We had been driving for four hours. We turned off the bumpy road. You could see for miles – totally flat. There were no roads, just a few tire tracks, lots of signs sticking in the sand advertising various accommodations that were nowhere to be seen. I was anxious; I was entering a world I had only seen on television and movies. I knew this was going to be an adventure unlike any I had experienced before. I was going into the Sahara Desert on a camel for the night.
Remote and exciting
Our truck proceeded very slowly; the driver had to continuously move the steering wheel so that we wouldn’t get stuck in the sand. Every so often the tire tracks would split into a ‘Y’ shape; we'd choose a side and continue deeper into the desert. I started to see the dunes, glowing orange/red in low sun. Once in a while we'd pass a random camel, grazing. It looked as though no life existed here. Soon, though, we could see a building or two and another sign, dwarfed by the vast landscape. We pulled up to our starting point and set foot on the fine sand, like dust, so imperceptible that you don't realize it's there until you run a hand over your arm and feel the layer of sand coating your skin. Sand from the Sahara has been found as far away as Greenland!
We took a small pack with the things we would need for the night: water, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a long sleeve shirt, a sleep sheet and cameras wrapped in bags to protect them from the sand. We met our guide, Mubarek, who was dressed in blue, as most of the people are in this part of the Sahara. The bright blue is a stunning contrast to the orange sand dunes. It's a bright color, easy to spot, doesn’t absorb as much sun and heat as black. Mubarek provided us with bright colored turbans; he taught us how to tie them to protect our faces from the sun and the sand. I dawned my sunglasses too.
Mubarek showed us how to get on and off the camels. They were tied together in a long train; we didn’t have control of the reins, they followed each other. My camel was good looking, well tempered and not very smelly. The camels sit down on the ground so you can mount them. The trick is to hold on tightly and lean back when they stand up, otherwise, you may do a header in the sand. I was amazed at how high up I was. I knew how saddle sore I would be the next day.
The camel train took off. We rode deeper and deeper into the sand dunes. You could see the fine sand blowing off the tops of the dunes; a reminder of the changing, moving landscape. Technically, I wasn’t on solid ground, the camel ride was rather jerky, and the sun was quickly disappearing – nearly impossible to get a clear shot. The camels were fearless; they walked on the edge of a dune, plodding away. In the distance we could see black tents and a small bit of green grass – our home for the night.
We arrived at our camp as the sun went under, yet the temperature stayed hot. In the other direction, the moon was rising – a full moon tonight! Once we set down our packs, Karina challenged us to run up to the top of the dune that was surrounding us – for the great view. This was not easy. There was no point of reference; hard to determine how far you had to go to reach the top, it always appeared closer than it actually was. About halfway up (I think), most everyone in the group bailed out. Rob, Sara and I made it to the top by crawling on all fours – quite an accomplishment. When I took a few photos and the flash went off, you could see millions of tiny sand particles in the air floating around us – undetectable to the human eye.
We slept outside to catch the cooling breeze. I was awakened by the wind and the sand hitting the mat surrounding me, as well as my sleep sheet. My pack was covered in a layer of sand (I had left it open).The wind had really picked up and I realized that my sleep sheet was covered in a fine layer of sand, as was everything else around me! It was still warm; the tent wasn’t an option. I woke up several times during the night covered in more sand. At one point I took pictures of the full moon. It lit up the whole desert, like having a night light in your bedroom.
Around 6:15 A.M. we took off again, back to civilization. The colors were beautiful, the sun strong. I was sad this experience was ending. Not only would I have a ton of blurry pictures, but I would also be carrying grains of sand in my pack and camera case for years to come.
You can read more of Sherry's travels at her blog.