We left the Todra Gorge area and started on our way to the Sahara by way of Merzuga.  We knew it was going to be a long 6 hour hot drive to the desert kasbah that we were going to be staying at for the night.  We made a couple of pit stops along the way, usually at one of Mohammeds buddies places.  Either that or this guy knew everyone in Morocco.  He was always honking and waving at people and having stop light conversations with the people in the car next to us.

We stopped at a rest stop and he picked some dates for me from the palm tree, which were incredible.  I had no idea that dates came from palm trees.  Along the way, to break it up and keep the kids interested, we stopped at a couple of interesting places.

The other place we stopped was along a system of wells that they used to use to get water from.  They dug 5m wells down to the underground aqueduct where they would bring water up in buckets.  So as you can see below, there are all these wells mounded up in a straight line.  The mounds were formed by the dirt that they dug up when making the well.

Wilson and I took a look underground in the actual aqueducts.

shop where they mine for marble that has fossils embedded into it.  They then make them into everything from counters to sinks to toilets.  There was a plethora of these fossils, in heaps like, “Oh well, here is another 60 million year old snail.  Put it over there..”

Just before we get there, Mohammed decides to take an off road short cut.  WIlson is excited.  Lulu not so much as she is already feeling a bit ill from being in the car all day.  But it was fun and got to drive over some volcanic soil.

Finally we get to the place for the night and we did nothing more than check in, and then jump in the small dirty pool.  Who cares.  It was wet and we were hot.  The kids played in there for a couple of hours before we had a nice romantic family dinner under a trellis of vines and flowers.  The kids practically fell asleep in their plates and were off to LaLaLand.

On the edge of the Sahara…

The odd thing about the start of today was that I woke up before everyone else. Literally. The whole hotel was still asleep and there was no staff around in the desert kasbah where we were staying.  So, I grab the computer and head up to the terrace on the top of the kasbah to watch the sunrise.

I got to work on some of the travel stories that I am a bit behind on due to the slow wifi in this part of the world. It is Africa after all.

The sun rose and so did the rest of the family and we filled our bellies with an amazing Moroccan breakfast before we headed out on the camels for the start of our three day adventure into the Sahara desert (the hotel arranged the camel trek for us).

We got all of our desert garb on and fashioned our turbans on (Jane, I would like you to make some Moroccan camel pants when we get home. They are sooooooo comfy!), topped up the water bottles, and walked out to the camel parking lot where Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, and McLaren were waiting for us with our guide, Kassim.

The start of the walk with out guide, and we walk past a line of the wells in the desert.

I don’t think that they were going to set any speed records by the looks of it but that was their names nonetheless.

We decided to rename the camels. Wilson named his Freedom as he said on the first morning while he was riding that he felt like he was free and so happy. Lulu names hers Alex, Deb named hers Shebani (which means old in Berber), and the kids named mine Eisenhower after a character in the 39 Clues, which is an audiobook series that we listen to when we travel.

Then we headed off into the desert. We were all tied together and Kassim led the way. He has been a guide for 6 years and he goes out into the desert 1 to 2 times a week. He says he knows the desert like the back of his hand from this time and growing up in the desert with his nomadic family.

Did I mention it was hot? Holy crap.  It is a dry hot, so any available water from any orifice or surface is quickly evaporated. t is hot as soon as you go down into the valley between the dunes.  Thank goodness for the fact that there was a breeze blowing as that made the heat bearable, but you never actually had any sweat accumulate as it immediately evaporated.

There was absolutely no humidity.  So, contrary to what you would think, the long clothes actually kept moisture in or on your skin which helped you stay cool.  I had put my running compression calf sleeves on my forearms to protect from the sun and keep moisture in, and Deb and the kids had long sleeved shirts.

The other thing that helped a lot was our turbans. This kept our heads surprisingly cool and the trailing scarf covered our faces from the sun and the wind without being too hot. We occasionally found a tap where we could soak the scarf that we made the turban with which could drip on you and cool you off even more.  I imagined being at home and doing this in the winter while out on the lake skating or skiing, or snow blowing. I also wondered if I could do this during a run on a hot day!

In the middle of the day it was hotter than the hottest sand that we have ever been on. You had to wear shoes and it was still hot.

The camels plodded along and since I was on the oldest and biggest one in the front he made he most mobile bathroom breaks and passed gas the most which kept the kids laughing. Plus, they were behind me which meant they got the smell too…haha.  Suckers.

Their poop is so hard and round they are like Moroccan marbles. They need to suck every ounce of water out of each little turd. When they go on the top of the hill, the marbles run down the side of the dune until they reach the bottom. So you can imagine that in all of the valleys of the dunes, there are high density collections of camel crap. When we are on the flats, the Moroccan GPS is readily evident which the guides follow. This is just the line of camel droppings that have accumulated from the day previous (all the rest has disintegrated, sunk into the sand or eaten by insects).

We made it to our camp after a two hour crotch burning camel ride (we forgot to put bike chamois butter on…big mistake), and we were greeted by ice water, peanuts and almonds under a palm leaf canopy with beds in it. It was so awesome and quiet as no one was around with us at the camp since everyone else would be coming in during evening to see the sunset.

Our shelter for the night had a double bed for the girls, a single bed for me, and a shorty single for Wilson. There was a bathroom in the middle of the ring of shelters that had flush toilets and cold running water. Perfect! To keep our tender tootsies cool they had carpets laid down everywhere.

There was a stick and palm leaf shelter that provided enough shade for us to sit under, and there were a couple of mattresses to lie down.

We nestled into our shanty in the middle of nowhere so that we didn’t expend any extra energy than we needed as it was crazy hot and getting hotter by the minute. At least it was a dry heat. I could not imagine this place with humidity.

They brought an amazing big plate of fresh veggies, tuna, chicken and eggs as well as Moroccan bread, which we ate in various stages of coverage so that the flies wouldn’t eat it before we did.  Then they brought a massive omelette and fresh fruit.  Apparently the veggie plate was an appetizer.  The omelette was so good, but we couldn’t eat more than a couple of bites.

One thing that we hadn’t experienced until we got out of Marrakech, were the flies. They were like house flies but smaller and they moved faster. And there were hundreds of them wanting to land on your food, in your drink, in your bodily orifices that were exposed, and they loved scabs and feet.

Lulu and I tried to make it a mindfulness exercise. How long could you go without going completely bananas from the flies crawling all over you.  Breathe in. Breathe out. Breath i…ugh there is a fly in my nostril. Gross. Oh well, this is part of the Africa experience. We ate our food as a team, lifting kids and dishing out as you ate. Eventually you stopped caring too much about the flies walk-in all over your food and you gently swatted them away.

The kids were excited to be out in the middle of one of the worlds largest sandboxes, and Wilson spent time out in the heat of the midday kicking the soccer ball around and up the sides of the dunes, and it would roll back down. He got so hot, but he was so happy we didn’t want to stop him enjoying himself.

So we made a game out of his kick ball game. I cleared a patch of sand in the shade of the shelter and I wrote math questions in the sand and Wilson and Lulu did the questions, and then they got a kick of the ball up the “dune points ladder”. If they got them right and showed the work they got a bonus kick. Then they had to add their score up. Math, physics, and gym all rolled into one.

We continued Sahara’s School for Adventurous Kids with music class this involved playing bongos and coming up with rap songs.

Creative “writing” and story telling was next as we did anagrams for things around us, and collaborative story telling (each person says a word in a round).

Being stuck in the desert with no cards, games, devices, internet, or basically anything, forced us just to lie on the mats in the shade and relax and just be with one another. It was like forced family therapy, but it was amazing and time I would not have traded for anything.

As the sun started to set, it started to cool down. A bit. So, Wilson and I headed out for a hike along the dunes and took to snowboard with us to try sliding down some dunes. It was a lot of fun, but our guide took us out later at sunset to surf down some really big dunes. And we all had a chance to slide down the dunes and fill our shoes with the fine red sand before we headed back to the camp.

The kids got to go on a ride around the dunes before everyone arrived

Apparently running down the dunes and faceplanting is fun!

By the time we got back the other guests had arrived and we joined them for some tea and snacks as the stars came out. Dinner was served really late in a tent was as hot as the middle of the day. But no wind. So we scarfed back the fantastic food and headed back outside where it was cooler. They made some candles in the sand and Lulu buried herself in the sand while Wilson pounded on the bongos.

It wasn’t long before we said it was time to go to bed so we could get up and watch the sun rise over the Sahara. My bed was right in front of the door and we slept with the door open. I didn’t want to wear my shorts so the options were to sleep naked and let people walk by and laugh, or for me to put on a tank top on upside down and at least cover up most of it. I opted for this and it was like wearing crotchless panties and I could not have cared less. But Deb and the kids had a good laugh. Oh well, I won’t see these people ever again…

Here is a gallery of some of the other photos from the day…