Morocco Video: Why You Should Visit Morocco Once In Your Life!

To travel around Morocco is to take an adventure into the unknown.

Morocco Video

From the jaw dropping highs of the Atlas mountains, to the barren landscapes of the Sahara desert, Morocco and its diverse landscapes offer some of the most incredible adventures we’ve ever experienced.

For many visitors however, a visit to Morocco consists of staying in a riad in Marrakech or a nice hotel on the outskirts. As you can see from our Morocco video, Morocco is so much more than this, and the biggest mistake a visitor to Morocco can make is to limit themselves to within the walls of the medina of Marrakech.

If you were to sit on the rooftop of a riad in Marrakech, it would be impossible to ignore the epic and magnificent Atlas mountains, sitting on the horizon, foreboding and enticing. They dominate the horizon, seemingly so close that you could reach out and touch them. This magnificent range, and in particular Mount Toubkal, are worth putting down your mint tea and getting out and seeing an alternative side to Morocco!

morocco video

morocco video

Morocco surprised us in many ways, but in particular the unexpected adventures we encountered at almost every turn. From scaling Mount Toubkal in the Atlas mountains in winter, getting caught in a Saharan sandstorm, to eating sheep head in a homestay, Morocco has an incredible diversity of landscapes on offer. The real adventures are outside of Marrakech, where you can experience dramatic mountain ranges, colourful and dynamic gorges and of course the epic Sahara desert.

Morocco was a country that grew on us. Our time there began in Marrakech, a place we freely admit to not enjoying, and we were glad to escape and head South to the Atlas mountains. The moment we stepped out of the minivan, we felt a sense of calm and excitement as we inhaled our first breath of fresh mountain air. It was quite the contrast from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech and something we would recommend all visitors to Morocco to experience. But there is even more to see in Morocco.

morocco video

morocco video

Head south east, and you come across the town of Ouarzazate and a beautiful oasis in the mountains. Further east, the epic Dades gorge awaits, its swirling and jaw dropping rock formations creating an other worldly trekking experience. And then, on the horizon in the south east, the inescapable allure of the mighty Sahara desert. Here you can take a camel trek out into the desert, stay in a desert camp or, as we did, live with a berber family and experience a side of Morocco few will ever experience. Oh and you might even witness a wedding proposal and/or eat sheep head, both of which happened to us whilst we were there!

For us, Morocco is adventure. It has some of the best one day and multi day treks we have ever attempted. It has the Sahara, it has the Atlas mountains, it has the coastal towns and it has, for all its flaws, Marrakech and the intensity that comes with the city.

As our first taste of Africa, Morocco provided a gateway to a new continent for us. One which we hope to return to again.

Our Moroccan Adventures

morocco video

morocco video

morocco video

Have you been to Morocco? We would love to hear your thoughts and comments in the box below!


Hiking The Beautiful Dades Gorge, Morocco

“We have to go down there?”

Laura and I looked at each other, then at our guide, and then back to the 12 foot drop below us. He confirmed this (vertical) plan of action with his usual grin and glint in his eye. By this point, we were already halfway through the Dades Gorge, and there was no turning back from this one. As with most of our adventures in Morocco, from trekking Mount Toubkal in winter, to getting caught in a Saharan sandstorm, once we were presented with the situation, our only option was to embrace it and deal with it. Morocco once again delivered on a great adventure!

The Dades Gorge is spectacular. As you move through it, the gorge narrows and widens, as if it were inhaling and exhaling around you. The colours you will see are out of this world, deep oranges and yellows flowing into purples, reds and blues, all set below deep blue skies. We were blown away by what we saw, it is easily one of the best one day hikes we’ve done in all our travels.

dades gorge

As with most of our travels in Morocco, our timing with regards to the weather provided some unique challenges, especially given the torrential rainfall that fell the day before. Much of the very narrow gorge was still flooded, sometimes waist deep, which meant the only way to successfully navigate the gorge was to scale the walls and clamber over it, something we didn’t realise until it was too late to back out.

We’d arrived a day earlier into Boulemane Dades to torrential rain and flash floods down the sides of the valley. A combination of intense rainfall and snow melt meant most of the roads to our guest house were now criss-crossed by gushing torrents of water. And here we were navigating them in a 30 year old minivan with an engine way passed its retirement age. Laura got the short straw, and was perched in the back of the van on a makeshift seat, the angle such that she was practically lying down as we navigated the treacherous conditions. If that wasn’t bad enough, the minivan was far from waterproof, Laura also taking an impromptu shower in the back of the Morocco mobile. The journey however, was spectacular, and we went back to see it again a few days later when the weather had improved. 

dades gorge

Up ahead, the road had been washed over with thousands of small stones from the valley above, and a group of local boys were clearing the stones for passing cars. As we reached the clear part of the road, we realised this was entrepreneurship at its finest. They were charging cars to pass through their cleared part of road! We laughed, and happily slipped them a few Dirham as thanks for clearing the road.

The next morning couldn’t have been more different, once again our timing was impeccable (read: pure luck). Our guesthouse owner made a couple of calls, and we were clear to enter the Dades Gorge to trek it that day. What followed was one of the most interesting and beautiful day hikes we’ve ever been on, some of the colours in the sky and the rocks blew us away, even if we did have to navigate some treacherous parts of the flooded valley. 

Hiking The Dades Gorge

The trek begins in a tranquil and relaxed manner, walking through lush green forests alongside flowing streams and rivers, as locals went about their daily activities. It reminded us again of the diversity of landscapes in Morocco.

dades gorge

dades valley

dades gorge trek

dades valley

After an hour or so, we reached the entrance to Dades Gorge. Things were about to get interesting! The sweeping wide and lush green landscapes we’d grown accustomed to gave way to barren red and orange rocks and narrow gaps which we would traverse for the next couple of hours.

dades gorge valley trek

dades gorge trekking

Clambering through the gorge was so exciting, we were like two kids in an enormous playground. The path narrowed and widened, sometimes we would walk along the sides of the gorge as it gently sloped upwards. As we ventured further in, the remnants of the flash floods from the day remained, and some of the gorge was inaccessible utilising the usual routes. Not that this bothered our trusty guide, he had an answer for everything, which mostly involved scaling up the sides of the gorge and back down again. 

And so here we were, peering down this gap in front of us. Our guide was adamant that the only option was to somehow get down through this narrow pass and back to the valley floor. It was clear to our amateur gorge scaling minds that there were no footholds that we would be able to use to get down. How wrong we were.

All of a sudden, our guide began to clamber into the gap below us, we guessed to show us how to scale the wall, but he stopped about halfway down and motioned for Laura to step forward. Considering he didn’t speak any English and us no Moroccan, he gestured that the method here would be for Laura to stand ON HIS FOOT which was lodged against the side of the gorge wall. Imagine that? A 10 foot almost vertical side, and a guide standing across the divide halfway down, holding himself there, and expecting to hold the weight of Laura, and myself, on his foot as we made our way down.

dades gorge valley

We were not convinced, but at this point we didn’t really have a choice. Laura was first to go, carefully slipping herself halfway down the gap until her foot came to rest on his. He stood firm, and she was now halfway down the gap. All it took was a simple (!) five foot jump onto the valley floor and she was down! My turn. Again I carefully slipped myself down the side of the rock face, until I tentatively rested my foot on his. Worried about my weight on his foot, I quickly launched myself off of him and down onto the valley floor. We were down!
dades gorge valley trek

From then on in, it was easy. We took our time, and we genuinely marvelled at some of the places we came across. The rock formations and colours were truly mesmerising and beautiful, and we could easily saunter through the gorge at our own pace, soaking it all up.

dades valley

dades valley

A couple of hours later, we finally clambered out of the other side of the gorge, invigorated by our experience. From then on in, we trekked through dried out river beds and sweeping landscapes, a majestic part of Morocco and a place we would love to return to explore further!
gorge dades

dades valley

dades gorge

dades valley february

The trek through the Dades Gorge is spectacular, and for a day we could escape everything and appreciate some of the most incredible and beautiful scenery in all of our travels. The Dades Gorge isn’t a famous landmark, which was clear to us given we only met two other people all day. It was truly a chance to clear our minds and appreciate how happy we were to have experienced such incredible sights in Morocco.

We arrived back to our guest house with smiles on our faces and memories of a beautiful part of the world, untouched and undeveloped, as it had been for hundreds of years. The Dades Gorge is not to be missed on a Moroccan adventure.

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Conquering The Mighty Jebel Toubkal In Winter

Laura and I huddled ourselves in front of the only fire in the refuge, leaving behind the 100 km/h winds and freezing temperatures outside. It was a moment of tranquility after our epic and eventful Jebel Toubkal winter ascent.

Moments later, the peace and tranquility of the refuge was shattered. From nowhere, the doors to our right crashed open as a poor soul on a stretcher was brought hurriedly into the refuge room. We recognised him immediately.

A couple of hours earlier, we had met him on our own journey down the mountain. There he was, perched in the middle of the valley, a small black dot on a crisp white canvas. He was an anomaly in the epic scene in front of us. As we got closer, our guide approached him to query why he was sitting in the valley all alone. A minute later we had our answer:

 “Broken leg – wait there.”

Laura and I let out another sigh after a long two days. The fact that someone had broken their leg on this mountain did not surprise us, given the dangerous conditions we’d faced over the last few hours. With winds of 100 km/h and temperatures plunging to -28°C with wind chill, it was inevitable that there would be casualties that day. In fact, the weather became so treacherous that the mountain was eventually closed for a few days after our climb to let the bad weather pass. As we reached the summit, it became clear that there was no way we should have been on Jebel Toubkal that day.

It had all started innocently enough.

jebel toubkal

jebel toubkal winter

jebel toubkal winter ascent

Conquering Jebel Toubkal

We’d arrived in Imlil two days previously, a small village nestled at the base of the Atlas Mountains, and a popular starting point for our epic Jebel Toubkal climb. The next morning, we began our trek to the base camp of Mount Toubkal, a 4 – 5 hour journey that took us from the dusty orange hills surrounding Imlil, through the snow line and onwards to base camp, at 3,207m (10,521 ft). It was a far cry from our sapa trekking experience in Vietnam, or our volcanic Rinjani trekking adventure in Indonesia, as we swapped lush, warm climates for a cold and unforgiving landscape.

jebel toubkal winter climb

The first day was simple enough and very enjoyable, and there isn’t much to say except that the views, especially in winter are outstanding. It was almost as though this day felt like a nice stroll through some beautiful scenery. We even had time to stop at a makeshift ‘cafe’ and sip a cold Fanta and take in the views. It was an absolute delight, and a world away from what was to hit us the following day.

jebel toubkal

jebel toubkal

mt toubkal

mt toubkal climb

The refuge, however, was humble and cold. With only one room with a fire, we huddled together with the handful of other hardy souls who’d decided to take on Mount Toubkal in winter. Even an EPIC sunset couldn’t lighten the mood, and that night we slept fitfully in our cold dormitory, anxious about the climb ahead.

jebel toubkal sunset

Morning came, and it was time to make our final ascent to the peak of Mount Toubkal. Toubkal is the tallest peak in North Africa, and the third highest in Africa, towering over the continent at 4,167m (13,671ft). It is now the highest peak we have conquered in our travels, and it’s fair to say it was also the toughest and most dangerous, especially given the amount of injuries and, sadly, deaths on the mountain.

Only a few months prior, a girl had fallen from the summit and lost her life, information we found out AFTER our climb. We were under no illusions as to the challenge that lay ahead of us, especially given this was a winter ascent, through the snow and ice. The route ahead reminded us of our snow and ice covered ascent of Volcan Villarrica in Chile, another incredibly tough climb that we’ve taken on. 

mt toubkal

On went every layer of clothing we had, we slipped into our walking boots and trudged out to the entrance where we clamped on our crampons, grabbed our walking sticks and ice axes, and trudged outside into the burgeoning morning mountain light. To our left, the scale of our challenge was clear to us, and we could make out a group which had set off 45 minutes earlier, mere black specks on the white canvas of Toubkal. Can you spot them?

trekking mt toubkal

It was awe inspiring. And daunting.

Quite obviously, climbing Mount Toubkal in February is far harder than when it is warmer.  The ascent, coupled with snow, ice, winds and freezing temperatures makes it all the more difficult. It is not a decision to be taken lightly. 

We began by climbing up the valley above our refuge, zigzagging left and right which made progress slow and demoralising. After an hour into our climb, a howling gale would sweep down the valley every couple of minutes, whipping up snow and ice and pummelling us with glee. On many occasions our only option was to crumple down onto our knees, turn our backs to the wind and snow, and wait it out.

What had we let ourselves in for? As it turns out, this was nothing compared to what lay ahead.

The next couple of hours were monotonous and arduous, as we slowly made our way up through the valley. The routine was always the same, trudge upwards and left a few steps, turn and climb upwards and right for a few more steps, huddle down as the wind whipped up. Repeat again and again. Sounds great doesn’t it?

Our guide suggested it was some of the worst he had seen when the mountain hadn’t been closed to climb. Again, we should not have been on that mountain on that day. But look how calm it appeared!

trekking mount toubkal

After a couple of hours, we reached the top of the valley, stopping for a couple of minutes to eat a banana and some chocolate. Ahead of us, however, lay the real challenge, a steep 30 minute climb up to the ridge above us, and then an hour long trek along the ridge to the summit. If we were to turn back, it would be now. Sensible Laura and Barry would have turned back, but whilst it had been tough going, we were unaware of the hazardous conditions at the top of the ridge. We would find out soon enough, and by that point it would be too late to turn back.

And so onwards we went, climbing the steep side of the ridge. As we reached the top, we got our first glimpse of the summit, and our first hit of winds upwards of 100 km/h. It was at this point that I (Barry) began to really struggle with the altitude, constantly unable to catch my breath. I struggled on for 20 minutes before collapsing down behind a boulder on the ridge, desperate just to catch my breath and take a break from the incessant winds.

It’s in these moments that your mind finds absolute clarity. Up on that ridge, as the 100 km/h winds howled around us and the temperature plummeted to -28°C with wind chill, a million things ran through my head. I was dizzy, cold and there was no real options for me to back out now. We were now on the ridge, ahead of us were both the summit and our route back down the mountain.

There was literally no turning back, we had committed to the summit. Despite the conditions and the fear, in our minds it was clear that these were the adventures we lived for, these were the great challenges and moments that make us travel to far flung places. These were the experiences that shaped us. On that ridge, with Laura huddled with me, we were together. We were experiencing a real adventure, something we would never forget. Something we could tell people about and be proud to say we achieved. In spite of everything, these moments were why we travel the world.

mt toubkal

Looking back at it, and reading people’s experiences of the summit climb, it seems like we had some of the very worst conditions imaginable. Even our guide (the coolest, laid back man in the world) was beginning to get agitated and worried about the conditions. If there is one thing we’ve learnt from our travels, it’s that guides NEVER get worried. Or at least never let you know. And yet, here we were, alone on the ridge, huddled behind a boulder, without any other trekkers, freezing and windy, as I waited to catch my breath.

After a couple of minutes, my head cleared, and my breathing returned to normal. I grabbed a (frozen) snickers bar, sucked some water from my now frozen water bottle, and we set off again, this time for the peak.

As the ridge was still covered in snow, we had to take a detour along the edge of the ridge, a 1 foot wide ledge with the rocky side of the ridge to one side, and a sheer drop the valley below. At this point we were both scared, no shame in admitting that. If we had known that we would have had to take this part of the mountain on, we would not have gone up. It was a case of putting one foot in front of the other, and slowly but surely work our way along the ridge. 

It was at this point that something completely unexpected occurred, but that’s another story for another time. For now, we were focused on reaching the peak, a mere 100m in front of us.

trekking mount toubkal

Reaching the peak was an emotional moment for us. The sky was a deep blue, and the horizon was punctured by sharp, jagged forays into the sky from the deep orange and white mountains below and all around us. It was an epic scene, and to look at it you would think the most serene moment. We crumpled down onto the summit, our guide telling us not to get up unless he was next us, his fear of us falling off clear to us.

We huddled in together for 30 seconds, taking in the view as much as we could. But it was time to go. It was too cold and too windy to stay there any longer than that, with temperatures as low as -28°C and wind speeds of 100 km/h, staying there any longer and the cold and fatigue would have set in. We needed to go.

As we left the peak, we felt relief to be making our way back down. We had conquered North Africa’s highest peak in some of the worst conditions, and we lived to tell the tale. As we sat in the refuge a few hours later, we watched the doctor work on the man with the broken leg, it was at this moment we felt truly drained, physically and emotionally. As the doctor energetically asked him a series of questions, first about his condition and then about his insurance situation, it became clear the options were either call a helicopter to the refuge (the insurance option) or, somehow, get this guy to the nearest village of Imlil on a stretcher which was a four hour trek at the best of times, nevermind having to carry someone down. The options looked bleak.

Our guide looked on quizzically, before turning to us:

“At least he is alive, a few months ago a girl fell off the top of the mountain.”

We later verified this and found the story of this poor girl who fell in the October prior to our ascent. Trekking Mount Toubkal in winter is not a decision to be taken lightly, and our advice would be to monitor the weather conditions carefully before beginning the trek. 

Reflecting back on the climb now, it’s a shame the weather was so bad that we weren’t able to fully enjoy the views. But what we lacked in views we make up in memories of an epic challenge that we’re proud to say we achieved. We’d attempted, and succeeded, a winter ascent of Mount Toubkal, easily one of the biggest physical challenges we’ve faced, and certainly the most proud to say we achieved.

The Hike Details & How To Arrange A Trip

SUMMARY: The starting point for the trek, Imlil village, is only a 2 hour drive from Marrakech (and Marrakech airport) therefore you could skip Marrakech altogether by arranging to be picked up from the airport and taken directly to Imlil village. You could even do all of this over a long weekend from the UK or Europe if you don’t have a lot of time!

LOCATION: Atlas Mountains, Morocco

TOUR COMPANY: Atlas Trek Shop

SUGGESTED ITINERARY: 

Day 1: Pick up from Marrakech medina and transfer to Imlil village – overnight in Dar Adrar Hotel
Day 2: Trek to base camp of Mt Toubkal – overnight in Toubkal Base Camp Refuge
Day 3: Ascent of Mt Toubkal – overnight in a Toubkal Base Camp Refuge
Day 4: Trek back down to Imlil and overnight in Dar Adrar Hotel
Day 5: Trek around local area/villages then transfer back to Marrakesh

ESTIMATED COST: £260 GBP (approx $390) USD for full tour including accommodation, meals, guide and transport to/from Marrakesh, but check tour company website for latest prices.

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Eating Sheep Head In The Sahara Desert, Morocco

Our host arrived at our makeshift table, and with a flourish presented the final meal of our time in the Sahara. We both looked at each other, and then to the plate in front of us: this was to be our final challenge of the Sahara.

The berber family we had been living with for the passed couple of days had decided to give us a special treat on our final evening with them. We were honoured and intrigued, after all, it’s not often a sheep’s head is presented to you for dinner. That’s right, eyes, teeth, skull, the works.

Now, how to react to this properly.

As it had been with the rest of our stay, none of our host family spoke any English or French, solely the local berber dialect. To communicate we used mostly hand signals and smiles. As our ‘mama’ placed the food in front of us, she described the food in berber and pointed to her face. We’d already been told that we would be eating sheep head for dinner.

“Choukran” we said, utilising one of the only words we knew in Morocco. “Thank you.”

Our host left, and we were ready to dissect our dinner.

sahara desert homestay

Rewind 48 hours, and we’d arrived in the village of Merzouga in the very South of Morocco. A small, sandy outpost, and a perfect launchpad to explore the Sahara. With the lack of accommodation there, we had been glad to take up the offer of staying with a local nomadic berber family nearby. In the passed few years, they had put down roots for the first time in generations, and we were welcomed into our temporary home by the grandmother and 4 daughters who lived in the same home, with a further 5 grandchildren.

Conditions were basic (as you would expect) but very comfortable. Ushered into a small room, we plumped down onto the various pillows on the floor. As is customary with almost everywhere we went in Morocco, we were to be welcomed with a plate of nuts and some mint tea. One of the daughters scurried off into the kitchen to make it for us.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

We sat and surveyed our surroundings. The building we were in was made of mud and straw, and it was warm and comfortable. As we discussed our impending trip into the Sahara, there was a commotion outside the room. Suddenly the low table in the room was taken out of the room and replaced with a brand new, seemingly never been used table. This was to become a recurring activity, with the table being changed whenever we were to use it, despite our protests that the other table was perfectly fine. No, we were guests and we got to use the good table!

sahara desert homestay

Our tea arrived, and with the vigour and flair we’ve become accustomed to, it was poured. One pour into one glass, back into the pot. One pour into the second glass, back into the pot. And then the pour, from a great height, into our glasses and presented to us. We thanked our hosts and eagerly gorged on nuts and the mint tea. We had arrived in the Sahara.

As with most homestay experiences, there isn’t much to do except sit back and observe how the locals live. It was fascinating to watch, with the whole day and activities revolving around preparing the next meal. Breakfast was a feast, pancakes, bread, eggs, mint tea, egg tagine and water. Once breakfast was complete, it was time to make lunch, and once lunch was complete it was dinner preparation time.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

We finished our tea and went back to our room to relax a little for dinner. Staying with a local family in such tight conditions did get a little intense, especially when we couldn’t actually speak to them at all. As with all things in Morocco, you should always be prepared for the unexpected.

That evening, as I went to check on the time for dinner, I noticed an older gentlemen sitting in the living room talking with the grandmother. Outside, the other girls prepared dinner in silence and with nervousness, but unable to ask them what was happening, I left.

Later that evening we found out that the visitor for the evening had made a visit to ask to marry one of the girls! Intrigued, our guide explained that the mother would talk with the visitor to figure out if he was a suitable match. As we delved deeper, the whole process was laid out in front of us, and it was the most fascinating of rituals. In this area of Morocco, if the mother agreed to him marrying her daughter, he would leave, and 2 weeks later return to marry the girl. All having never spoken to her, and sometimes never having met. This for us was incredible to hear, and there was more.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

If the marriage were to proceed, on the evening of the ceremony, the couple would consummate their marriage. This is where it gets interesting. Providing the girl was still a virgin, the groom would triumphantly bring the sheets out from the marital bed to everyone gathered to celebrate the consummation. This ritual was to show that she was indeed a virgin. Following this, she would leave the family home and go to live with her new husband, all in the space of 2 weeks. We couldn’t believe it, and it was fascinating to hear.

As it turns out, the mother declined the offer of marriage to one of her daughters, and our visitor left on his motorbike, presumably to another home to ask for a hand in marriage. It was yet another intriguing story and insight into the Moroccan culture. After all of this excitement, it was time for dinner, and our sheep head.

sahara desert homestay

After our host had left, we looked at each other and puffed out our cheeks. We were exhausted. We’d just returned from our camel trek in the Sahara where we had been caught in a sandstorm and only just made it back to camp. We were hungry and tired, and here in front of us was a huge pile of steaming hot sheep head.

The first thing that hit us was the smell. It was a pungent, cutting aroma which if we’re completely honest, didn’t exactly invoke a mouthwatering reaction. Quite the opposite actually, but we wanted to be respectful. The family had spent hours preparing it, and it was a lovely gesture for them to make for us, so after poking around the pile, trying to work out what bits were what, we took a bite.

The flavour was the same as the aroma, pungent, strong and overpowering. We nibbled at it for a few minutes but had to give up. We just couldn’t eat it, and knowing the family would get the leftovers, we hastily thanked them for dinner so that they could eat it whilst it was still warm. As we left for bed, we caught a glimpse of the family diving into the feast, glad that they could get to enjoy it.

Back in our room, we ate a banana and some bread, put on all our layers (including hats and gloves) and got into bed. As we lay there in our cold room, the sandstorm still raged outside us. As the final chapter of our Saharan adventure, like so many other experiences we have when we travel, it had finished on a high and a low. A low in the sense that we were hungry and cold, and a 13 hour bus beckoned us the following morning, but also high that we had experienced the real Morocco, no matter how uncomfortable it was for us.

sahara desert homestay

sahara desert homestay

We’d met and lived with a local nomadic berber family, and it turns out we were their first ever foreign visitors. We’d interacted with them and watched them go about their daily lives. We’d played (and lost) many games of connect 4 with them. We’d seen marriage proposals come and go. We’d hung out with the camels outside, and seen thousands of stars in the night sky, and we tried to eat a sheep head. But more importantly we’d achieved what we’d set out to do, to get off the beaten track, live like a local and see the Sahara.

Wrapped up in our beds, it had been real adventure.

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Stranded In A Saharan Sandstorm

“I think we’ll just switch the engine off and wait for a moment.”

This statement from our guide seemed like the best idea, given the limited options available to us now. We’d been driving through the sandstorm for the last 15 minutes, and now we had no idea of which direction we were going in. Rather than drive further in the wrong direction, we decided to stop in the hope it would clear enough for us to get our bearings. The sandstorm had engulfed us quicker than expected, and we were sitting ducks out in the Sahara.

It was one of those situations where a million things run through your head at once. For the first few minutes, we sat there and took some photos and video of the sandstorm, talking and joking. To begin with, it was a fascinating and exciting experience, we never would have thought that we would experience something like this! We were also glad to be inside a jeep, and not on top of a camel which had been the original plan. But after a few minutes, the exhilaration and adrenaline gave way to something else. Excitement became tension, tension became low level panic in our heads.

saharan sandstorm

The questions began streaming into our heads. How long will this last? Will we be stuck here overnight? Will we be warm enough? Will someone try and find us? What if the sandstorm doesn’t calm before sunset? How are we meant to find our way back in the dark? As we sat quietly as the winds battered our jeep, and the sand poured in through the gaps in the window, we assessed our options.

It had all started so innocently. We’d taken a 4×4 from our camp, and went off in search of the nomad tribes that live and move within the sand dunes of the Sahara. We’d found some, and spent some time wandering through the various tent settlements they lived in. As we met and talked with the nomads, a foreboding sight was bearing down on us in the distance.

“Is that a sandstorm?” I asked. “Yes, but many miles away. Don’t worry.”

Our berber guide wasn’t concerned, and neither should we apparently. We continued on our exploration, but after another half an hour, the skies grew dark and orange, and the wind whipped up around us. It was at this point that we decided to head back to camp, but we were too late.

The sandstorm had hit us, and we were slap bang in the middle of it.

We drove for a few minutes until we could barely see a metre in front of us. Even the sun, our main reference to keep ourselves orientated, was blocked out completely. Sand poured into our jeep, through the gaps and slots in the doors and windows, and we wrapped our scarves around our faces. It was decided we would try and wait it out.

saharan sandstorm

A lot of things go through your mind when faced with danger, and although it may sound melodramatic now, at the time it really was a scary situation. As we sat there for that half an hour, we half heartedly made conversation in the jeep, all the while quietly considering and calculating our options. Even if we could make it back to the nomads, at least there would be some respite there.

And then, all of a sudden, our berber guide sprung into life. What must have only been a few seconds gap in the wind and sand, and he’d spotted something.  A mixture of catching a glimpse of where the sun was, and some tracks in the sand, he quickly became animated.

“Let’s go. Turn around the jeep!”

We spun the jeep around 180 degrees and we plundered off back into the sandstorm, the visibility decreasing back to almost nothing again. But we pushed on, trusting our berber guide to get us back to where we needed to be. To us, it all looked the same; dark orange skies, and the same sand patterns repeated over and over again. The noise of the wind was relentless, and we drove for 10 minutes through almost total blindness as our guide made small alterations to our route. And then, suddenly, a shadow ahead of us! Something breaking up the monotony of the sandstorm.

It was a tent! And then a small building! We had made it back to the nomads whom we had visited earlier! They were (of course) completely surrounded by the sandstorm, but this is what it looked liked in more peaceful times earlier in the day.

saharan sandstorm

saharan sandstorm

The relief was immense, and we knew we were now only 10 minutes from our camp. It was decision time though, do we make a run for the camp or do we wait it out with the nomads. Our guide was confident, we could be back at the camp in 10 minutes. So we pushed on, across the wide expanse of sand we had crossed at the beginning of the day. We swung right, then left, and then we stopped again.

Our hearts were racing. Had we made the wrong decision to leave the nomads behind and head for camp? We were close to camp now, no doubt about it, but we didn’t want to overshoot it and become lost again. We sat again for a few minutes, our berber guide winding down his window to catch a glimpse of something, anything to orientate ourselves. The sand poured in more relentlessly than ever. Laura and I sat in silence and waited for something, anything!

And then, in the distance, the outline of a small bush. Irrelevant to us, but hugely important to our guide. We drove towards it, swung right and he told us to look for another bush on the left in about 50 metres. Find that and we were home! Our jeep crawled through the sandstorm, time slowing as we held our collective breath for another bush! Never had the anticipation for spotting a bush been greater. And then it appeared! A wave of relief came over us as we drove round the bush, between two dunes and swiftly back into our camp!

We had made it! We were ecstatic.

We jumped out of the jeep, scarves wrapped around our heads and bolted for our tent, there was no time for pleasantries or thanks when we arrived. Relieved to be back, it didn’t matter that everything was covered in sand inside the tent! We were back and safe.

saharan sandstorm

As we sat on the edge of our bed and surveyed the scene, we reflected on the events of the day. How close had we come to being in real danger? How many other ways could that scenario have played out? We were shook up, no doubt about it. But despite all this, after sunset I still clambered up a dune to take a snap of the sandstorm in the distance. It was an eerie and powerful sight, something we never thought we would witness. It was nature at its most awesome.

saharan sandstorm

That evening, as the wind and sand howled around us, we reflected on why we travel and do the things we do. What makes us leave the comfort of our home and see the world?

The short answer is, it depends on what you want from life. We live to see the world, to experience new and exciting things. And if that means putting ourselves in situations that are riskier than staying at home, then so be it. If that’s the price we pay for living the life we want, then we shall take that risk.

But it’s experiences like this where you appreciate the inherent goodness in people across the world. As we travel, we put our trust in strangers we meet along the road. Whether it be guides or hosts, when we arrive somewhere we are relying on them, just like millions of others around the world right now. We were thankful that, in the sandstorm situation (and like all of our other adventures), we had surrounded ourselves with the right people with the right skills. It reminded us that travel, whilst scary at times, gives us the highs and excitement that makes our lives all the more enriched. To sum it up:

“A ship is safe in its harbour, but it is not what a ship is built for.”

saharan sandstorm

saharan sandstorm

We also get to dress like this, but that’s just an added bonus!

For whatever reason, we were built to get out and see as much of the world as we can, and despite some scary moments, we wouldn’t change a thing about it. As we sat on the edge of our bed, and the wind and sand whirled around our tent, we kept coming back to the same moment from earlier in the day. Every now and again, as we sat in the jeep, the silence would be punctured by our berber guide. With a wry grin and glint in his eye, he summed up the day without even realising.

“Sa..ha..ra” he would say, over and over again.

As in, you came to the Sahara, what did you expect? Rainbows and unicorns? Have you had an experience whilst travelling that made you reflect on why you do it? Let us know in the comments below!

saharan sandstorm

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