Camel Trek in the Sahara – 2010

A photo essay from a 6 day camel trek in the Sahara in 2010. Capturing this harsh environment was a real challenge. The light would change rapidly from bright to dark at sunset (and vice versa at sunrise) and the midday sun was so strong that photography was severely limited. I tried to capture the essence of this desert trek but there were so many scenes never captured – they were either beyond my skill set to record or happened before I could react. (A good excuse to go back though.)

Camel Train walking into a sandstorm: The first day was something of a baptism of fire as strong headwinds blew the sand into our faces. Nothing for it but to wrap the headscarf over our mouths and noses. The horizon was a hazy nothingness – just as one would imagine the desert in a sandstorm.


Mbarack in the dunes: Our guide, 24 year old MBarack, from the town of M’hamid (where we began our trek), leads the way through the dunes on the first day.


Camel Portrait: Camels are grumpy creatures and usually didn’t appreciate the camera lens anywhere near their noses. Happily this one didn’t object.


Warming our hands around the campfire: The nights were cold and fires were essential not only for cooking but also keeping warm whilst waiting for dinner.


New Year’s Eve desert style: My friend Claire and I spent New Year’s night in the desert, chatting with the guide and his assistant in a mixture of English, French and Arabic. The guitar was passed between all of us – those few chords I can remember from school days not quite cutting it though.


On the march: We walked alongside the camel train for a majority of the trip, partly because we didn’t always have a camel available for riding but mostly because they were rather uncomfortable to ride.


Portrait of Mbarack: Great guy and so at ease in the desert. We were all friends by the end of the trip.


Dune Abstract 1: An experiment to capture these amazing lines in the sand and turn them into black & white abstracts.


9. Dune Abstract 2: Another experimental black & white shot.


Dune Abstract 3: And another.


Desert sunrise: Sunrise over the dunes was beautiful. The contrast between the golden sand in sunlight and the cold darkness of the sand in the shadows was so dramatic that it was difficult to capture.


Desert sunrise: Great whale-backed ridges of sand were all around me. Argh, which to photograph? You have no time to mess around as the sun rises suprisingly quickly.


The dead camel: The guide said it was old but I can’t remember ever clarifying whether he meant the camel was old when it died or whether it has been on this spot for a long time. Whatever, the smell, though subtle, was just enough to hurry us along.


Erg Chigaga dunes: Wow, our first view of the dunes of the Erg Chigaga (goal of our expedition) stretching off into the distance.


The dunes: They were hard work to climb! And covered in footprints from the crowds who were here on New Year’s eve (it is possible to reach here in a 4×4). Thankfully there were few other people around when we were there.


Light on the dunes:


Campfire: Here, Mbarack is pouring out the sweetened tea (”whisky de berber”) that is drunk all through the Sahara. Every time we stopped one of the first and most important tasks was to brew and drink this incredibly refreshing tea.


Camels at sunset: In the early evening, the camels were hobbled (front legs tied together by a short cord to stop them wandering too far) and allowed to graze.


Camels at sunset: They are fascinating creatures, full of character.


Dinner cooking next to the fire: Cooking around the campfire was a daily experience. We ate tremendously well, testament to the cooking skills of our guide Mbarack.


Nothing like a good old camp fire singalong: Stopping at sunset (6ish) gave us plenty of time to sit round the fire and listen to the desert songs.


Camel train returning home: We actually returned with a different camel train after our original three wandered away during their morning grazing. Despite us all searching frantically, they weren’t found until many days later!


Budding entrepreneur: This young desert nomad appeared out of nowhere whilst we were stopped for lunch on the last day. He was quite shy at first but ended up selling Claire a bracelet in exchange for some Dirhams (Moroccan money), some pens and permission for me to take a few photos. As soon as the camera came out, he grew in stature and started playing up, looking inquisitively into the lens as I took the shot.


Stretching our legs: The final day’s march was a long one, about 30km in total. Although it was hot, it was a pleasant day for trekking as we had a welcome breeze.


Final dunes: About two hours before we finished the trek we came across these dunes, the final set of large dunes. It was a great spot to pause and reflect on the wonders of the past 6 days.



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