Blogs

The Sahara Desert

January 26, 2018

Monday 22nd January

We set off from Zagora to M’Hamid. It’s one road all the way, most of it is tarmac apart from a section in the mountain which is being resurfaced and part of the road is being re-routed. The signs as usual are not clear, we drive straight through the men working, around the machinery and end up following a bus because we just don’t understand where we are supposed to be going.

We arrive at the campsite, Camping Boussole which is right on the edge of town. As soon a we stop we see ‘Paulo’ the young Italian hitchhiker that we had dropped off in Zagora 2 days previously, this boy is travelling faster than we are lol. He didn’t like Zagora and managed to get a lift within an hour of us dropping him off. He slept in the desert last night and was getting ready to go again tonight, dream fulfilled.

We check in with Jenny Kendall-Tobias for our 10 minutes of fame on BBC Radio Guernsey. It didn’t go too badly, although I’d rehearsed in my head what I was going to say, I didn’t say any of it lol, maybe next time.

The host at the campsite shows us into our camping spot for the night it’s a great spot overlooking the desert. M’Hamid is a tiny place one main street with a few side streets but there are plenty of local people around. Our only reason for coming to M’Hamid is to spend the night at Erg Chigiga. Erg Chigiga are large dunes measuring 60 metres high, 15km wide and 40km long in the Sahara Desert about 20km from the Algerian border. We’re not able to take Eugene into the desert and this is where the big trucks that we’ve seen have an advantage over us. Jodie and Shaun make sure you get a big truck lol.

There is no shortage of agencies in M’Hamid to arrange an excursion to the dunes by 4WD or camel and choosing one could take hours after you’ve listened to the spiel and drank copious amounts of mint tea.

We leave the campsite and we walk past the first cafe when Ismail runs out offering a trip, at first we try to ignore him but he has the Moroccan patter he knows what to say and is saying all the right things. Ismail is a young lad 20ish and he certainly stands out from the others with his black leather jacket and bright orange headgear piled high on his head. He walks us up the street to the Dar M’Hamid guest house and we go out into the garden, he brings out the tea and we to listen what he has to offer. We decide to go with him, it’s within the range Keith and I had in mind 2300 dhm (£190) although I’m sure we could have got it cheaper if we could be bothered to spend the hour with the other agencies. It’s all arranged for 11am tomorrow.

We walk back down the street, there’s a bit of a crowd gathering in one of the side streets a camel has been skinned and is being butchered in the street. We later learn from Ismail that the camel is for a neighbours wedding, it will be cooked for the guests which include the village and the nearby villages, it will be a big party.

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Back at the campsite the host comes over for a chat, he’s quite pleasant at first, but when we decline his offer to take us to the desert tomorrow, we tell him we’ve already booked with someone else he doesn’t want to talk to us anymore and says he gave us the best camping spot so tomorrow we can move our van to the area outside the campsite, charming!

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It’s not a quiet place and we don’t get a lot of sleep, all night we can hear donkeys from the village and the dogs around the desert which we later learn have gathered in a large pack and have been tormenting a young camel which they have injured, so it’s only a matter of time before they kill it.

Tuesday 23rd

We’re up and awake early and have surprise visitors, Guido and his wife, the German couple we spent New Years Eve with. We were pleased to see them and spend the next 30 minutes catching up, I was encouraged that they noticed a difference in my face since we last met them and Guido had some good news of a serious illness that he had been diagnosed with, so it was all good news.

We moved Eugene into the parking area next to the campsite. With our overnight bag packed with long sleeved and long leg pyjamas, a couple of litres of water, 4 hard boiled eggs and a large bag of crisps (Keith doesn’t want to starve) we made our way up the street to meet Ismail, on the way we got ourselves a scarf each for the camel ride lol.

A luxury 4WD vehicle arrived with a driver and Ismail would be our English speaking guide for the trip. We set off across the desert, miles and miles of scrub land, then miles and miles of sand with lush green thrown in. We saw donkeys and hundreds of camels making their way to the green areas and to find water. We stopped off at a well which appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, two women sat beside it doing their washing! We headed off to the oasis and the source of the water, which was a rather unimpressive very small pool of water which comes down from the mountains.

Our driver was amazing, although there are a few clear tracks he manoeuvred the car over the stony ground and sand dunes as if he was driving down a country road, Shaun and Jodie this is your kinda drive. I would imagine the tracks are ever changing as the sand moves from the vehicles and the ever present wind moulding and remoulding the dunes.

After a 2 hour drive we arrived at the campsite, it was amazing. The campsite was placed inbetween the sand dunes 4 guest tents, a restaurant and a small open tent for sitting outside. Toilet (European) and shower (solar) in a mud building and the kitchen tent. We were shown our tent by Ali, 2 metal framed single beds pushed together to make a very large double and a single bed all with large thick blankets on the beds and a small table in the corner. A mix of rugs and carpet on the floor and a solar light that would work once it got dark. I’m not really sure what we were expecting but we’re happy, there’s no one else here and we are the only guests for the next 24 hours. Ismail says dinner will be ready in an hour so we kick off our shoes (we don’t put them back on until we leave the next day) and head up the dunes to have a look around.

On one side we can see the desert we have just travelled over and the other side miles and miles of sand dunes with the mountains separating Morocco and Algeria in the distance, not a sole to be seen and you can hear a pin drop, it’s amazing.

After lunch (chicken kebab and salad, with sliced oranges with cinnamon for dessert) we have a little snooze and then head back over the dunes. There are animal tracks all over the sand and big black beetles scurrying around, we imagine the prints belong to some sort of desert fox, a ratty/mousey type of creature, snakes and birds. Climbing up the dunes is quite hard with the sand slipping from under your feet, I do a roll down one side and a ‘sand’ angel. We sat at the top of the dune in silence until Ismail shouts that the camels are ready for our ride.

Ali is our guide, we get settled on the camels and Ali leads the way, not sure why we’ve got a spare camel lol. Last time Keith was on a camel we were in Egypt when it just wanted to lay down with him still on it he wasn’t very impressed but we laughed, didn’t we Denise and Bougs lol. Ali guided us up and over and around the dunes for about 30 minutes until we came to one of the higher dunes. Once we scrambled to the top Keith need oxygen, but it was so worth it. We could see for miles and miles and as the sun started setting it changed the whole look of the place, it was absolutely magical. We could see two people high up on a dune nearby and 2 people behind us, we had expected see lots of people but this is great. Ismail had told us there are 30 campsite like his in and around the dunes, we could only see the tops of 2 it’s an incredible place it’s massive. Once the sun had set, back on the camels and back to camp.

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After a fantastic dinner (fantastic vegetable soup, we opted for the vegetable tagine and a mixed fruit bowl for dessert) we settled by the campfire where Ismail and Ali played the drums and sang us traditional African music. We tried to take photos of the incredible starry night, but the moon is just a little too bright. By 10pm we call it a night, we’ve had a great day.

We add more blankets to the bed and get in to find the bed is full of sand which we thought it might be hence the long sleeved and legged pyjamas, but we are in the middle of the desert and there’s not much you can do about that. Neither of us sleep very well not sure why because it was deathly quiet. We were awake just after 7am to scramble up the dune to watch the sun poke it’s smiling face over the dunes. Breakfast (bread with jams, Kraft cheese triangles, boiled eggs, yogurt, orange juice, coffee and tea) then it was time for the 2 hour 4WD back to M’Hamid.

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We can honestly say we’ve had an incredible 24 hours, it was peaceful and quite, Ismail and Ali we always nearby but never intrusive. After 2 1\2 months of none stop travel it was just what we needed to re-energise, sitting back and let someone else doing the planning, thank you Ismail.  (Keith didn’t even eat his 4 boiled eggs and large packet of crisps lol).

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Wednesday 24th

Back at the campsite we gave Ismail a bottle of red wine and wished him well before we set off to Tassamine.

The road was great, one road all the way apart from the usual diversion for the roadworks, but this time they’ve laid a thick layer of soft sand along the road, there is no way we can get over that, so we have to wait whilst they push it around so we can pass over.  Yes the photo shows what they laid lol.

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Trying to find somewhere to stop for lunch is difficult in Morocco the roads all have deep ditches either side, you can drive for miles without finding a decent spot. We do manage to find somewhere along the road at the back of a village. There’s noone around but we can hear children, we finally see them a boy and a girl scrambling down the cliff side like little mountain goats, they must be no older than 5 years old. They come to the window and wait not saying a thing, I give them a sweet each which they take and off they scramble back up the cliff face as fast as they came down, my heart was in my mouth watching them.

Our campsite was about 10km outside of Tassamine. Camping Serdrar which is off the main road about 6km up an unpaved road which is better than some of the tarmac roads we’ve been on. Before we reach the campsite 3 little kids come running from nowhere they want shoes and jumpers, unfortunately the only thing we have to offer is a sweet which they gladly take. The campsite is within a walled enclosure with a hotel and camping huts. It’s lovely. The host greets us with tea and tells us where we can find fossils near the mountains nearby which are in walking distance. We have a great shower, bag a washing machine and order chicken tagine for our tea in the restaurant. We have a good nights sleep, no barking dogs or donkeys and the call to prayer is a faint noise in the distance.

Thursday 25th

We’re up early and pack the rucksack with some fruit and our water bottles and head across the scrub land towards the mountains about 3km away. This area is good for fossils and the campsite host has shown us a few examples of what we could find. We hike up the mountain side and find an area which is covered with exposed fossils on the larger rocks and we manage to find a few smaller ones to bring back with us, but we fail to find the impressive fossils the campsite host had shown us, but we’re happy with our find. We walked for nearly 10km, so today we had a good work out and it was hot. I was the casualty of the day misjudged my footing (with my eye patch on) and slipped on the loose rocks grazing my wrist.

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Over the next week we will be going to Erb Chebbi before making our way west towards Marrakesh, still undecided if we are going to stop in this mad capital before we head up north.

We’ve been away for 49 days and we’re back on budget, yippee.

1. We’ve been in Morocco 41 days

2. We’ve travelled 1’813 miles on Moroccan roads

3. We’ve spent in Morocco

£280.43 on diesel

£175 eating out and drinking coffee

£388 on shopping (and booze)

£243 on camp fees

Average spend with everything included is currently £44 a day.

BBC Radio Guernsey have booked in another slot with us on Thursday 1st February at 10.40am internet permitting so listen in peeps.

Once again thanks to everyone who is following us along this trip, for all your comments on the webpage and facebook and private messages that we get, we’re really grateful that you’ve all taken the time and shown an interest in our grown up adventure.

a la perchoine

Shirena and Keith xxxxx

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9 Comments

  • Reply Ali Benn January 26, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    What an experience! The photos are really good, but my favourite is probably the night sky one – that is incredible. Can’t remember the last time I saw stars in the sky, only heavy cloud! I hope you are wearing skin products with a high factor to protect you, don’t want to end up looking like a leather handbag, eh? Good that you are living to your budget – which means you can keep going for longer. Keep safe, but with that eye patch, I reckon it would be a brave bandit to take you on, Shirena …..

    • Reply Shirena January 26, 2018 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks Ali, the trip to the Sahara was incredible, we had such a good time and really felt refreshed when we got back to Eugene. Skin protection, well it’s in the bag so we know it’s there, but a good quality leather handbag isn’t so bad 🤔

  • Reply Kari January 27, 2018 at 7:49 am

    Thanks to both of you your diary really makes me feel I’m with you on this journey x

    • Reply Shirena January 27, 2018 at 8:24 am

      Thanks Kari that’s what we were hoping. Hope all is good with you, Bill and Nicki xx

  • Reply Sandra exall January 27, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Incredible journey. I m loving reading all about your trip…….me and hubby wishing we were brave enough to take the leap 😀

    • Reply Shirena January 27, 2018 at 7:22 pm

      Hi Sandra, we are so glad that we are doing this, we don’t have a bottomless pit of money for this we’ve got a budget and when it’s gone we’re coming home, getting jobs and start saving all over again. Thanks for coming along on the journey and hopefully it will inspire you to be brave. Shirena

  • Reply Sandra exall January 27, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    Amended e mail

  • Reply Julie smith January 29, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Finally caught up! So interesting to read how your daily life is going. One thing, can you get cappuccino? 😉

    • Reply Shirena January 29, 2018 at 6:23 pm

      Hi Julie, no cappuccino lucky if you can get coffee with milk, most is mint tea. You wouldn’t survive lol 😂😂

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