How I Camped in the Sahara Desert With 19 Other Women
I am a travel junkie and find travelling therapeutic to me. As we say within Nigerian circles, “abroad breeze is good for my skin”. Exploring new cultures, being in a different (and usually more sane environment) and eating all sorts of food is often the reset I need after crazy days in Lagos. If I could travel every month, I would...
2017 wasn't my best year and a couple of things didn't go as planned. So in 2018, I decided my top goal and vision was to live my absolute best life and be happy! Living my best life also meant me going outside my comfort zone. And therein lay the trouble; as I love my safe space and comfort zone.
But as they say, “Beautiful things happen outside the comfort zone”.
In January 2018, I stumbled on the Green Passport Movement - an initiative of Naija Nomads, and I was fascinated. Of all the proposed trips, Morocco stood out for me. It was described as suitable for the adventurous traveller which isn’t something I’m usually open to. To make it worse, the itinerary included a night camping in the Sahara desert.
I debated the idea for a couple of days but eventually, I signed up! Whoop! It ws going to be an adventurous Easter in Morocco.
My countdown and excitement started in January. But it was short lived as my worrisome self, started second thoughts. Would I survive traveling with a group of people I had never met before? Spending Easter without my family and friends? But my vision kept popping in my head and I decided to let go and enjoy the process.
A WhatsApp group was created and then I found out I was traveling with 19 other women. Nineteen Women? 19?! I couldn't help it anymore and begun to panic all over again. Would there be catfights? Would I have to buy new clothes? How would we share rooms? My friend kept trying to reassure me saying, "Imani, all would be fine". Luckily, I realised I knew a couple of people on the trip, so I relaxed a little bit.
We soon found out the flight out of Lagos was at 6 am and we needed to check in by 4 am at the latest. You guessed right - this made me worry and wonder what sort of trouble I had gotten myself into. How would I get to the airport - as it could be tricky plying Lagos roads in the middle of the night. This was officially outside my comfort zone and I was starting to get irritated.
But hey, I made it to the airport at 3:30 am on the 29th of March all set! From tiny suitcases to the huge ones, our adventure was about to begin.
I'll save you the drama of what happened at Nigerian Immigration when we were held for about an hour. But suffice to say we, 20 stylish and good-looking young women - were accused of travelling for illegal purposes such as trafficking and consent letters from fathers and husbands were requested of us. It can honestly be tough being a woman sometimes!
We arrived Casablanca after 4 hours and the immigration process was super smooth compared to what we experienced in Lagos. There were complimentary SIM cards for tourists which a few of us picked up with data plans.
Our tour guide Medhi was waiting for the group and off we went to Essaouira - a city on Morocco's Atlantic coast. The weather was quite chilly and a couple of us didn’t take any warm clothing but completely packed for summer.
Lesson: always take a jacket or light sweater on any trip regardless of the region you’re traveling to.
It was a 4.5 hour road trip to Essaouira and we were all tired - we had not slept in like 24 hours. But this wasn’t going to kill our buzz. We stopped along the way for pictures, to stretch our legs and for food. As we arrived at Essaouira, I saw seagulls and I realized we were close to the beach. (I learnt from Prison Break, when you see Seagulls flying they are very often heading towards water). I closed my eyes and soaked in the beauty of this small beach town.
We walked towards our riad (traditional Moroccan houses often with an interiri garden or courtyard) and it was just by the beach. The view from the rooftop was breathtaking. The cafe at the rooftop offered us Mint tea (FYI: Moroccan hospitality is second to none). We checked into our rooms and luckily my friend was my roommate. That evening, about 10 of us decided to venture into town for food. We went to a restaurant which also had live music and the lady began singing Nigerian songs not realizing Nigerians were in the building. In our usual fashion, we brought the roof down, sang and danced.
The next day we explored the city by foot and grabbed a fancy lunch before heading to Marrakech. On our way, we stopped by an Argan oil factory and watched the local cooperative women produce Argan oil. We also supported them by buying the oil and products before continuing our journey.
Marrakech was another 4 hours by road. Thankfully, we had in-house DJs who came prepared with boom boxes and awesome playlists. We sang and danced our way to our destination without realizing the time. It was literally a Nigerian party bus in Morocco. Our riad in Marrakech was grand and lavish. It had villas that accommodate 6-8 people and some villas had swimming pools. I felt like a celebrity on retreat - this was the life in the posh part of Marrakech, the Palmerie.
The next day we had a new annoying and fraudulent tour guide who took us around the city. We explored the YSL garden, the grand square, spice shop, the market, the Jardin Botanique, and so much more. The market vibe was Balogun market meets Isale Eko. As sharp Naija babes, we haggled our way through beautiful pashminas, spices, and kaftans.
Day 4 was the trip to the Sahara desert. We got a pep talk informing us of what lay ahead: a 10 hour journey from Marrakech, then an uncomfortable Camel ride on the dunes and finally we were going to camp in tents! All of the above were outside and totally out of my comfort zone. I had never camped before - and my first attempt was about to be in the middle of nowhere. Some ladies opted to stay back in Marrakech but I was determined to go even though I was scared. Because you know - the vision of the year!
On Easter Sunday, 14 of us set out at 6 am for the trip to the Merzouga desert. The journey was long, tiring, cold and at a point scary. We made our way through the Atlas Mountain and the windy roads. A couple of people had motion sickness, legs were tired and bums were hurting. We occasionally stopped to stretch and eat. At about 5pm, we reached the camel stop for the ride to the desert.
The camel ride was the most uncomfortable thing ever - and my thighs hurt for a week thereafter. Imagine the camels hump against your bones - but it was our only mode of transportation to the Sahara. To compensate though, the view and sand dunes as we rode along were breathtaking!
We arrived at the camp at about 6 pm and caught the sunset and again I got to appreciate the awesomeness of God’s creation. We had a bonfire that night and also ate lots of Tangine (traditional Moroccan food). As usual, we danced around the fire, sang all sorts from new school Nigerian music like D'Banj to older all-time classics Shina Peters. The Berber boys were fascinated by us and we made new friends with two Spaniards.
After all of this, it was time to actually sleep and each tent had four people in it. Thankfully though, it was a short night that went by quickly as we were up by 5.30am to catch the sunrise and for our return to Marrakech. Before leaving, we climbed the sand dunes for the photo session. It was freezing cold; we were shivering but we had to do it. How would we claim to have visited Morocco without pictures in the desert?
My thoughts: slaying is a task and a half, models and photographers work hard! That experience was the definition of nothing beautiful comes easy without the road bumps and harsh moments. We braved the cold, we slayed our pictures. The desert was indeed an adventure I would never forget. The road trip back was long, another 11 hours.
Arriving back in Marrakech I was knackered, we all were. The next day was the final day, we quickly rushed to the market for last minute souvenirs before heading to Casablanca by train. The journey to Casablanca was a breeze; it felt like I was on a train ride in Europe. As we passed the green fields, we chatted about our experience so far and unbelievable sadness in going back to reality.
After 6 days in Morocco and an unforgettable night in the Sahara desert, Nigeria beckoned and off we went. 20 women had bonded in Morocco. Of course not without a few hiccups but trust me nothing too dramatic - as one may have thought! Before we left the airport, we hugged like old friends and promised to keep in touch.
All in all, words cannot describe this experience It was phenomenal, to say the least; a lit girls trip - just like the movie. I went outside my comfort zone, loved it and would forever treasure the memories!
Are you an adventurous or cautious traveller - would you have stayed back in Marrakech or braved the Sahara Desert?