Camping in the Sahara is one experience you can die happy without. It sounded romantic when I booked the trip: ride in on camels, set up large tents, traverse the sand dunes, and experience the amazing night sky. Here was the reality:
You are brought the camp on camel back. Although riding a camel is something you should do before you die, it’s important to note that in Africa, a camel is a traveling black fly amusement park. So while the experience of riding the camel is enjoyable, you didn’t really go fast enough to have it be exhilarating or even to avoid the biting flies. When you get to camp, it becomes pretty obvious almost immediately that the sheets and bedding were left over from the prior group to come through. However, at that point you are so tired of the flies and heat, you just don’t care. This is when the fun begins.
The morning you wake up to already blistering heat. You have a breakfast in which the nomads from the region join you and dine, and you take a sneak peek at the kitchen. What is that? Why yes, they are just wiping the plates off with towels and the silverware isn’t even getting a rinse. There isn’t much water in the desert so every drop must be preserved. Will you get your sister’s fork tonight? Or will it be a nomad’s who possesses a completely different set of bacteria from you? Soon the flies set in as the heat edges 100º.
The oppressive weight of the heat makes walking in the sand dunes impossible. You end up simply sitting and waiting as black flies crawl all over your body—in your nostrils, your ears, your mouth, and your eyes. Eventually you break down, throw a white sheet over your entire body (the same white sheet that disgusted you the night before when your realized no one washed it) and watch the black bodies of the biting flies crawl all over it, searching for entry.
At some point you decide to take a shower so you pick yourself up and walk to the very public showers. A dribble of water oozes down over you (remember, water is scarce) which manages to splash sand all over your legs and feet. It was the first time I ever felt dirtier after taking a shower. Now that your own personal funk has been washed away with soap smelling of fruit and flowers, the flies once more descend in masses, trying to capture every piece moisture they can and biting to find the source of the sweet smell emanating from you. You return to the sheet over your head and wait.
Eventually, as a product of time and foreign food, nature calls. You enter the “bathroom” which is simply a small tent with a broken zipper around a bucket. All matter of life exists in this tiny area as it is shaded and several people have gotten “sick” there before you. You try to balance yourself over the bucket without touching anything and feeling woozy from the smell since breathing through your mouth doesn’t help. At the slight disturbance of your actions, everything that was feasting at the bottom of the bucket flies up in a black cloud and blinds you. Do you give up or commit? There is no toilet paper.
As the sun sets, the flies finally recede back into the sand dunes. Now is the time to explore. But, really, you only have a matter of minutes to look around, take photographs, and take it in. In a matter of moments the blackness will swallow up the whole camp and you will have to watch for scorpions. Then you realize you paid thousands to do this for several more days.