May 16, 2010 — 7:30 pm
Forget everything I said before. This place is not romantic. It’s deadly, unforgiving, and miserable. Full of pain and agony.
Okay, maybe not that bad, but right now Laura and I are in low spirits. We’re tired. We ran out of mineral water, and can’t help but remember how Rashid carelessly drank some, and used some more for dishes and washing on our first day. Rashid can drink the well water, but we can’t for legitimate fear that the bacteria and microbes will make us sick. We’ve put some treatment pills in a bottle of well water, but have to wait two hours for them to do their work. We’re very thirsty, and have aches and pains throughout our bodies. Rashid said it would be an hour from our lunch spot, but it’s actually been about three, and the heat is the harshest we have experienced. My little travel compass/thermometer maxed out today at an unbearable 50 degrees Celsius.
We’re at Erg Chigaga as I write this, finally, but rather than feel proud or excited by this unique place, we feel hollow and taken advantage of. The man in Zagora who sold us our camel trek, Mohammed, was very friendly, with a sincerity of laughter that bespoke of a straight-forward and honest business man. So when we asked him questions about how long each leg of “the ride” would be, and how long we would be “on the camels on any given stretch”, his answer of three to four hours satisfied us. Yet here we are. It’s the end of our last day in the desert, we’re at Erg Chigaga, the great 40km expanse of dunes on the Algerian border, and we haven’t been on a damn camel once. We walked 60km through the Sahara Desert to get here, and we’re feeling too beat physically and mentally to climb the great 300m dune that’s just right over there.
We asked after the camels again when we arived. Rashid’s response was the same as usual: apres, apres, “after, after.” This time we pushed him. “After what, Rashid? After we set up camp?”
“Wahha, wahha,” he said. “Okay, okay.”
But then, before we knew it, he sent the camels off into the distant plain to feed. We can see them now, from where we sit atop a small dune. They’re at least 4km away and the light is failing fast. There’s no way we can muster the energy to get out to them, and no way Rashid can collect them before sun down. We simply can’t understand why he won’t let us ride them. Laura is very disappointed and upset. I can’t blame her, either. She never rode a camel while she lived in Saudi Arabia. During her one opportunity she was too young and scared to give it a go, and her hopes of making up for it by spending three days on one have been sunk. Riding a camel was one of her main goals coming to Morocco, and we thought we had it all but cinched when we booked our tour.
At this moment, right now, we are in one of the lows that make the highs of travel feel so amazing in comparison. It sounds like a small thing, riding a camel, but after the beating heat and strain of walking 60km in the desert, that small thing is the whole world to us right now. We’re pissed off, frankly.
One of my goals on this trip, and in my life, is to “live without expectation,” what the Hindus call “relinquishing the fruits of your labour.” While I can’t claim to be there yet, I am trying. But it’s not easy. This trip was not what we expected. We’ve decided to take it up with Mohammed when we see him after. For now, I’m not sure my tired legs can even get me up one of the bigger dunes to watch the sun go down. My ankle is swollen like a baseball and each step is agony.
That was my last entry in my journal from the dessert. It’s a sour note to end on, and one I’m happy to say didn’t last long. Within five minutes of that entry, we had purged the negativity from our systems. Me, through writing it down, pretty much as you’ve just read it, and Laura through telling me how she was feeling and shedding a few stressed-out, tired, tears. We enjoyed a hug and felt some of the excitement and challenge come back to us. Aching, dehydrated, tired to the bone, we egged each other on and raced up the dunes, toward the highest peak of Erg Chigaga. The sunset was coming on fast. We could see several other visitors silhouetted at the top of one of the lesser dunes, watching the sunset we had sought for four days through the desert. No doubt they had been brought out that afternoon in the relative comfort of a 4WD, and the thought of them enjoying what we had earned while we sat and moped buoyed us on further, until we were panting and gasping for breath as our tired legs carried us up one, then another of the big dunes. Soon we were on the ridge leading to the top of the biggest. The 4WD crowd were no doubt too lazy to bother climbing it, we told each other, laughing.
“Good,” we declared. “We earned it. Those bastards couldn’t get through the desert. They probably have air-conditioned tents down there.”
And although we made the top moments after the sun had dipped below the horizon, the effort had redeemed us. The sunset didn’t matter. Being here didn’t really matter, either. But the effort of just getting here did, camels or no camels. That last sprint redeemed us, and it redeemed a desert trek that will live with us always, standing out among months of travel as something unlike anything else we’ve ever done.
It also didn’t hurt that we ran into Mohammed that night. The next morning, Laura got her camel ride after all.
This is the final part of a six-part series on our camel trek in the Moroccoan Sahara. To read the full story, please click here.