Craig got this great idea about six months ago: we should take a little camel ride in the desert, and then spend the night in a tent amidst the sand dunes. As I always say, you can find anything on the Internet. Before I could say Insha’allah, (God willing,) we were booked. Monday afternoon found us bouncing across nine kilometers of unpaved roads, headed for the camel stable and Auberge Sud, a beautiful hotel that we were not staying in.
Just a year ago, I attempted a little horseback riding while in Nicaragua, and ended the afternoon with a concussion and the worst bruise of my life on my jaw, where the horse clobbered me with his head. Since then, I’ve had a bit of PTSD around large four-legged creatures, so I was really being a good sport about this whole camel idea. They are much bigger than horses, you know. Plus there aren’t any stirrups, or even any reins! I had a metal T-bar to hang onto, which I did, with everything I had. Oh, did I mention how hard it is to get on a camel when you have a 29 inch inseam? Go ahead – picture it.
After about 45 minutes’ bumpy ride, we caught up to another group of about 20 riders, and scampered around the sand dunes to watch the sun set. Then it was back on onto the dromedary for another hour, but this time in the dark. Finally we reached camp and dismounted for the night.
Once the sun set, the temperature plummeted to about 7 degrees C. I don’t even want to know the conversion to Fahrenheit. Our camel wrangler Hassan cheerily informed us that we would be okay, because he made our bed himself and put six blankets on it. He was right, too. We kept all our clothes on with the exception of our coats, and managed to survive the sleepless night. Sleepless because the mattress was concrete hard and the blankets were so heavy it was nearly impossible to move, and because the 20 college kids did not sleep a wink. Those youngsters stayed up all night drinking, (they had smuggled wine into this alcohol-free country,) playing drums, giggling in four different languages, and eating everything they could scrounge. The guides sounded the wake up call at 5:50, and I was only too happy to call it a night.
Watching the sun come up in the Sahara Desert is a heart-lifting experience. The sand becomes a wonderful, rich shade of rosy golden brown. Even the camels look good, bathed in that glow. After an hour or so of climbing around the dunes, Craig and I were treated to a private breakfast outside next to a fire. Well, private once we paid off the five little children with the sad puppy faces who were experts at wrenching our emotions and extorting money from us so we could eat in peace. Then back on those lovely camels for another 90 minutes or so.
I asked Hassan what their names were, and he said Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley. Then he admitted that they don’t names the camels, and instead refer to them as that brown camel or this white one. Easy to remember, I suppose.
As we plodded along, Hassan pointed to the mountains in the distance and noted that we could see Algeria, about 35 km to the east. I hadn’t realized we were that close to the border, and I admit to a bit of unease. Of course there was another part of me that wanted to detour over and collect their stamp in my passport.