WHAT Is the best soundtrack for a camel-back desert adventure?
Sand In My Shoes by Dido, Grease’s love song Sandy, The Black Eyed Peas’ My Humps.
These are the tracks I hummed as I was jostled up and down, backwards and forwards on my camel named Soot as he strolled through the Sahara Desert.
Plodding softly through the dunes, the massive creature didn’t seem to mind my humming, or the fact I would occasionally have to heave myself back to centre after slipping slowly to the side. Natural camel rider, I am not.
But luckily for me, my guide appeared to know where he was going as we trekked over the seemingly identical dunes that make up this particular section, near the Moroccan town of Merzouga, of the world’s largest desert.
I’m here with Marrakech Desert Trips, having driven about 11 hours over two days to get here.
On a 17-seater bus, we passed through tiny towns surrounded by date trees, a local favourite, past Unesco heritage sites and the film location of Gladiator.
Every doorway in this town, Aït Benhaddou, near Ouarzazate, is adorned with a picture of Russell Crowe.
The locals gush: “He’s a very nice man, he talked to everyone.”
On the journey here, I ate my way through every kind of tagine too.
Beef with prunes, chicken and lemon, lamb and cous cous — you name it.
And now I’m here, just a three-hour flight from London and car ride that has deposited me in what feels like five worlds away from the English capital.
Taking multiple selfies, I make sure to get every angle of my friendly camel like every good millennial should.
But these photos are nothing yet.
Our line of camels are stopped by our trusty guide Mustafa as the sun begins to set, and we are sent scurrying up the sand dunes.
Yet every slip and fall on the way up is worth it when we make it to the top.
The sun’s setting rays beam across the sand that seems to stretch to the furthest reaches of the horizon.
It’s like God picked up a handful of sand and scattered it here, creating one of the most awe-inspiring sights I have experienced.
I take a deep breath and gaze at the sunset.
Then, as the sun finally dips below the horizon, we are back on the camels and bump our way to the campsite made up of canvas tents and real — albeit it hard — beds.
We are treated to a tagine dinner then music by the fireside. Drums ring out as the men rock back and forth shaking a traditional tambourine. It’s not just about the camp though and we told it’s possible to explore the dunes at night.
And then, we look up. A blanket of stars with the brightest, almost full moon beaming out.
There’s Orion’s Belt and a glimmer of the Milky Way.
I take my phone out and try to snap the night sky but the screen shows black.
So, instead of taking photos, I lay back on the sand and stargaze.
I know there are other tourists wandering the dunes but the beauty of the spectacle has stunned them to silence.
In the distant camp I can hear the occasional drum beat or camel grunt but for a moment, the world is still.
Finally, after another ten minutes — or maybe half an hour, I don’t know which — I decide to head back to the campsite.
Yet the desert has a final surprise for me. As I walk along the dune’s peak, everything suddenly darkens.
I look up and a thick cloud has covered the moon. Want a soundtrack for that moment? Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow.
Humming the tune, I finally make my way back to the tent. The good news for all those snorers out there considering this trip: If you’re worried about being embarrassed by snorting while asleep in a communal camp, just blame the camels.
Yet despite the constant heaving and snuffles, I manage to get a visit from the Sandman.
GETTING THERE: British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair all fly direct from Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton to Marrakech airport. Fares from £46 one way.
STAYING THERE: The desert trip from Marrakech is from £107pp for a private tour or £80 for a group tour including transportation, two nights half board, including one in Sahara desert camp and camel ride in Erg Chebbi dunes. See marrakech-desert-trips.com/tours/shared-marrakech-to-fes-desert-tour/
Early morning and I somehow manage to find my camel in the dark — an almost impossible task in the black surroundings now the moon has disappeared.
We trudge slowly back across the dunes as the sun once again rises — peeking through the clouds to light the sandy world below.
Then a light appears, then a second, and then a row of town lights emerge and we slowly ride closer and closer.
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Upon reaching civilisation, I pat Soot goodbye as we make our way inside for breakfast.
It’s a classic Moroccan meal — flat bread and mint tea full of sugar.
Soon, we will be driving through the Atlas Mountains, at altitudes of 3,000ft with snow covering the ground on either side.
The town of Fes and its brightly coloured pots and loud streets are beckoning, along with the eager salesmen peddling leather and copper pots.
But for now, I’ve still got sand in my shoes and, as Dido would say, I can’t shake the thought of you.