Travel

Morocco: Spending New Years Eve in the Sahara Desert

05/01/2015

Today I am not going to write about my new year’s resolutions or about my hopes and dreams for the next twelve months. In fact I haven’t set any goals for this year, so I’m just going to try to be happy by doing every day things that I’m passionate about and spending time with the people I love.

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The new year started exactly like that: travelling in a new country with my husband and a few close friends.

After spending the last couple of New Year’s eve in London , this year I wanted to do something different and…memorable. I certainly achieved that! I had been dreaming to visit Morocco for a long time and after six years of suggesting it as a travel destination my husband finally agreed to it. We travelled with four friends for nine days and on New Year’s Eve we spent the night in the Sahara Desert.

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Our trip started in Marrakech and ended in Essaouira, but in the middle we did a four-day tour in the Ourzazate region, which we booked with Moroccan Desert Tours (my advice is: do not travel with them!). After crossing the Atlas mountains and driving for many hours, we finally arrived to Erg Chebbi in the afternoon of the 31st December.

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Erg Chebbi is one of Morocco’s two Saharan ergs (large seas of dunes formed by wind-blown sand), it borders with Algeria and its dunes reach a height of up to 150 meters in some places.

Part of the tour was a desert trek starting from the village of Merzouga. Camels carried us across the desert as the sun set over the dunes. As night fell we reached a Berber camp where we celebrated new year’s eve with other travellers and later spent the night sleeping in a tent.

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It all sounds very beautiful and romantic, right? Well the truth is that the night was VERY cold, long and challenging. I have never wanted more eagerly for the sun to rise again and shine on my face! We spent a total of fifteen hours outdoor, in temperatures that reached minus zero and without heating except for a camp fire for a couple of hours in the evening. There was frost on the sand the next morning! It wouldn’t have been so hard if we had been prepared for it and carried the right equipment (as I did when I watched the Northern Lights in the Arctic), but the tour operator told us it would be 3-5 degrees so we didn’t think it would be as cold as it was.

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Of course it was beautiful to ride a camel across the desert dunes, to look at the sky full of stars and wake up the next morning to see the sun rise. But it was hard to focus on the beauty around me when I couldn’t feel my hands and feet anymore! I will never forget my NYE in the desert, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this experience in winter.

Thankfully I was surrounded by amazing friends and we managed to have a good time despite the difficult situation and to laugh a lot during our evening at the camp.

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The man in the cape is my husband, by the way. All the locals called him Ali Baba!

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Photographing silhouettes in front of the sunset was fun though! I am so happy I shared these moments with my husband and some of my closest friends.

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We spent the evening inside a Berber tent, where we had a Moroccan dinner of tagine, couscous and roasted lamb, and then outside the tent dancing (to keep warm) and listening to the music of drums.

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We waited for the new year sitting close to the fire and at midnight we celebrated with biscuits, as we forgot to bring a bottle of bubbly. A very dry start of the new year!

At 6am we left the tents and climbed the sand dune where the Berber guide was waiting with camels to carry us back to Merzouga. The next hour was hard, the temperature was at its lowest as the sun had not risen yet.

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Around 7:30am we arrived at the other side of the dunes and I ran for the last few hundred meters to the hotel where we later had breakfast. I turned around just in time to see the sun make its appearance behind the dunes!

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So this is how 2015 started for me. I’m now back home in London, with these photos and sand in my boots to remind me of my NYE adventure!

I will never forget that night, but most of all I will never forget how happy I was in that tent joking with my friends. So here’s to a new year filled with love and laughter and adventures! Happy New Year!

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