January 4-5, 2007

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We camp in the Sahara desert! Well, almost the Sahara. The real Sahara is about 15km from our camp.

Revealing story:
Version #1: We were told "you'll see the sunset, enshallah" (God willing). We didn't believe it -'cause the distance/time to get to camp by sunset was just too great. We arrived 2 hours after sunset. Version #2: Before we left, we were told "we'll wake up at 6 and ride camels to see the sunrise, enshallah." Once we were in the dunes, we were told "we'll wake up at 6, get you up and guide you to the dunes, see the sunrise, come back for breakfast and then ride the camels." Version #3: What actually happened? Justin & I woke up at 6, no guides, at 7:00 we walked by ourselves into the dunes. Guides woke up around 7:30. We did get breakfast at 8 and we did ride the camels.

It was explained to us that Moroccans are polychronic and most Europeans/Americans are monochronic. So the disorganization and not following plans is just a cultural trait - plans just aren't that important.

Feel free to right click and "Save As..." pictures you especially like for personal use. For the high resolution original, email me at logrus101 at yahoo dot com. We humbly ask for credit. If you are linking to these or using them for non-personal use, ask permission at the same email address. ^_^

To get to the campground, we go offroad for about 20 KM. Mathieu is driving a small 1.4L car with 4 people in it, in the dark. Needless to say, we get stuck in the sand.
One of the guys takes over and does the driving. He only gets stuck once!
This is Justin & Mathieu's tent. It is made of bamboo, some plastic and ... rugs. The rugs sort of keep the wind out.
The lighting you see in this picture is about 30 minutes after sunset. It is quite dark - luckily Justin & I both have flashlights. In fact, we have that crank flashlight - which was quite useful (and made the Berber caravan crew jealous). Once the full moon rose we could see pretty clearly. It was so bright I could read outside without a light. Cool!
This is a better picture of the end of the sunset. The white dot is the moon. When this picture was taken, you still needed to use a flashlight.
Our hut has rugs on the floor and a table. They bring the usual mint tea service plus some candles.
We got delicious brochettes of lamb. The meat had been rubbed with a lot of spices and roasted on top of the fire. You can also see the bread in the bottom of the picture. Moroccans make great, flavorful breads
About 2 hours later (10 PM), we got a couscous. What you see are carrots and other vegetables that have been stewed together along with some chicken. They are all layered on top of the couscous. The couscous is steamed, unlike the way we've cooked it. The broth on the side is to put on the couscous. This was the best couscous/tangine I've ever had.

Note that they gave us spoons. If we had been real Moroccans, we would be eating with the three fingers of our right hand and no utensils.

The Berbers living at the camp were kind enough to join us and play their instruments and sing. The guy on the left is playing a drum which is made of a ceramic shell with camel skin. It produces a rich deep sound when hit in the middle and a very tinny sound when hit on the side. The guy in white is playing a 3 string guitar. The strings are made from Camel guts. The backing is made of a combination of wood and stretched camel skin. It is a very difficult instrument to tune.

The singing is very energetic and rhythmic. They used a lot of triplets and syncopation. I was able to record some of the singing. Click to listen to sample 1 and sample 2

More singing. In this shot, you can see a different type of drum. The guitar is in the corner left of the shot. By the man in white's left arm, you can see a metal object. This is also an instrument - it works like a double sided, large castanet. We tried to play it - and we just couldn't keep up with the rhythms.
The guys are really getting into it
Everyone loves appreciative audiences. They were quickly our friends.
We promised them copies of these pictures.... They were very excited about that.
Once the sun sets, it gets quite cold. Our "beds" consisted of (a) the ground (b) a rug (c) 2 blankets. Justin was freezing-so he was wearing a lot of extra cloths.

Our friends ran out of blankets and they needed to arrange for the camels for the next morning. They ask if they could borrow the car. I'm a little bit apprehensive. It's late (midnight), dark, sandy and the middle of nowhere. It's also a rented car - under Mathieu's name only. I give them the key and tell them that I would be in big trouble if the car got scratched. They promise it will be fine and they will be back in 15 minutes. 30 minutes later (remember: polychronic) they give us some extra blankets.
The next morning, we look at the car. It's fine. What's interesting is that before leaving, they had drawn that symbol on the hood. When I ask, they tell me that it was to protect the car! It warmed my heart to think that they would do that extra bit - just to make sure that the car was fine.

We kept the symbol the rest of the time and never had any problems!

We get up at six. It's pretty dark. Around 6:45, the sun starts to rise, and we walk into the dunes. In this shot, you can clearly see the full moon, the glow of the sunrise against the sand and the amazingly steel blue sky. I'm facing the sunrise in this shot.

You can also see that I'm freezing - it's probably 35F at that point.

This is before we can see the sun in the horizon. The sand dunes make an interesting color contrast.
This shot is pointing east.
At 7:20, the sun is peeking...
At 7:21, you can see it much better. Boy-is it fast!
The sand dunes and the mountains in the west change to this beautiful pink color.
The dunes warm up pretty quickly. By 8:30, we're already taking some layers off
Our tent.... Now you can really see how the walls are actually rugs
When we come back from our walk, they had set the rugs and the table outside our tent.
The cook brought us breakfast.
Someone brought the camels They are really Dromedares or Arabian Camels because they only have one hump. We learned a few things about camels from the Berbers (and Wikipedia) such as:
  • Average life span is between 30 and 60 years old. The taller one (first in the picture) is a full grown male - 20 years old. The smaller one is 15 years old - adolescent.
  • The hump is fat, not water. The fat is converted into energy *and* water. This allows them to go without water for 2-3 weeks.
  • Once they find water, they drink for a long long time. When they urinate, they do it for a long time. We witnessed this. Sometimes - up to 3 hours
  • They eat everything - including meat
  • Moroccans will eat camels and drink their milk. We found camel sausage in supermarkets. Camel taste kind of like "fish": greasy and light.
  • They can move pretty fast - up to 40 mph (64km)
  • They walk very quietly. Their hooves are padded much like elephants. When they walk in the sand, you just hear a little swoosh as the sand gets compressed
  • The way they walk and their hump shape makes for a pretty uncomfortable ride. Because they are broader than horses, and because of the hump, it's a very stable ride. Because you can't squeeze with your legs, your butt moves up and down more with the obvious consequence :)
  • They bray just like banthas from Star Wars
  • Camels are led - you can't steer them. This means that you can't really take a camel and go explore a new region of the desert. That's makes them only really useful as pack animals
  • Mathieu riding the camel. Note the fairly wide back.
    Larger camel - in close up.
    Caravan we see as we ride
    The sand dunes had lots of different paw prints. We think that this is a shot of Kangaroo rats sliding down the dunes. You can see the prints before they slide down
    Our friends- rewrapping Mathieu's head
    Our friends spend a lot of time playing music. When we come back from the camel ride, they were playing. When we walked around later, they were playing.... Great entertainment.

    Click to see movie

    If you ever want to go into the sahara for short or long trips - these guys did a great job. Call them up :)
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