Saturday, January 17, 2009

Seven day winter trek












































Mabrouk (for those of you who dont know, is my new Algerian Toureg racing camel) and I joined five Bedouin friends and thirteen other camels for a six day trek into the desert.

Tourism is slow during this time of year, and feeding camels is very expensive. So, during the winter and early spring, groups of Bedouins often take camels into the desert, as feeding is quite good in the desert during that time of the year.

Of course not long after we left, we hit a sandstorm, difficult to see where you are going as the sand is blowing in your eyes. Raw beauty.
Incredibly cold and very windy. Like a white-out in the snow, only it is sand. For those who think going into the Sahara is all glamour, we had sand in our eyes (as well as every other orifice), and as our eyes watered, sand collected around them. Sand encrusted eyes are not glamourous!!!

We spent one night and morning with a group of Bedouins who had come to the desert with their mules and carts to get firewood for their homes in Glissia. As you can imagine, wood is scarce, and many many people still do all their cooking by fire. And even those who have stoves, still make their tea (a frequent event) over a fire. Sharing tea is a very important part of social life. That night we hoped to have a party and dance, but it rained, so the party was cancelled.

While I hate the rain (having spent a lifetime in Vancouver, a rainforest climate), my friends laugh and cheer when it rains. Even sleeping out in the rain is a happy event for them!


Wow. Very cold at night. It rained two nights we were there. Thank goodness it was during the night while we were sleeping, as gortex is unheard of here. But during the night, while I was snug in my tent for one (being the only female), my friends slept under wool blankets with a plastic sheet covering them! (see photo)

The sahara is never dull, always different and always incredibly beautiful and awesome. Even during windstorms.

On the second day we arrived at the place where we stayed for the rest of the time. We made daytrips after that to places, took some of the camels to eat in various places, made a fire and had lunch there. One day we saw a newborn baby camel with its mother wandering by. As you may know, the female camels live free in the desert, while the males live in the villages to work.Most times I would walk with just my socks, carrying my desert shoes, as the sand was so soft and felt so wonderful on my feet. Now I know why my friends always have holes in their socks. I wore holes in my socks during the six days!

After the first couple of days, the weather turned sunny and warm (ish), sometimes I would sit on a soft dune out of the wind and warm my bones and my soul. Just sitting. Looking at dunes, the camels, the sky.

Making fires. Much time is spent doing basic things in South Tunisa, making fires, preparing food, gathering wood, making hobsa (desert bread that is made in the fire - see photos) washing, shopping. But so much of the work is social, family and friends sharing the work, laughing, singing, telling stories.

One night as the moon was coming up and my tent flap was open, Mabrouk came right up to my door to see me. I like to think he missed me.

Sitting around the campfire during the day and at night, talking, listening to Mohammed (there were two Mohammeds) telling colourful and beautiful stories of Tunisian folklore and mythology (of course they were in Arabic, and Mounir had to translate them to me). Dancing. Playing the gasbya and bendir and listening to the sometimes soulful, sometimes playful music.

Spending time with Mabrouk, feeding him, learning to saddle him, riding him, just talking to him. Oh, and another thing - taking ticks out of his fur (by hand). Yes, I live a glamourous life!!!

Oh, and during the day and while sleeping, another sound that was always with us was the sound of our camels (male) deep groans as they are all in heat during the winter. It sounds a bit like whale calls. I really like it. Except when they get really hot, they make a 'glug glug glug' sound, as a meaty thing comes out of their mouth (like an ugly tongue) as it vibrates off the side of it's mouth, to return back to it's throat. Anyone interested in moving here??? Mabrouk doesn't do that as he has been 'fixed' - Toureg racing camels are neutered.

I love it all! (well, except the rain)

By the time we returned home, it was night, and I had to walk Mabrouk the last few miles. I still don't feel comfortable riding in the pitch dark. The canopy of stars in the black sky above us. The absolute quiet. And as we walked into the village of Glissia, the sounds of goats, sheep, children playing, people returning home from work with their camels or mules and carts, clik clop of donkeys, people talking, singing. Tired, but happy.

And as we walked with our camels through the dirt roadways past the stone and brick adobe houses, the haunting sound of the evening call to prayer was heard. A beautiful end to an amazing week.

I am blessed. Enjoy the photos! There is one video where you can see me ride Mabrouk.

Love Juanita, Lasfar, Mabrouk and Petunia
video