The sunset was an hour away when we reached the sand-line of Sahara. We parked outside our base camp, a majestic structure built kasbah-style. It had a huge kitchen and a large dining area surrounded by rooms - for tourists who wanted to trek on the dunes but sleep on terra firma, many showers, restrooms and a small store.
We left our luggage in the 4X4 carrying just overnight bags. In my backpack, I had two layers of fleece pajamas, several torches, a big bottle of water, some snacks, a pocket Swiss knife, toiletries and a compass (just in case!). I had my camera in a separate backpack with all the paraphernalia – lenses, filters, flash, storage, batteries and tripod.
Sayeed introduced us to our camel handler, Youssef, who had been patiently waiting for us.
“Yalla! Yalla!” Youssef said.
I remember Sayeed telling us that one yalla meant “let’s go” and two stood for “let’s go RIGHT NOW!”. All other caravans had left almost an hour ago. Looks like we were a little late. Again.
Desert base camp on the sand-line of Sahara
Youssef must have been in his mid-twenties and wore the traditional indigo blue knee length shirt over loose cotton trousers. Behind his stylish goatee was a weather hardened bronze face of a Bedouin. With a mighty swagger for his tiny frame, he led us to our rides. A lineup of five single-hump camels decked with colorful rugs warily watched us approach. Rhea ran forward and pointed to one.
Rhea’s camel that she would later rechristen Lawrence of Arabia
“We will start loading from the back of the line,” he spoke with a thick Arabic accent though his grammar was accurate. He proceeded to explain. “Once one camel gets up, all the camels behind him will get up immediately.”
He bent forward and interlaced his fingers to form a makeshift stirrup for Vijay. “Hug the camel with your knees. Sit back. Hold here.”, he said as we walked around the camel making sure Vijay was safely perched.
“Hold tight now. This is the only time you can really fall off a camel”, he warned, and proceeded to spank the camel firmly in the rump. Grunting, the camel rocked forward and laboriously straightened his hind legs, pushing the base of his tail high in the air. Vijay, tilted at 45 degrees, hung on to the pommel for dear life. After what seemed ages, the camel gathered his front legs under him and heaved off the sand. It was then a simple matter of making sure the hat stayed on the head.
Rhea, the natural rider
I had decided to walk, photography and all, so here we were. All ready to walk into the mighty Sahara.