If you don't do a camel trek when you are in the Sahara, where else on earth would you want to do it ?
To be clear the Sahara is not all sand dunes. Only a small portion of it (less than 25%) is covered with dunes. The rest is comprised of sand seas called ergs, barren stone plateaus, gravel plains, dry valleys and salt flats, not to mention oases and towns.
Fortunately for us the area around Chinguetti is home to some large dunes and is a popular place to organize treks, both walking and with camels. The owner of our auberge offered to get in touch with a couple of camel men and help organize it for us. So along with S and F, we decided to go on an overnighter in the desert. We were glad to be engaging directly with the local economy rather than give our tourst dollars to some large outfitter.
At the scheduled hour, we were met by the camel man and accompanied him to his home. We were introduced to three camels who would be going with us. A fourth young camel would join us for the trip but would not cary any loads or people. Six humans (there were to be 2 camel men), three camels, whats the deal with that, you ask? We had the same question the day earlier. We were informed that camel trekking does not necessarily mean riding the camel. You have the occasional pleasure of walking with it while it lugs things for you - tents, food, water and all the other stuff that needs to go with you.
We found out that camels don't like to sit down for loading and protested loudly when they were made to. The most petulant one actually moved in sitting position trying to get away. They need to be seated to facilitate loading all the gear and the camels cooperated only unwillingly. Once everything was secured to their backs, we started the long walk towards the dunes. We were going to walk around six kilometers before we set up camp for the night. Any dry branches that was found along the way was collected to be used for making fire later.
As one would expect, keeping up with the camels in the desert is not easy. Their feet are designed for the job, ours are not. With feet constantly sinking, walking briskly in the sand makes for quite an intense workout. It gets worse when there is no suitable path around a dune and you have to climb up some of them. Fortunately every up is followed by a down which is easier (especially with the shoes off when you can ski down the soft sand). However, the occasional appearance of stone or thorn fields requires the shoes to be put back on.
Video of walking with the camels
After some distance covered on foot we were given the option of riding on the camel. Some of us (M and F) took to it instantly but others were less enthusiastic. S declined to ride while V chose to get it over with. Mounting and dismounting are the trickiest parts of the operation as you have to lean forwards then backwards and not fall off as the camel moves from sitting to standing position or vice-versa. V rode a short distance before coming to the conclusion that he was more comfortable walking (nobody was surprised). But we have the photos to prove that he did at least get on top of a camel!
Video of riding the camels
Video of M explaining the finer points of riding a camel
Video of M getting on the camel , Video of M dismounting
A few hours and some distance from town, the camel man decided that we had reached a suitable location (less windy and away from the path of sand streaming from nearby dunes). They set up a tent in minutes and immediately got to boiling water for tea/coffee to be served with biscuits and peanuts.
After some time spent taking in the surroundings and sitting around chatting (and watching the two camel men talk animated between themselves), we got to working on dinner. The idea was to get much of the work completed before we were engulfed in total darkness. Among all the gear that was brought in from town, was a large packet of flour. One of the camel men kneaded it, slapped it around with his hands, stretched it into a large circle and placed it directly on sand heated by burning coals. Once placed on the sand, it was covered with more sand and more burning coals. They were making bread for breakfast next morning. About a half our later, the sand and coal was brushed aside, the bread flipped and covered again for a second time. When the baked bread was finally retrieved from under the coals, the sand was dusted off and scraped all around with a knife to remove remaining residue.
Video of making bread, tuareg style
After dinner we fully indulged in the opportunity to enjoy the night sky before retreating under the tent. The camels are typical let loose for the night. With their front legs tied together, they can move around slowly and forage on nearby thorn trees, but cannot get away too far.
At dawn, we saw no sign of the camels near the tent and decided to take a walk towards the highest dune to see if we could spot them. The camel men were not too concerned, they simply follow the fresh tracks of the camel and get them back one way or another. From the top of the high dune, we enjoyed a panoramic view of the surrounding desert with dunes large and small. Looking in the direction we had come, we spied the town of Chinguetti in the distance. After a small breakfast (which included the bread that was baked the previous night), we started the long trek back into town. Convinced that riding was less strenuous than walking once you got into the rhythm, M rode back most of the way. V stuck to walking.
Google Maps Link
Aha - you are now qualified to be a blue blooded Bedouin !!
Enjoyed the videos, especially the camel loudly protesting at M's efforts to get on :) I know V was wielding the camera, but the lack of video evidence suggests that V chickened out of the camel ride !!!
One of the memorable nights on the whole trip ??? From , on Jan 27, 2013 at 02:44AM
Did V remember the popular 'Gentleman' song when riding the camel?
Temperature must have touched freezing point during the desert night-out. From , on Jan 27, 2013 at 04:47AM
@Ramesh : Video and photo evidence clearly show that V did ride. From, on Feb 8, 2013 at 04:53PM