo camel trekking on the silk road. So I had on the jellaba that Youssef just gave me, along with the blue turban I purchased earlier in the day.
Carefully mounting my camel with the help of Ahmed, our Sahara Desert camel trekking guide.
Charlene, on the other hand, might’ve been a bit more nervous getting on her alahome, as she let out a few screams and laughs while doing so. As soon as we placed both our legs across their hump, these guys just popped right up from sitting down. The young gentleman from Riad Nezha was kind enough to grab my 5DM3 camera and capture a few photos of us mounting our camels. Thank you good sir!
It was these little (but very significant) things, like having him around to not only take photos, but bid us farewell as we started our trek, that made this whole experience that much more special. And not too far in the background were Youssef and Mohammed, who also said their goodbyes to us. We’d be seeing them again the following day!
All mounted onto our camel convoy and ready to trek into Morocco’s Sahara Desert from Merzouga.
We left Riad Nezha and tour guide friends for the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. Shortly after mounting our camels, we started trekking through the outskirts of Merzouga, passing by some homes, a few dirt roads, and the last group of trees we would see for the rest of the day. Our guide Ahmed actually walked (not rode) and led the camels from the front, pulling the rope that was attached to both. I had Charlene take the alahome in the front while I rode the one in the back.
Our camel convoy shadow in the late afternoon night, which illuminated the Sahara Desert sand dunes a rich red.
With the sun setting behind us as we headed east, I was able to get some beautifully-lit photos of Charlene riding her camel with the desert in the background. Plus, with me in the back, I didn’t get in the way of her GoPro video shots. When possible, I try to think of what would make for the best photo (and video), without compromising the overall experience. This was one of those times when thinking ahead paid off :).
The sand dunes of the Sahara Desert appeared never-ending as we headed further east.
To say camel trekking in the Sahara Desert during sunset was absolutely incredible would be an understatement. It seemed like everything the sun touched had turned into piles of gold coins. Every mound of sand was uniquely shaped in height and curvature, with (dare I say) snake-like waves running along the sides. Shadows created from the setting sun of our camel convoy on the sands provided picturesque opportunities every moment we were riding. Countless fluffy clouds gave even more life to the vibrant blue sky, and for a moment, it appeared like you could walked up those sand dunes in the far horizon and touch them.
Charlene fronted our Sahara Desert camel convoy with our guide Ahmed leading on foot ahead.
We found out a bit more about our tour guide Ahmed as we continued the trek to our camp for the night. He’s been doing this for several dozen years, and has a wife and kids who live in Merzouga. His English was impeccable, only superseded by his knowledge of the desert and genuine personality. Certainly just being in the Sahara Desert is already more than one could ask for, but I truly felt that having Ahmed as our camel trekking guide made the whole experience that much more significant. It was like the desert was his home (and in many ways it is), and Ahmed was inviting us to have a seat right in the living room with mint tea to follow shortly.
A camel convoy in the distance, heading to the same Sahara Desert camp as us for the evening.
Although we passed by one other group early in the trek with about half a dozen travelers, they ended up going in a different direction to another campsite for the night, and for the majority of the trek we didn’t see a single soul! Towards the end, we did come across another group who ended up becoming some new traveler friends, staying at the same site as us. But for a hot second, I pretended like Ahmed, Charlene, and I were the only ones in the desert as we made our way to the other side of Africa and the Middle East.
Perhaps the highlight of the camel ride was when Ahmed stopped our alahomes just in time to catch the sunset. Much to the appreciation of our inner thighs and what Charlene would call “lady parts”, we dismounted our camels and, with wobbly legs, slowly made our way up a nearby sand dune to catch the sun drift below the horizon. They say one of the best sunrises in the world is that over the Sahara Desert (more on that later), but I say “What about the sunset?”
The sun slowly setting across the magnificent sand dunes of the Sahara Desert.
It was certainly one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen! Charlene grabbed her GoPro and started a time lapse video while I got my camera and tripod, and did some multiple exposure photos. As much as I loved this experience, my favorite moment from that late afternoon came just after the sunset.
Ahmed praying as he faces Mecca within the sand dunes of Morocco’s Sahara Desert.
As I made my way down the sand dune and back to our camels, I saw Ahmed in the middle of a prayer. I didn’t want to disturb him, but I switched my lens from the 24-70mm to the 100mm macro, and with his blessing, I was able to capture two of my favorite frames from the entire Morocco trip: a photo of Ahmed doing his prayer and another portrait of him.
A portrait of Ahmed, our camel trekking guide, with the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert behind.
The sun had already set, but it wasn’t quite dark yet, and, if anything, that dusk lighting added an ethereal feel to these images. It was almost like we were caught between a fantasy and the real world (maybe it was the imaginary opium I didn’t have that’s talking now :P).
We mounted our camels again as the sky slowly turned from a colorful streak of yellow and orange to magenta and blue…night was upon us. Ahmed stopped our camels in between two sand dunes and asked me for my camera. I was caught off guard, as this was the first time he had asked this on the entire trek. Not at the beginning, not during sunset, but when it was near pitch black! He wanted to take a photo of us and promised it would be an amazing shot.
Silhouetted against the dusk night sky during our camel trekking adventure from Merzouga into Morocco’s Sahara Desert.
But I didn’t have any flash on the camera and our faces were pretty much in the dark! Nevertheless, I quickly changed the mode setting from manual to automatic and handed him the 5DM3. Ahmed grabbed my camera and made his way down the pile of sand to a lower elevation point and…BAM, he got this amazing silhouette photo of Charlene and I. Maybe his second job is as a professional photographer ;).
Shortly after Ahmed’s epic photo moment, we finally made it to our campsite for the night. Much to the delight of our sore legs and other body parts, we got off the alahomes and grabbed our backpacks. To make sure the camels didn’t wander off on their own, Ahmed had them sit down and tied all four of their legs together. Apparently the camel I was riding on had beef with the other camels resting nearby, so Ahmed had to make sure he was tied up extra tight. Like rider, like camel eh? Looks like the anti-social side of me got the better of the alahome I was riding on, so I was very proud of him :).
A magical sunset over the town of Merzouga from the sand dunes of Morocco’s Sahara Desert.
On a more serious note, Charlene and I couldn’t have been more thrilled with our camel ride from Riad Nezha to our glamping (glamour + camping) style campsite, right in the middle of the Sahara Desert. It certainly was the highlight of our trip so far! As night approached, we followed Ahmed into the camp grounds and got ready for an eventful evening of dinner, chatting with new friends, star gazing, and reading our anniversary vows. Stay tuned :).