At about 5.45 am we were woken up by our hosts, rapping on the little blackboards hanging outside each tent, reminding us that it was time to get up and out for our camel ride. I had been slightly hesitant about this trek the previous evening, having been warned that being up close and personal to a camel was not exactly the nicest thing to subject oneself to on waking. Apparently they smelt and ‘were inclined to spit or sneeze’. Toby also gleefully informed me that they had ‘really terrible halitosis’, but despite this description reminding me somewhat of an ex, I actually found myself genuinely excited to be confronted by our kneeling group of slightly bored-looking, cud-chewing animals. At the start of this journal, I compared the 2CV’s to the reindeer in ‘The night before Christmas’ and now I find myself comparing the camels to the seven dwarfs in Snow White …. grumpy, sleepy, sneezy, dopey …you get the gist. They made me smile just looking at them.
I was extremely glad to get into the saddle; whereas the sand had been cool yesterday evening, it was now freezing and given that I had despatched with my flip-flops in order to get on the camel more easily, the ground felt more like snow than sand. Top-tip: wear something a bit more robust at this time of day! My camel seemed docile enough and sure enough after a bit of grunting (on the camels part) and clinging on for dear life (on my part) were were up,up and away, slowly plodding along through the half light.
Image: Alex Broadway
Dear reader – please, please put this experience on your ‘bucket list’. Having had the privilege of also witnessing sunset over the Grand Canyon some years ago, I personally feel that this was a more serene, gentle experience but I fear my writing does not do justice to the wonderful feeling of sheer joy as we gently ambled into the sunrise surrounded only by softly changing pink and blue sky and miles and miles of undulating burnished sand ebbing and flowing into the distance. The silence is unique; it’s not exactly total silence, as you can hear the sound of the soft-shoe shuffle of the camels as they carefully navigate their human cargo up the dunes. This is punctuated occasionally by a light peal of nervous laughter from a fellow rider as they get to grips with either the camel under them or behind them – but it is pretty near pin-drop perfect. Everything is soft, muted and mesmeric. After about fifteen minutes we dismount and clamber up the dunes by foot, once again taking slightly different routes to our different posts, eagerly waiting for nature to do her thing.
Well, if I thought that the sunset was beautiful yesterday, then sunrise was even more breathtakingly so today. I am sure most of us took the opportunity in this magical place to have some time of quiet contemplation, putting our busy lives into perspective and possibly have a feeling of ‘being at one’ with something bigger than us. Scanning the horizon you could see little clumps of people dotted around the peaks of dunes – and despite the occasional whir and click of a camera or smart phone, we were all very respectful of our immediate neighbour’s silence and thoughts.
There is also something almost sensual about the curves, dips and hollows of the dunes that continuously change subtly in front of you. A dune that looked as though it could be cupped in your hand was probably a couple of miles or more away. The texture of the sand is like nothing you can experience on a beach – it is fluid, velvety.
Once dawn had risen in all her glory, we were back on the camels and returning to our camp, delighting the camera crew as we provided plenty of images of camel-train shadows and silhouettes.
Images: Alex Broadway
After saying a fond farewell to our four-legged friends we literally decamped to the hotel about 20 km up the road. Arriving at the Kasbah Tombouctou, and ignoring the rather garish large fake camels that adorn the entrance to the hotel – we found another typically warm Moroccan welcome and a fantastic little place mixing traditional mud render, architecture and ambience with quirky fixtures and fittings.
As a free day – a couple of the group went out and had fun zipping backwards and forwards on sandy planes and dunes. Whilst others relaxed by the pool and soaked up some more of the Moroccan sun, others studied the Grand National form and tried to find out more about the horse they had just drawn in the sweepstake. We heard that a couple of kilometres away runners were on day two of the Marathon des Sables prompting many of us to comment that whilst it was one thing to go across the desert in a 2 CV it was another thing entirely to run 147 kms; “totally bonkers” laughed one driver – adding that most of the runners were probably French. Joking aside, there was much respect for the feat of these driven men and women wanting to conquer this part of the Sahara.
Images: Alex Broadway
After a great day and as night fell on us and the 2CV’s once again I think we were all a little bit sad that the next day we would effectively be starting our return journey home.
Images: Alex Broadway