New Year’s Eve in the Sahara Desert? Why not!
When my partner first suggested spending New Year’s Eve in Morocco’s Sahara Desert as part of our two-week itinerary through the country, the idea evoked romantic notions of a luxurious tent, starry skies, warm breezes and candlelight. Who wouldn’t want to spend a magical night in the folds of this mystical desert?
The reality was quite different: a cold, windy evening huddled around a campfire.
The morning of December 31
Our journey began in Merzouga, at the Erg Chebbi dunes, along the Algerian border. These giant hills of smooth sand are famous for their great height and size and are one of the greatest sights of Morocco. Historically, getting to the dunes was incredibly challenging, as travellers had to pass through some of the flattest and most barren areas imaginable as they followed the Saharan Caravan Route to carry salts, gold, slaves, and spices to Timbuktu.
After some off-roading and dry, dusty roads in our 4×4, we arrived at our hotel, changed into warmer clothes, and hopped on our new transportation. Our caravan of about 10 camels began its 90-minute trek to the campsite.
On the outskirts of the massive sand dunes, it seems barren and lifeless. But once you enter the desert, all discomfort is forgotten. It is awe-inspiring.
All I could see was a sea of sand. These ever-changing shapes carved by centuries of relentless winds, and a spectrum of colours reflected the warmth and diversity of the light, constantly shifting and evolving.
Just as the sun was setting, our caravan arrived at our destination – a berber tent set in at the base of the dunes. We paused and enjoyed the warmth of the golden sun glimmering on the sculpted sands.
Sunset changed everything
As the sun went down, the temperature dropped. Clearly, hoodies were not going to suffice. As darkness descended, we scurried off to claim a room in the large tent complex.
Soon, we discovered an empty tent with a bed covered in two wool blankets, with a blanket as a door. By this time, the temperature was close to zero. The only heat in the room would come from us. As I gazed at the contents of my backpack, I realized that this would not be a night for sheer lingerie. Indeed, I had not brought anything remotely appropriate for a freezing night in the Sahara Desert.
Desperately seeking warmth, I headed for the campfire hoping to soothe my sore limbs, along with about 60 other explorers from multiple countries. I was dressed warmly but there was no question that we were ill-prepared without wool socks, gloves or hats. I was immensely grateful for my large Moroccan scarf.
Grateful for the campfire
Throughout the evening, we e were entertained by the Berber folk musicians around the campfire. English was definitely the minority language, as we shared tagine and stories with our fellow adventurers from Spain, France, South America, Portugal, Italy and Germany.
Just before sunrise, we were awakened by our guides to ride our camels across the frosty dunes to return to the hotel. As the warmth of the sun flooded into our faces, we were reminded of the power of human endeavour and grateful for the opportunity to connect with the earth in a way very few experience. A magical experience indeed!