While researching a destination I always come across activities that seem like a lot of fun when I’m back home. But faced with the actual adventure I often kind of regret booking it. Because that’s when my fears kick in. And sometimes with good reason too: an elephant in South Africa chased us, I almost fell in a ravine while horse riding in Lesotho and was attacked by a whale shark in the Maldives. When I saw the camels we were supposed to ride to our Bedouin camp in the Moroccan Sahara, I was afraid this was yet another example of a seemingly great activity that could easily go wrong.
Friends and family consider me a fairly adventurous person. I skydived in New Zealand, I scuba dived in many Asian waters, I swam with seals, paraglided in Queenstown, hiked the W in Patagonia and spent five days on a boat in The Philippines, playing Survivor in Palawan. Although I have an adventurous spirit, I also struggle with fears that are trying to get the better of me.
I’m scared in local buses with maniacal drivers. I’m scared of the open ocean. I’m scared in small boats when the water is choppy. I’m scared of big waves in general. I’m scared of flying. I’m afraid of walking to my hotel late at night. Frankly, it’s exhausting. Especially when I’m travelling, because then all of these things can occur on a daily basis. Since I love nothing more than exploring new places, I have to block out those fears. What’s the point of travelling if you’re going to be scared all the time? I think that’s why I loved Torre DeRoche’s book ‘Love with a chance of drowning’ so much. She is terribly scared of the ocean, but she still decided to go on a two-year sailing trip from the USA to the South Pacific with the love of her life. Inspirational stuff!
A new fear: camel riding
In Morocco I encountered a new fear: camel riding. It had sounded so romantic: just before sunset you ride your camel through the Sahara, enjoying the last rays of sunshine. You sleep in a Bedouin tent and wake up early to see the sun rise above the desert. But of course, the truth is a bit different. Camels are a smelly bunch and they have a mind of their own. And they’re big! I contemplated cancelling the whole trip when I saw mine, but that would be giving in to the fear. So I hoisted myself on the back of my new best friend. Who got up with a shock that almost sent me flying over its head, into the desert. But so far so good.
Running to freedom
There were three other people in our group and the camels were tied to each other, being led by our Touareg guide. Unfortunately it was cloudy and very windy, so the desert looked a bit dull and the sand blew into our eyes, mouth and ears. And my camel appeared to be very angry to be stuck in the middle of the camel train, so he started biting his brother in front of him. Which sent the other camels into a frenzy. And me too, since I had visions of my camel breaking loose and making a run for freedom, roaming the Sahara till the end of time. With me on its back. My boyfriend found this a ridiculous thought, of course, but he hadn’t read this blog yet! Camels do break free every now and then…
My camel and me got transferred to the front, so we were leading the way. And what a way that was. Our guide insisted on leading us to the highest tops of the sand dunes, where the camels had to balance on the edge. Of course, they were totally fine, but I was scared again. What if the camel couldn’t keep his balance, what if we fell, what if I got trapped under that big animal? Yes, it’s very exhausting to be me. After half an hour (we still had at least an hour to go) I decided I really didn’t like camel riding. I was completely cramped up, the Bedouin tent was nowhere in sight and it was getting dark too fast for my liking. I really didn’t want to be stuck on that camel in the dark.
After what seemed like an eternity, we reached tent camp. Just a few minutes before dark. And somehow, from that moment on, I loved the trip. All my fears just melted away. There were only about six tents, set in a circle against a big dune. I listened to the singing of the sand, caused by the fierce wind. We ate the best tajine we ever had, we listened to our guides playing Bedouin music and exchanged stories with the other travellers. And of course, when all the clouds had disappeared, we looked at the amazing starry sky. It felt like we were all alone in the world: just nine people lost in the desert.
A magical moment
I woke up very early the next morning. It wasn’t dark anymore, but the sun had yet to rise. I opened my tent and looked out over the sand dunes. Our two guides were praying in the direction of Mecca, about a hundred meters apart from each other. It was a magical moment: it was completely quiet, but in my head I heard the Muslim call to prayer. The sun was peeking over the edge of the biggest dune, casting sharp shadows in the golden sand. I was alone, quietly watching the two men immersed in their prayers.
Back to safety
Whether it was this beautiful moment, I don’t know, but I was actually looking forward to the camel ride back. Now the sun was shining, so I could take the photographs I had hoped for. A challenge in itself, taking photos from the back of a camel. I kind of got into the rhythm of my camel, so I wasn’t holding on for dear life anymore. And the most important thing: I trusted my camel to get me safely back to Merzouga. Which of course, he did. If my fears had kept me from camel riding, I would have missed out on so much. All the more reason to never give in!