Of the Sahara, Berber Massage and Scombroid Poisoning

While our journey so far had shown us various facades of Morocco, the four days we spent exploring the Sahara desert and off beaten paths were probably the most memorable of them all. The infinite desert, the cacophonous noises of the local markets, the mouth watering whiffs of roasting kefta, the unforgettable cool taste of mint tea; the sights, the sounds, the smells and the tastes all coalesced to form our fondest memory of this exotic country.

Having traveled on our own for the first leg of our trip, we then arranged for a local tour to get us from Fez to Marrakech by land. We first considered renting our own car, but testimonies on travel forums of “insane” drivers on the roads and our tight schedule finally convinced us into signing up for a private local tour instead.

Our driver, Mohammed, picked us up early in the morning from Fez in a 4WD. Seated comfortably in the backseat with the aircon on, we’ve nearly lost all sense of time when the scenery began its transformation. In the horizon, the arid landscape gave way to massive sand dunes and we began (quite literally) squealing. As the asphalt roads started merging with the ochre sand, I silently ticked the bucket list in my mind.

Merzouga by Etjourn
Someone’s (not ours unfortunately) sexy ride to the desert.

Our camp was located near the Erg Chebbi – one of the two largest areas of sand dunes in the Sahara. While we could see the towering dunes from our camp, our short trip didn’t warrant a visit to the higher peaks and we could only admire them in the distance.

Sahara Desert by Etjourn
We didn’t imagine there would be so much shrubs in the desert!

Sahara Desert by Etjourn

Subsequent to our arrival we were led to the double humped Bactrian camels that would bring us to a nearby peak to watch the sunset. Our Berber camel guide, a young boy in his early teens, got us onto our respective camels, warned us of the impending “Berber massage” ahead, and tugged on the leashes.

If you haven’t rode a camel before, be warned, it isn’t pleasant.

The landscape simply did not allow for a pleasant ride and we experienced the famous “Berber massage” first hand as we tumbled around on the hard harness with every step the camel took.

The Sahara Desert by Etjourn
Our exotic masseuses taking a break.

Although we waited for the sunset, the thick clouds refused to let up. Instead, we played in the sand and watched figures occasionally appearing and disappearing behind the dunes. Desolate and inaccessible as the Sahara is, many Berbers still call it their home, living a nomadic lifestyle and constantly moving around according to the seasons.

The Sahara Desert by Etjourn
The sand doesn’t stick! At all!

The Sahara Desert by Etjourn

The Sahara Desert by Etjourn

If you read the title of my post, you probably noticed the mention of Scombroid poisoning. The tuna salad during dinner had tasted funky but, assuming it was some kind of Moroccan seasoning, I wolfed everything down. The effect was nearly immediate – my skin became flushed and I started feeling dizzy, much like how one feels after chugging too much alcohol.

Delirious from the dizziness, I momentarily suspected the “Berber whiskey” the camp attendant gave us was real whiskey (it was really just mint tea). Thankfully we came well equipped and had all sorts of medicines ready. So lesson learned – pack up those medicines if you are planning to go somewhere remote!

The Sahara Desert by Etjourn
One last gaze of the camp with our new friend before departing.

While our visit to the desert was short, the resounding silence and formidable landscape provided a glimpse of the desire of so many men who desired to conquer the desert. The next time we’re back though, I’ll make sure to stay away from tuna.