At 3.6million square miles, the Sahara is the world’s largest hot desert spanning from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east and is one of the harshest environments on the planet.
On the Skyline Sahara Trek our trekkers take a 6 day journey through the desert, across dry river beds and up huge sand dunes and this year our Operations Manager Hannah joined the trek. Here she tells us all about it!
We meet the group of 21 nervous but excited trekkers at Heathrow and, after a quick introduction to the crew, get everyone checked in to our flight to Morocco.
Our trekkers have worked incredibly hard to raise the £2000 sponsorship each for this trip and are in great spirits as we start our journey to Morocco. Though our participants can raise funds for a wide range of charities, this group have all chosen to raise for different cancer related charities so they all have this in common as they get to know each other on the flight.
The challenge will see us trek almost 100km across the Sahara Desert supported by our Berber guides, Boubker and Hassan, along with a crew of cooks, cameleers and support vehicle drivers. This is no mean feat and we’ve all put in the hours beforehand to ensure we’re as prepared as we can be – though trekking through the British Winter was not comparable to trekking in the Saharan heat!
Having laced up our walking boots, adjusted the straps on our day packs, and popped on our sunhats we’re all ready and excited for this challenge of a lifetime!!
JOURNEY TO THE DESERT
After a long journey from the UK we arrive late into Morocco and roll into bed at the hotel in Ouarzazate, hoping to get as much sleep as possible before starting the trek. The following morning we wake to our first sights of Morocco in the sunshine and can’t quite believe the snow-capped mountains we can see in the distance! Ouarzazate town is located on the edge of the Atlas Mountain range that are home to the tallest peak in North Africa, but it is the smaller Anti-Atlas Mountains that we’ll be passing through on our way to the desert and the start of our trek.
The journey towards M’Hamid, the last settlement before the desert, takes us through the mountains and small villages, past oases and fig tree orchards. Although only a small walk today, it’s an extremely welcome stretching of legs after a long journey and a tingle of excitement passes through the group as we start what we came here to do!
Every morning starts with a warm up which begin as an enthusiastic version of what seems like ‘heads-shoulders-knees-and toes’ lead by Kenny but as the week progresses become increasingly competitive as we split into two groups of men and women – it’s obvious very quickly in the week that the women are winning these warm up games (!), but the men are determined and finally towards the end of the week pull a win from the women! These warm ups are a fantastic way to get us ready for the day and also give us a chance for a good giggle together and help bond us as a group.
Each day of the trek brings with it its own challenges, from 35 degree heat to having to constantly empty your boots of sand, but the group are incredibly supportive and always keep an eye on each other. A few of the group have also brought portable speakers with them so every now and again I hear the refrains of Bob Marley, specifically Don’t Worry About a Thing, drift over the sand and am instantly perked up with a spring in my step.
I’ve never been in an environment quite like this and can’t help but stop every so often to look around and take in this amazing place. The view is particularly spectacular at the top of a sand dune after you’ve clambered your way up but every dune we climb up, we have to come back down which means, if you’re unlucky like me, getting A LOT of sand in your boots!
Throughout the week the route takes us through rolling sand dunes, which means lots of climbing up and down, and many of our campsites are surrounded by these smaller dunes that provide some protection from the surprisingly strong desert winds.
We’re also lucky enough to camp near some fantastic large dunes on a few nights and each time most of the group will decide to make the long journey (sometimes 30 minutes) up to the top of the dune to watch the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen! These sunset dune walks also introduce me to the immensely fun act of running down steep sand – so difficult to describe in words but you HAVE to do it!
Although the popular image of the Sahara Desert is of these rolling sand dunes, we also trek across hard plains that stretch to the horizon as well as along a dry river bed bursting with bright green bushes and flowers, a complete contrast to the continuous sandy surroundings.
Throughout our time on the Sahara Trek we are accompanied by our incredibly hard working Moroccan team who transfer our luggage, as well camping equipment and food, by camel to our campsites each night.
The first night we arrive into camp and are provided with a tent between two to put up a collective sigh spreads round the group as we set about this task but as the week continues I’m amazed at how fast the camp is set up each night – though I have a sneaky suspicion that our local crew have taken pity on a number of the group, myself included, and speed the process up considerably!
It doesn’t take long for most of the group to decide to sleep out under the stars, in fact quite a few slept out on the first night, and this should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list. We all know what the stars look like but for a girl who lives in London and can sometimes not even see the moon out of her window, this is especially incredible – the stars completely fill the sky and as I get comfy in my sleeping bag I spot my first shooting star dash across the sky! Safe to say I’m pretty chuffed about this and go to sleep with a big smile on my face.
Each morning I realise that although it seems a good idea at night, chucking everything out of my bag in my tent does not leave me with a fun task in the morning and after a good ten minutes wrestling with my bag on the first morning in camp I’m resigned to the fact that my sleeping bag is not fitting back in! Hoping I get better at this as the week goes on, I pass my bag and sleeping bag over to our ground crew and set about taking my tent down, which is much easier than putting it up!
The central point of our camp each day is the mess tent, a large Bedouin-style tent with mattresses around the edge and plastic tablecloths in the middle for a ‘table’. Each evening we chill out here, playing cards, telling stories and generally just relaxing before dinner.
Speaking of dinner, I am bowled over by the incredibly tasty food that is produced every single day in a small tent in the middle of the desert. The kitchen tent is always alive with noise when we arrive into camp and out of this they produce perfectly cooked meat, couscous, soups, vegetables, pasta, salads and fresh bread! And just when we think we’re full to the brim with our main, bowls of puddings full of fruit start being passed round the tent; these cooks are already proving to be the unsung heroes of the trek as we very happily fill our plates and bellies!
After each delicious dinner we get a bonfire going and everyone gathers round to share stories and songs. The local crew join us with buckets and plastic barrels to use as instruments and treat us to some energetic tunes, which we all join in with although we’re unsure of the words! On the first night we’re asked to respond with a song ourselves and it’s crazy how long it takes to come up with a song that over 20 people know, and shamefully we land on ‘Just One Cornetto’ from the advert! Our local crew look a bit bewildered at this and we vow to have some better songs up our sleeves for the rest of the week. That said we never quite impress!
CHALLENGE OF A LIFETIME
After trekking almost 100km across the Saharan Desert we finish our trek by crossing the finish line into camp, an incredibly emotional moment for all involved as all the hard work has paid off and the group have conquered their challenge of trekking the Sahara as well as raising large amounts of money for charity!
I’m truly humbled by the amazing group of people I’ve crossed this desert with and the personal hurdles they have had to pass both before and during the trek. Never again will I scoff at the need for a good pair of walking boots or blister plasters!
If the Sahara Trek sounds like the challenge for you, go to www.skylineoverseas.com for more information.
The next Sahara Trek is from 5th – 13th March 2016