Sahara Desert Trip Part II: Riding Through the Desert on a Camel with No Name (Later I Named Him Sidi Djej)

Before the Big McTasty I just ate, we had gotten to the hotel in Merzouga. After some time sitting, we got onto our camels at roughly 4 pm. Camels are weird looking, and their faces closely resemble those of Llamas, my favourite dromedary. They are, however, inordinately uncomfortable. My children are going to be born with headaches, and that’s all I am going to say about that.

So the 14 of us board our camels, which much have been the most docile, pony-like camels on the face of the earth. Imagine a 26 year old at a child’s birthday party riding a pony. That’s what I felt like, though I ignored that feeling and spent most of the ride shouting “WOOOOOO! I’M ON A CAMEL!” Also, I named the camel I was riding Sidi Djej. That’s Moroccan for “Mr. Chicken.”

So we all get on our camels, and then a guide comes around and ties each camel to the ones in front and behind of it. Sort of a camel caravan. Then, a guy in a turban and nikes took the reins of the lead camel and led us into the desert. The desert is amazingly beautiful, though, there’s not really a lot to see. After the initial wonderment at the absolute startling beauty of the desert, the dunes sort of blended together. We were told some mountains in the distance were Algeria, and the ride lasted two hours. It was really beautiful, to the extent that I can’t describe it, but the amazing beauty was interrupted every 3 seconds or so by the saddle kicking me in the crotch. So call it  a Phyrric Victory.

The weather was perfect: overcast and cool. I didn’t break a sweat the entire time, and forgive me if I say that that’s one aspect of the genuine experience I am glad to have missed.

We arrived at the Oasis at which we were to stay the night. It was as startling as it was beautiful: we just rounded an enormous dune, which will come up in conversation later, and a little hollow below us was suddenly full of trees. I think the word that best describes it is spectacular. So the camels dropped us off (by this point, I was sitting sidesaddle, which alleviated the indescribably groin torture, however, transferred that torture to my buttocks) and I hobbled into the Oasis.

 The ground was sand, but palm and olive trees, as well as a gazillion little bush like things, were sprining up all over. There were carpets laid on the ground, and some low tables with little stools for eating. The place was lit by candles in wrought-iron lanterns, which was beautiful. However, that’s something I don’t understand: between the killing time in the morning and in the afternoon, we could easily have arranged to arrive during daylight. But we got there after nightfall, and if there’s one thing I wasn’t going to do, it was explore the dunes at night. Considering that this trip was planned to the tenth of a minute and was the first time I’ve felt rushed doing anything in the Maghreb, this is mildy infuriating.

So we wait for a while, checking out the place and looking at the low berber tents (each of which contained 6 mattresses for sleeping on) and sort of milling about. At this point, a bunch of drug-dealing spaniards on dirtbikes and quads showed up. You know what? If you got to one of the most beautiful places on the earth, the last place unspoilt by the hands of man, and you hop on a motorcycle, you’re an asshole.  The end. And that’s not even counting the drug dealing, damn you.

So dinner was rice and vegetables, and then a meat tagine. At this point a few individuals distinguished themselves by hogging all of the food and generally making a nuisance of themselves, ‘borrowing’ food, drink, and so on off of others. But I didn’t care: night was here, and the sky was full of stars. I certainly wasn’t going to let a few bozos ruin it the night.

Unfortunately, the sky was also full of clouds, but those were burning off. The half-moon was high in the sky, and brighter than the sun. And yet, somehow, I could see a grand total of eight or so stars. I had no explanation for it: it looked exactly like the view from the roof of the building I am staying in. So we gathered around the table, our hosts brought out some drums, and we passed around a spot of scotch to help digest and wait for the moon to set.

I’m hungry again and this is very long. More later.

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