Life at Sea: Trekking with camels

While in Morocco, students had opportunity to ride trained camels in middle of sandy Sahara Desert



The camels were guided by camel-pullers, who also helped the students balance themselves while riding the animals.

RYAN PUGH, Former photo editor

My feet sank into the soft fine sand of the Sahara Desert in Morocco as we stepped off our bus. I heard the low grumble of a massive caravan of camels and saw over a hundred of them sitting in the sand, illuminated by nothing more than the few flashlights the guides use to find their way around. Heavy blankets covered the camels’ backs with metal handlebars for the riders attached.

I did my best to wrap my scarf around my head to protect my ears, face and neck from the wind that whipped the sand around us.

A hand jutted out of the darkness and motioned toward me. It was one of the camel-pullers waving me over to the lead camel of his file. Laying on its stomach with its legs tucked underneath, the camel seemed much smaller than I imagined even though the peak of its back reached my waist.

With a tug from the camel-puller, my camel stood and I was suddenly thrust 10 feet in the air. The camel-puller wasted no time and started the trek. Our file of six camels and six riders wandered into the desert. I wondered how the puller planned on navigating through the darkness with just the soft beam of his flashlight.

I could only make out faint outlines of distant dunes silhouetted against the starry sky. Though he couldn’t have been more than four feet ahead, I could barely see the camel-puller.

My camel’s long legs made for a long stride, and with each massive step my body lurched back and forth. Our groups engaged in some small talk, but when we fell silent the only sound was of distant voices and the soft strum of one of our group member’s ukulele.

Forty minutes later, our caravan settled in a basin within the dunes. We walked on foot over the crest of a sandy mountain and saw the glow of our camp on the other side.

After we finished dinner, a few of us wanted to explore the dunes. We marched straight into the darkness to see what lay ahead. Once over the crest of the first dune, the light from camp was no longer useful.

Courtesy of Ryan Pugh
In the Moroccan Sahara Desert, Semester at Sea students rest after riding on the back of a camel.

The sand engulfed my bare feet with each step. Not even the best beaches I’ve ever been to had sand as soft as this.

We found a suitable hill to stargaze and broke out our speaker. Six of us lay there huddling to stay warm in the cold desert night, listening to music, watching the stars pass over us and reminiscing of our past travels together. The night dragged on, and more people came to join us.

Eventually we had a group of 10 or more laying down and watching the stars in the middle of the Sahara Desert. We had yet to see the dunes in the daylight, but the vastness of the desert at night was not disappointing.