I may have mentioned elsewhere on the website that trekking in the desert is like no other trekking experience. Last year, I had the privilege to experience 4 seasons in 4 days whilst trekking in the Sahara, mid-May. Let’s say it was my first taste of a true desert storm.
I made a 5 day desert trek earlier this year, winter-time, starting and finishing in M’hamid El Ghezlane. This time I saw the forces of nature & man in new ways. The desert appeals to us because we think of it as a fiercely hot, uninhabitable wilderness, with scorched earth and dunes. This is only partly true…
Life can inhabit the desert, and not just human life. The desert can be very green in parts, we trekked through groves of tamarisk trees, past acacias and a palmeraie; criss-crossing animal tracks are left in the sand and we discover these particularly in the early morning; birds are drawn to the camp each night looking for food; herds of camels and mules are put out to graze and watched over by semi-nomadic farmers; and we come across the abandoned village settlement of Erg Smar, on the banks of the now dry Draa River.
The Draa has dried up since a man-made dam was constructed closer to its source approx. 20 years ago. Hence, the humans were then forced to leave their village – you still see the outline of fields and gardens to this day, marked out beneath the palm and tamarisk trees. It undoubtedly must have been a true oasis in the desert and there is a sense of loss here.
The Draa River bed is so vast, the lack of water stops you in your tracks. We have followed the course of the Draa since the start of the trek (and even since the road south of Ouarzazate, some 300km behind us) and now we cross it, a bed of sand. There is water at the Draa but deep underground and accessed by a well. We stop with one of our camels to replenish our supply at the well. Also, a perfect opportunity for a wild shower!
Winter time in the desert shows the extreme in temperature and unpredictable conditions. The Moroccan sun is exceptionally hot but nights are very cold. The cold catches us unaware during the penultimate day – the wind starts howling from 2am and it doesn’t stop until 6pm. I am inside my tent with blankets & equipment as it starts to become airborne at 3am!
Walking against the wind, an easterly, is tough going and thankfully we only have 4.5hrs to walk today. It is such a cold wind that I find wearing my alpine down jacket and thermal layers during the day a great help (I’m dressed for the snow, not the sand)! The cold wind allows us to really appreciate the warmth of the dining tent and our 3 course lunch over a game of cards. The campfire is built up earlier than usual in the evening and we huddle around it to make bread in the sand beneath the hot coals (we always make extra bread for our camels too). Everyone eats well tonight as the best dish is saved until the last night by our chef – lamb tagine with prunes and eggs.
My final, enduring memory of the trek is the full moon – yes, we lost out on the usual star-gazing, due to the incredible light in the sky this week! But watching the sun set from the top of the Dunes d’Hurlante, with the full moon already in the sky, was a special sight and the colours above us were breathtaking.
I always enjoy my trips to the desert, my only regret is always having to trek out of it and back to civilisation…