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Wed Feb 11 2015: Drums, Droms but No Camel Toe

Average rainfall in the Sahara Desert 2.5 cms per year. Which they got all of last night...

When we asked to cancel our reservation for the camel, er dromedary tour, the hotel wasn't that happy. They tried to convince us into heading out into the coming storm. But they were more than accommodating when we told them we were merely postponing our trek till tomorrow, thus guaranteeing an extra night in their expensive desert resort. Suddenly everyone was smiles again... :)

I did some research and while the whole of the Sahara only receives 25 mm (about an inch) of rain a year, it's mainly the eastern region of the desert that gets even less than that. The western section where we were staying gets about 100 mm annually, which explained the presence of the oasis around our hotel.

So we're not heavily cursed by rain, only just slightly jinxed...

Two Germans that were booked on the same dromedary tour that we were supposed to be on last night arrived back this morning. Although they had a good time, they told us that they didn't see a desert sunset and they were wearing rain clothes the entire trek. I'm so glad we have the freedom to adjust our schedules this way, it's such a luxury!

So today the weather is looking much better. There are still residual clouds from the shower last night, but we're hopeful we'll catch a nice sunset. This is only an overnight tour, and the path that we're taking is not far from the hotel, maybe a little further than where we hiked the morning before. But it's all about being on a camel, er dromedary! There are bivouacs set up just on the other side of the huge dune outside our hotel, and we're told it's a short dromedary ride around the corner.

There are some camel treks that take you three-days into the Sahara, but from what we saw yesterday morning, whether it's three days or one hour, you can get a pretty immersive experience either way.

Alice the dromedary has one hump...

Said, our tour guide, also works at the hotel and he brought out the same dromedaries that we saw yesterday. He gave Neda the one that she bonded with the day before, which was really nice, and we headed out into the desert, just the three of us. It was pretty cool not having to share the tour with anyone else so we could stop and take lots of pictures.

Said sends signals to the dromedaries with a series of clicks and noises made with his tongue

We found out that the dromedaries are rented by the tour guides from a stable around the corner. They are all trained to respond to the same clicks and noises so everyone who takes them will know how to give them directions. Either Said didn't know the language, or our droms were very hungry because every time he let go of the reins, they didn't listen to his commands and would wander off to the nearest grass tufts to dine. :)

Riding a Drom is like riding a motorcycle:

Neda is hanging off her drom, trying to get a knee down.

Lowside! You get on and off camels when they are kneeling down.
You have to hold on tight during mounting/dismounting, or much Droma ensues...

We told Said that we liked to take lots of pictures and he responded that it would probably be better to ditch the droms and go hiking instead to spots where camels couldn't reach. He said we looked to be in fairly good shape, so he showed us where the highest dune was in the area and said that we could catch a great sunset at the peak.

A little Dragon Ball Z action in the desert

I named my steed Des. Short for DesmoDromedary. Because it was CAMelshaft-driven.

Good reception out in the desert!

Said was born in the Erg Chebbi dunes and is descended from a long line of Berber farmers. He lives in Erfoud, which is 70kms north of the Erg and he comes in to work for the hotel and to teach tourists about the Berber way of life. When we told him we liked to take pictures, he changed the tour around to accommodate our interests.

Just like in motorcycle stunting, the Berbers also have their version of the "Jesus Christ" pose

Said brings the droms back to the stable in style, and we begin the long hike up the tallest dune.

In the distance Said meets up with a fellow tour guide taking more tourists to the other dunes

Hiking up to secure our seats for the show. You can see the bivouacs where we are staying tonight below us on the left

We had to take many breaks on our way up, the view gets more magnificent the higher we get

In the distance, the other tourists that we saw earlier hike a smaller dune. Haha! We win!

The hour before sunset and the hour after sunrise are the best times to experience the Sahara!

Although the colours of the Sahara are quite a sight during the day, they are washed out and there is an absence of contrast on the dunes because of the overhead sun. The shadows cast by the scalloped sand domes as well as the orange colours that are set aflame during sunrise and sunset are absolutely awe-inspiring by comparison!

Neda takes some amazing shots of the sun falling behind the distant horizon

This is just one of those magical moments, made even more special
because we were sharing it together up here on this peak.

After the awesome sunset, we ran/slid down the dune, each step causing mini-avalanches on our way to the bivouac. Much easier and more fun going down than up!

At the camp, we had to get rid of all the sand in our shoes once again.

Sneaking a peek into the kitchen bivouac. Smells delicious!

We joined another larger tour group in the bivouac and shared our experiences of Morocco. They were a friendly bunch of Canadians and Germans and a few Australians who were traveling by tour bus. Listening to their itinerary, I couldn't help feeling a bit smug about seeing the country on our schedule and choosing our own path.

After dinner, Said and the other tour guides brought out the Moroccan drums for the nightly entertainment
The heads of the drums have to be heated up for them to sound better and be softer to the hands

Listening to the Berbershop Quartet perform by the campfire

There was much drumming, chanting and singing by everyone, which was surprising since there was no alcohol involved. The merriment continued into the night, but since Neda and I are old, we retired early into our bivouac. Although the temperatures in the desert reach the freezing point overnight, the heavy fabrics that covered the tent and our mattresses kept us quite warm. We were still wearing every piece of clothing in bed though...

5AM wakeup call. While I am bleary-eyed and groggy, Neda is a morning person
so she is the least popular person in the campsite as we all get ready to mount our dromedaries

We are woken up just a few short hours later by the tour guides who shoveled all of our lethargic asses onto the droms to catch a desert sunrise. Well, almost everyone... Said pulled us aside and said he would take us to a better spot for picture-taking, but we would have to ditch the droms again.

I like this special treatment!

While the rest of the tour group is below us on the right, we hiked to a higher peak to get a better vantage point!

Playing around while waiting for the sun to rise

The sun slowly begins to peek up above the horizon and the dark sands begin to glow like embers being stoked

We stand as if the National Anthem were being played, in an effort to be as tall as possible
to catch the sunrise as soon as possible! :)

The warm glow of the morning sun envelops us as we hike down to join the tour group

After bragging of where we were and what we saw, we bask in the BusPeople's envy in addition to the warmth of the rising sun. Haha! :)

See the two empty dromedaries up front? We were hiking back separately from the group so we got to take some great backlit shots

Reflecting on such an amazing experience!

Dromedary Toe.... dammit, Neda!!!

Okay, so I didn't get to make a dumb camel toe joke. You win this time, Neda...

Jokes aside, it was interesting seeing how fleshy and padded their feet are. These are very heavy creatures and the extra surface area stops them from sinking into the sands.

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