Tuesday, 21 May 2013

I don't camp, or at least that's what I tell people

It's true, I confess: I am a Canadian who does not enjoy camping. (GASP!)  And since we're in the mood for confessions, I can't skate either (super double GASP!).  Have I just crushed some of the stereotypes you held so dear? Sorry, but I promise things are about to get better.

I have no desire to go camping ever, yet somehow my adventurous spirit takes me to far away lands and often sends me on an adventure where it's just me and the great outdoors with nothing but a sheet of nylon or burlap between us. And I don't really ever do anything the small way, so my very first camping trip was on Morton Island, Australia, not Algonquin park, like it is for most of my Toronto counterparts. 

It was a pretty great experience from a first time camping perspective.  We went snorkeling, saw dolphins, did some sand boarding and had dinner made on the barby.  And I was still super jet-lagged from jumping a day into the future, so I slept really well despite the warnings of snakes and wild boars.  Seriously, wild boars? Who do I think I am, Dundee?

Flash forward a few years and I'm on an overnight bus from Fez to Rissani, headed for an excursion into the Sahara desert.  Want to ride a camel, forget the zoo, I'm headed to the biggest desert in the world after Antarctica and the Arctic.  Why the heck not? I couldn't get that close to the desert and resist the temptation to explore it.  We spent a few hours at the auberge where the buildings were made like the original Berber structures of straw and mud before saddling up and heading out into the great expanse of the Sahara. 

Before I go any further I would just like to take a moment to clarify what saddling up on a camel is like. I don't know that it would have changed anything for me had I known before I went, but it may have given me an opportunity to mentally prepare myself.  Saddles on camels are not at all like saddles on horses. They consist of a hard donut around the hump, which is then covered by a blanket. There's a metal bar that come up so that you can hold yourself up.  It's a bumpy ride, so you'll be glad to have this over reins. This is not an especially comfortable experience.  In fact, I can tell you that my, ahem, undercarriage was quite sore after an hour and a half ride going up and down sand dunes.  

That being said, the experience was magical.  There I was with a turban
wrapped on my head, sitting upon a camel and heading into the Sahara at sunset.  Hello? Who is really going to complain about that?

Over one last dune and our campsite was revealed.  At first I was a little taken aback by the semi-permanent burlap structures? Like, where are the zip up, repel everything tents? But then as I thought about it, I was glad to keep it "real".  We got off our camels, and walked up one more dune.  I swear I was walking funny and feared that the camel ride had done permanent damage.  Mom, I hope you're not expecting grandkids! We walked to the top of the sand dune - so much easier without shoes! and sat at the top to watch the sun fall beyond the horizon.  We saw the most beautiful display of colours : blue, red, orange pink. And we all watched in silence, totally mesmerised by the power of that moment and of the desert.

Once the sun was out of sight, and while there was still enough light to find our way, we headed back to our campsite and enjoyed a delicious tagine.  The tagine was invented as a way to cook food without having to use a lot of water and in a place like the desert, that is super important.  As steam rises to the top of the tagine, it cools, condensation forms on the sides and water falls back into the stew.  Brilliant!

After dinner we were treated to a drum circle under the stars.  Is this even real life I'm describing right now? The Berbers played music on their drums, sang songs and talk to us about what it's like to live in the desert.  And since we were in a small group, there were only four of us, if felt extra special. As the evening went on and the sky got darker, we started to settle down and lay on the blankets and stared up at the stars.  It was still and there was only the sound of the wind in the sand.  I wish I had the words to describe the majesty of the night sky in the desert, but I just don't think the words exist.  The word for stars in Berber is Etran, and the sky was covered in them. COVERED! Like spilling your silver glitter all over a black table cloth, covered.  And then just when we thought it couldn't get any more spectacular a shooting star soared across the sky and brought light over the desert.  We were breathless at first and then couldn't help but softly squeal in delight.  How could we be THIS lucky?

And since we knew that nothing could top that marvelous display, we retired to our burlap tent.  The next morning, we woke in time to watch a fiery sunrise before heading back into our tent for a quick nap before getting back on the camel.  I was dreading the ride back as I was still sore from the previous day.  I guess it's just something your body gets used to over time, but for a rookie like me it was rough! After another hour and a half bobbing up and down on the camel and shielding our faces from sand being blown in the wind, we had arrived back at the auberge.  Leaving the desert was like waking from a dream, except this time it had actually happened and I had the sand in my ears to prove it. 

I am so thankful for the opportunity to camp out with the Berbers, but if you ask me to go camping the next long weekend, I'm likely to decline.  Camping isn't really my thing.