I spent days trawling the internet for different ideas, expeditions and treks but there was only one trip that I knew would truly challenge me... the Sahara Desert Trek!
Having booked the trip in July, Feb 18th 2016 seemed reassuringly far away. However Christmas soon came and went and suddenly the panic set in for the fast approaching event. The next few months involved frantic shopping trips obtaining the hundreds of items on the provided kit list. Hours of promoting my Justgiving page to encourage donations and sponsorship, not to mention many a drenched hike through the muddy fields of the West Country in preparation for the extreme trekking. The thought of having to spend three nights sleeping on the floor with no shower and zero hygiene facilities didn’t even bear thinking about at this point but before I knew it the day had arrived.
After an unsociable 4:15am wake up, I was at Gatwick Airport ready to greet the other 11 trekkers with whom I would be spending the next 6 days of my life and to finally embark on my big adventure. We had a 3 and a half hour flight to Marrakesh followed by a 5 hour minibus journey through the Atlas Mountains to our hotel in Ouarzazate. Luckily due to the early start the bulk of the trip was spent catching up on some zzz’s. The journey was interestingly sound tracked by the minibus playlist provided by the local driver. This consisted of about 10 songs from the likes of Bob Marley, Lionel Richie and the late great Michael Jackson, played on constant repeat.
On the route we stopped for some lunch in the mountains and were surprised to see snow! We had come to the Sahara desert for a challenging trek in the blazing sun and were somehow surrounded by the most snow any of us had seen all year. Once the smell and warmth from the beautiful tagines of food presented had drifted across the table, everyone’s worries about the cold were temporarily forgotten. We bundled back on the bus and finished our journey through the mountains to our ‘Hotel Oscar’.
After our last night of hotel comforts, the team set off once again in the Minibus with our now very familiar playlist, humming along to ‘I shot the Sheriff’ which unbeknown to us at that time would be stuck in all our heads for the entirety of the trek. We were all given blue head scarfs that were worn by the local Berbers as the colour did not absorb the sun keeping us cooler. Aziz, our main tour guide, showed us how to wear them properly turning us all into extras from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. We travelled through beautiful towns that had been built around large Oasis’ where they grew dates and figs on big green trees that stood out against the striking terracotta landscape. We finally stopped at the edge of the vast desert for some lunch before starting our epic journey.
The group split into the 4 by 4’s and began making the bumpy ride into the desert. The cars suddenly stopped and we got out in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, which it actually was. Aziz shouted across to everyone “Yalah” which meant “let’s go” and so off we set trekking into the desert.
Our first afternoon walking involved a range of terrains from low rising dunes to gravelled tundra. The group quickly spread out as we settled into our different walking speeds. The wind was strong and so we all pulled our headscarf’s up around our faces to avoid eating too much sand. We arrived at our camp and saw the cosy little orange tents which we would be sharing with our room buddies for the next three nights. As the sun set the camp became very cold very quickly and so everyone wrapped up warm and huddled in the communal tent together, keeping out of the wind. The food was delicious and it quickly became apparent that our chef Omar was a culinary genius. After some mint tea we all made our way to our tents in preparation for a full day of trekking the next day.
I woke up to a chorus of snoring that rang through the tents and the faint grumble of the camels being readied for the day by the local tour guides. I could not tell whether I was more excited or terrified. The wind was still strong and so we all layered up in an attempt to reduce the amount of sand that was inevitably going to get in every nook and cranny. In preparation for the day ahead we had a big breakfast which consisted of everything you could possibly think of including pancakes and chocolate spread.
We set off battling against the wind as it blew up over the dunes and straight into our faces. There was nowhere the sand couldn’t get. We stopped for a refreshment break and I attempted to put on some sun cream. It felt like I was having my face exfoliated as the sun cream mixed into a film of sand that had formed over my skin. We walked on until lunch where the local tour guides had set up a tent where we could get some respite from the relentless wind. The food was fantastic as always but we seemed to be sharing the tent with a family of desert beetles that scuttled around our feet (much to my displeasure).
After lunch the pace slowed, as some had become tired and we had begun our climb across the mountainous Chigaga Dunes. Just as we reached the peak of yet another towering dune, we spotted camp in a dip below, everyone cheered. It had been a very long day’s walking and we had covered 17 miles over sand. As a reward the brilliant Omar had somehow managed to rustle up handmade donuts which seemed to taste all the better after the long day’s trek.
Read part 2 tomorrow. . .