An unconventional way to escape winter blues in the desert?

An unconventional

 way to escape winter blues


Jean Butterworth

Nothing about the month of January is exciting.  Now, December is filled with holidays including Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years’ Eve, and one of my grandson’s birthdays.

But along comes January with its predicted cold, wet and rainy days.

And then there is that awful thought of income tax papers and receipts I needed to compile before April 15th.  In January only the Super Bowl excites the male population, and maybe some ladies.

sahara morocco

I said to myself, “Just forget January!” I will plan a trip to some warm exciting place. Reviewing the travel information, I selected the country of Morocco, depicted in the famous old romantic movie, “Casablanca.” Now that is some movie! I reviewed trip brochures about places and cities to see and explore in Morocco.

sahara desert tent

One of the brochures that caught my eye stated you could spend three nights in the Sahara Desert in a tent, explore the dunes at sunrise with some nomads and ride with a camel caravan.

That was what I wanted to do in January! I contacted the travel agency and made the arrangements for my friend, Pat and me to tour Morocco including the Sahara adventure for seventeen days.

The weather was predicted to be somewhat cool but nice. The language of Morocco was French and but many spoke English.The group tour was to include sixteen ladies from all over the U.S. That sounded like fun. All the getting ready for the trip takes time.

sahara passpottFirst, I had to talk to the travel company about a departure date, prices and payments. I had to find my current passports, (no visa required), inquire about travel insurance, find my MedJet card, my airline frequent flyer card and a list of current medications.

Then I had to pack; take a flashlight, medications, cosmetics, clothes, comfortable walking shoes and remembering all the time to pack “light”.  Oh, and for the airport screeners all those small bottles of eye solution, lotion, shampoo, etc that had to be placed in plastic gallon bags to go in my carry-on luggage.

Taking care of “home” was the next step. I needed to call and stop the newspaper, fill out a yellow card obtained at the post office to hold my mail, get a substitute for the day I work in the Friends of the Hoover Library Bookstore and other volunteer responsibilities taken care of.

Last, but not least was to write myself notes to turn down the heat, turn off the coffeepot, and turn out the lights and lock the door. The flight over the Atlantic was nice and smooth and we arrived in Marrakech, Morocco in the early morning after first changing planes in Atlanta and Paris. We met up with our guide and the other fourteen ladies at the airport and were transported by bus to our hotel.


Our trip proceeded, taking in the cities ands sight in Marrakech, Casablanca, Rabat and Fez. On day ten we began our Sahara Desert adventure near an oasis town of Erfoud by climbing into 4×4 vehicles driven by Berber (original inhabitants of Morocco) drivers. There were no roads, but the drivers seemed to know where we were going.

Finally we arrived at our campsite near the Erg Chebbi sand dunes and were shown our tents.

There were fifteen tents.  Our tent had two cots with two sleeping bags, two slim pillows, and a tiny bedside table with one candle. sahara desert tent We put our suitcases under the cot and came outside our tent to explore our surroundings.

There was nothing but sand dunes as far as I could see near our campsite. One tent was for cooking, one for eating, one for the toilet, and a one for the primitive shower.

I have forgotten to mention that it was cold in the desert. Pat and I had on our regular warm clothes and we had bought a heavy black djellabas (long hooded garment split on each side) in the bazaar so we put that over our clothes to try and keep warm.

After a dinner in the cold tent we were ushered out side to a bonfire where we were entertained with singing and dancing by the Berber drivers. sahara fire We asked for an early night and excused ourselves to go to our tent and sleep. It was so cold that we had difficulty unzipping our tent because it had ice in the zippers. There was no reading that night with just one candle and our flashlights. We crawled into our sleeping bags fully dressed.

When I finally got warm enough to sleep I was awaken at around four o’clock in the morning with sounds of rain.  I didn’t know it rained in the desert!

Our tent leaked on my side and I was soaking wet from the sleeping bag down to my underclothes!  I changed clothes in the cold and dark tent, but couldn’t go back to sleep since my sleeping bag was wet.  What a night!  My roommate reminded me, “You always wanted to sleep in a tent in the desert”!

The cold didn’t stop the routine schedule the guide had for us. sahara sunrise The next morning I got up early in the morning, in the dark to go watch the sunrise over the sand dunes.  My roommate said, “No way” and stayed in her bedroll.

Me, always wanting to see the sunrise over the sand dunes got up, unzipped the ice-encrusted zippers on the tent and went to meet our fellow travelers.

We huddled around each other complaining about the cold and then we started walking with the help of some local nomads (where did they come from?) on the sand dunes.  Struggling to walk in the deep sand I never made it to the summit even with help from the nomad lad.

The sunrise was indeed beautiful even standing on a dune only halfway to the top.

sahara desert camelThe next afternoon was the camel ride.  The Berber camel guides showed us ladies how to tie the long scars around our head and over our nose and mouth to keep out the blowing sand.

Then there were instructions on how to mount the camel while he was sitting down, then to hold on, waiting to be thrown up in the air when he stood up! Now we were set to ride.

We had a long train of sixteen camels and riders and we became lulled into the slow motion of the camel’s stride as the camel caravan proceeded along the desert terrain.Looking over our shoulder we could see our shadows in the sand as we rode.sahara desert 1 On the third day in the desert we walked from our campsite with our guide for over an hour to a nomad’s home (typical nomad tent structure) where we had tea sitting on cushions on the desert floor with our host family and their five children.sahara tea

There was a new baby goat in a box in the tent.  The family’s drinking water was carried from well about two miles away.

Families do not pitch their tent near the area where the well is located because there is fear of sudden flash flooding from the Rif Mountains.

After the three days in the desert we loaded our luggage up in the 4×4 vehicles and headed back to civilization.

All those three days I was pretty miserable due to the rain and cold weather in the desert, but wouldn’t swap the adventure for anything. And January, I decided, was an exciting month after all.

Read more stories by Jean Butterworth in Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama by Jean Butterworth

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