Sahara trek - Part 2

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Wednesday - Day 6

WAKING up in the early hours of the morning I was greeted by an awesome sight. The stars were so bright and I’ve never seen so many of them. I could see far beyond the most famous constellations - nearly every patch of sky had thousands of twinkling lights. After just a few moments I saw shooting stars and satellites. It is a sight I will never forget and one of my desert highlights.

Unfortunately the reason I was awake was not just my eagerness to see the night sky but also the fact that a sickness bug was travelling through the camp and it hit me that night.

When morning eventually came I had started to feel better but with very little sleep and no food in my stomach for energy I was about to face my most challenging day.

After slowly climbing down from the sand dune I sat near the camp while the others tucked in to breakfast.

We set off later than usual and the first challenge was to get over the huge sand dunes that surrounded us.

Unsteady on my feet I edged along the tops of the dunes before we descended and at last found some flatter ground.

The heat was intense and inescapable as it edged into the 40s with not even the slightest breeze.

Several other people were also struggling with sickness and most of those that weren’t were grappling with painful blisters all over their feet.

After what seemed like an eternity of walking, which continued through the hottest part of the day, we finally reached the place where we were having lunch.

The sun was still beating down and there was very little shade as we all tried to position ourselves under a tree.

Again I did not feel like eating. With little energy left we set off for several more hours of walking.

The trek seemed endless and my hope of ever seeing our tents was fading as I stumbled along the dry sand. Thankfully the other people on the trek were brilliant and it was them that got me through the toughest day I had in the desert.

That night a greatly diminished team sat down for dinner, which included bread that the chef had just cooked on stones with a camp fire. This was also the night where the eggs, which were carried on the back of a camel for the whole trip, made their appearance in the form of an omelette. We were then entertained by our guides, the chefs and camel herders with traditional Berber music. See the video at www.granthamjournal.co.uk

Thursday - Day 7

AFTER a good night’s sleep most of the group were feeling better.

We were told we would have most of the afternoon off but we would have to do about five hours walking to get there. For me this didn’t seem too bad as I was now enjoying the trek again. However, for those with sore feet and the people still feeling ill this day was a real challenge.

This was the first day of walking when the wind really got up. We had already seen several whirlwinds forming as the wind whipped up the sand but they had been more distant.

This time if you turned into the wind the sand stung your face and went in your eyes.

Luckily for most of the journey the sand was blowing into our backs but it was still not pleasant - although it did cool us down a little.

As the hours went by the biggest sand dunes faded into the background and we knew that we were coming away from the isolation of the desert.

By the time we stopped to set up camp, which was very difficult in the wind, we could see where other campers had been.

Three of us climbed to the top of a nearby dune to explore further and it was then that we realised how close we were to the village where we had started the trek.

While standing on the dune, wrapped up in our headscarves to try and stop the sand blowing in our faces, a pick-up truck appeared. It was driving towards us. It was probably about 200 metres away from us when it stopped, facing us. We looked at each other wondering what was going on. After a couple of minutes it reversed and drove away. We think we may have become the latest tourist attraction!

For our last night the eight that had slept on the highest sand dune once again decided to sleep under the stars. They were not as bright as the other nights and we got the opportunity to look quite a lot as you could hear dogs barking in the background and the call to prayer the next morning.

Friday - Day 8

Our time in the desert had gone so fast and we only had a few hours of walking left before we had to head back across the mountains and then home.

Everyone was pleased to have completed the trek but many of us would have much rather turned around and headed back into the desert than gone home.

We had our final meal at the camp and then a few of us got the chance to ride a camel. I had never done anything like this before and really wanted to have a go.

They are not the most graceful of animals and although I had not seen any of them spit their reputation is well known so I approached with care.

After struggling to get on to the camel I held on tightly as he jolted himself up. With a little persuasion he started to move and the ride was actually more comfortable than I expected. The only nervous moment of the two minute trip was when he climbed over a sand dune and slid down the other side.

The last part of the walk went really quickly and we soon met up with our minibuses - although we just walked past and on into the village in an attempt to prolong the walk.

When we got to the far end of the village we went into a small cafe and had our first experience of sitting on a chair for nearly a week. I don’t think sitting on the floor is something I will miss.

On the way back to Ouarzazate we stopped at a pottery factory, which was run by the people living in the village where it was based. The factory was very basic and the items they produced were of an incredible standard.

They work as a co-operative and lived underground next to the factory to keep cool. It was quite distressing to see that they had very little.

Saturday - Day 9

We left Ouarzazate early and headed back to Marrakech. On the way we stopped at a pharmacy, which surprisingly is the place that sells spices for food and cosmetics as well as herbal remedies.

We had a talk by the man selling the spices, which was absolutely hilarious and mostly unrepeatable. During this talk we found ‘cures’ for everything from baldness to weight problems. But we also discovered the ‘secret’ way that the chefs in the desert had made our food taste so wonderful. They have something called 35 spice and it is amazing! After stocking up we left and headed back across the final stretch of mountains to Marrakech where we prepared for our last meal as a group.

Sunday - Day 10

This was the last chance for most of the group to pick up a few souvenirs before heading to the airport.

Haggling was definitely an experience and I quickly discovered that they will sell items for less than half the price they state initially. Another tactic that seemed to work was walking away, quite soon their prices drop dramatically.

At about lunch time I returned to the Riad and waited for the minibus to take us to the airport. It was then that some more of the group arrived. They said the market traders had all started packing up their goods in a hurry and were throwing them inside the little rooms that lined the streets. We had seen that the protests were spreading across Africa but we were not aware that they were planned in Morocco that day. It was very quiet when we left the hotel with people hanging around waiting for something - but we didn’t know what. It was only when we returned home that I read two people were killed in the protests in the north of the country that day.