After some back-and-forth between Brahim, the helpful guy at the Douz Camping Club reception with the very throaty Arabic-accented French, and our knowledgeable German friends Birgit and Dieter, we came up with a plan to spend a few hours out in the Sahara on camels.
We had the option to do an overnight trip (or even a week-long trip), but in the end we decided a shorter venture would be enough for now — we wanted to be far enough out in the desert to get away from the lights of any town, and immerse ourselves in the untainted starlight, but we couldn’t get far enough away by plodding camel, and the four wheel drive jeep trips were very expensive. Instead, we opted to do a day trip, and later, wild-camp out amongst the stars on the edge of the Chott el-Jérid, the big salt lake, following Birgit and Dieter’s suggestion.
So, Brahim called up for us and booked a trip out, and a taxi picked us up twenty minutes later. A short ride through the palms and we were at the “gateway to the Sahara”, a big concrete grandstand structure with a large arched opening in the middle, with nothing but low sand dunes beyond.
Our companion for the next few hours rounded the corner with two camels in tow behind, and we greeted each other. He directed the camels to kneel down, and we scrambled up and held on very tightly as they lurched to their feet again.
Those guys were freaking huge! We felt miles above the ground as we set off, bouncing around as we tried to adjust to the camels’ odd gait. Sitting astride these huge creatures was quite a stretch for our inner thigh muscles, and I’m pretty sure my legs can now bend backwards at the hip.
We headed out away from the town and soon all we could see was intricately-rippled sand dunes as we ambled along. The afternoon was sunny, warm and perfectly still, and it was very tranquil (apart from when our camel-wrangler’s mobile phone rang!). The dunes got bigger as we headed further out, our camel-wrangler leading them over larger ups and downs which sometimes caused some excitement:
We dismounted after riding for about forty five minutes, and stretched our protesting legs. We left the camels waiting patiently (mostly) while we wandered around, marvelled at this incredible, strange landscape and played in the amazingly fine Saharan sand.
I couldn’t stop admiring and taking photos of the amazing ripples in the sand — the patterns were stunning, and everything was immaculate and untouched. I was thinking I’d love to see a time lapse of these dunes over a period of weeks or even months — the landscape must be constantly in flux, with the never-satisfied-landscape designer that is the Saharan winds in control.
Best sandpit ever.
The sand was so fine that behaved in very interesting ways. It retained an impression of my fingerprints when I pressed my hand into it, and made interesting liquid-like patterns when you created mini-landslides by running your hand across it on a slope.
We found the immensity of the landscape a bit baffling; independently, we’d both sat on the dunes and idly dug our hands into the sand as deep as we could, musing on the fact that it’s sand, all the way down, and all the way over the horizon. That’s a lot of sand.
We got a bit silly after a while.
Eventually, it was time to make the trip back, so we re-camelled and set off.
On the way back, my dude got a bit impatient, being on a short rope attached to the camel in front, and got a little skittish, which was exciting, in a white-knuckled way. He got a few whacks on the flank for that, which we didn’t really like — poor guy!
It was surprising how quickly the warmth of the day faded once the sun dipped low on the horizon — it became quite chilly.
A fairly leisurely amble back to the “gateway”, interspersed by a little clinging on as my camel attempted a couple of shenanigans, and we dismounted, thanked our friendly camel-handler and somehow accidentally overpaid him by 30 DT (it was supposed to be 60 DT for the three hours). Haah! Oh well, hopefully we made his day.
We retired, did our best to remove the fine sand from our shoes, clothing, ears, hair and nursed our tired muscles. Awesome experience!