I will remember our desert experience for the rest of my life. We arrived in Douz with the assumption that we would be able to join a convey of French tourists on an overnight camel trek into the Sahara desert. Many buses filled with middle aged French 'adventurers' stopped, but after a half-hour camel ride or donkey cart journey and a photo, they left. Morrie conducted negotiations on behalf of myself, and a fellow Canadian who found himself in the middle of nowhere, without the French to negotiate a camel. In an odd arrangement we spelt out when we wanted to leave, how long we wanted to be away, and how much we wanted to pay for the experience, (30 dinars each). After negotiations in French, talks started in Arabic with the guide, whose first task was to buy supplies before we could head off.
At around three in the afternoon we set off - three westerners, three camels, and two Bedulin (only Arab speaking) guides. The guides walked barefoot along the sand, leading the camels. About 20 minutes into the journey, we stopped by a broken water pipe to fill the water bottles with water and let the camels take a drink. As we journeyed west the desert vegetation became sparser, and wide sand dunes developed. We were no longer walking in a straight line, but zigzagging around dunes, and climbing camel knee deep over the sand. When we stopped the sun had dropped and each ripple of white sand was outlined in purple, as the surreal landscape became black and white. Morrie felt that the desert was otherworldly, because not only was the landscape foreign, but very few people are able to see the desert at sunset.
Camels were unloaded and their two front legs were tied together before they were released to graze. Our guides collected sticks of very dry firewood and built a fire to cook dinner. We ate pita bread, cooked uncovered in the sand under the fire and spicy vegetable stew, with bitter peppermint tea. As we sat on the camel blankets eating, huge black scarab beetles emerged out of the sand and began to feast on the vegetable peelings from the stew.
We slept under the open sky on top of camel blankets. The moon rose to bathe the sand in black silhouetted light and the wind gradually began to cover us with sand. We basically dug ourselves out of our sleeping bag upon waking and stood shaking the sand from our clothes.
On the journey back to Douz we came across a group of people, filling up a large number of 20L water bottles from the broken pipeline. During our time in Tunisia, we had frequently seen donkey carts loaded with water for sale. In the desert, we had stumbled across a source of industry. The few women in the group were very surprised to see me, and for the first time during our trip, actually had the courage to approach me. I felt terribly embarrassed when I could not answer their questions, directed to me in French. These women, with probably only a few years schooling could speak a second language, and I with my years at school and university could not. Morrie translated for me, and I answered their questions about families and children.
We emerged from the desert around noon. We had a five hour drive north in front of us, but at the time all we wanted was a long, long shower. Douz was a tiny, dusty, empty town, but for some reason, was the home of a 4 star resort. Embolden by a guidebook suggestion, we ask the hotel front desk how much it would cost to swim in the resort pool. A couple of dinars (20p) later, we were swimming in the brilliant blue pool, surrounded by terracotta pots of fantastically pink flowers and resorts guests paying 100 pounds a night to enjoy the same sun, pool side, and coca cola by black tie waiter.
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