Trekking in the Sahara

TT website

Oracle’s website

There can’t be many place names more evocative of wilderness than the Sahara. As a kid looking at the pages of my parents atlases the name evoked images of camel trains, French foreign legion forts and Tuareg warriors swathed in yards of cloth. These were the images in my mind as Ali, our camelteer, and his team, stood by the campfire swathing Fran in his yards long headdress! The guys had already cooked us delicious fresh bread in the campfire and stars were just starting to show in the darkening skies.
We had been trekking for three days now across one of the world’s most infamous and inhospitable landscapes, our target was 100km of walking to raise money for the Oracle Cancer charity specialising in head and neck cancers. In spite of my expectations the landscape had been more varied than I imagined. We had climbed away from our drop off point on sharp, scree slopes, passing camels and their guides coming the opposite way, as we made our way to a magnificent viewpoint where we were served the first of many magnificent lunches. We had picked our way through dried up riverbeds, Omar, our guide, telling us it had been a decade or more since water flowed through them, and we had camped next to deep, deep wells our tents nestled underneath the tall oasis Palms. We had climbed dunes of burnt ochre, the sand shifting beneath our feet, making the going slow, before tip toeing along knife edge ridges with steep, swooping slopes on either side of our precarious path. We had seen Wild Asses picking at the sparse vegetation and sporadic herds of goats and camels belonging to the locals who called this incredibly inhospitable landscape home. A home they were keen to share with us. We stopped at one encampment for tea and to play games with one of the children who delighted in the bubble blowing wand and balsa airplanes that the group had bought along with them.
Our camels had become an integral part of the team. They plodded along beside us carrying our packs and extra water and freeing us to walk without any additional burdens. When the wind whipped up the dust and grit, they batted their absurdly long eyelashes and marched on unperturbed as we swathed ourselves in sunglasses, hats and bandanas. Toby developed a particular affinity for them and spend much of the day leading them across the parched plains. At the wells we watched in awe as they gulped down gallons of cool, fresh water pumped from the ground by a solar powered pump. On another evening I sat on a dune above the well and watched small herds of these unique beasts coming from all directions drawn unerringly to the source of the water. Every night when we arrived in camp, and the camps were always beautifully situated, there was hot tea and popcorn waiting for us, our tents were up, and the team were busy in the kitchen tent preparing huge piles of salad and fragrant, richly flavoured tagines.
The Sahara is certainly a challenging environment and on this particular trek our longest day was 21 miles under a burning sun and with a stiff headwind. This is not a trek to be taken lightly but it is a trek that will take you to some remarkable places peopled by incredibly resilient and hospitable locals who are keen to share their traditional lifestyle with you. The rolling dunes are spectacular, other worldly and like something from a science fiction film as they disappear like mountains into the distance. There is something incredible about sitting in silence, under a sky filled with stars feeling the desert wind ruffle your hair atop a knife edge dune and feeling as if you are the last person on earth. That’s what the Sahara can do for you.