Call from the Sahara

26 September 2014



Words by: Yeung Nga Ting | Photos: Yeung Nga Ting & Shutterstock

Picture this: You are on a camel’s back, embarking on a journey of discovery in an unexplored land with nomadic herders. A headscarf keeps you cool and protects you from the burning sun as you make your way along a vast sea of sand. The sun, which resembles a golden orb, slowly starts to dip behind a magnificent dune. Stopping to admire this stunning spectacle, you can't help but feel connected with nature as never before. The beauty, stillness and tranquility envelopes you, infuses your soul, only to be broken by the movement of the camel as it moves on toward the rudimentary yet comfortable tent.

Making use of the fading light, you find yourself crawling up a steep dune with your sandboard firmly clutched in hand, the anticipation of the ride down building with each metre gained. The thrill and freedom to roam the boundless desert is also a welcome relief after the camel ride, which has left your rear feeling somewhat tender.

As the navy blue sky turns to black, millions of bright, twinkling stars appear. The melodious sound of traditional Moroccan Berber music lures you back to the tent, where sweet mint tea has been prepared by your Berber friends for you; that's Moroccan hospitality for you. Following this is tajine (well-cooked chicken and vegetables seasoned with local spices), which Moroccan families cook almost every day. While enjoying some juicy watermelon, the rhythm of an African drum raises the African Berber spirit to a crescendo; a fitting end to an incredible day - and the first of many wonderful experiences in this dry and inhabited part of the desert.

Everyone takes a mat from the tent and places it directly on the sand. Although your tired body cries out for sleep, you don't want to close your eyes because above you is one of the most beautiful pictures you will ever see. Thousands upon thousands of sparkling stars that cloud your vision and in this pure, sublime moment, you begin to reconnect with your inner-self.

This is a typical Saharan experience when travelling in Merzouga, in eastern Morocco.

With deserts becoming an increasingly popular tourist destinations over the last decade, the number of desert tourism products has increased and expanded to a wider market. However, the growth of this tourism niche raises particular challenges that jeopardize their fragile ecosystems and strains scarce resources.

Deserts are living environments that are very sensitive to human activities. Therefore, when over utilised, it takes countless efforts to restore its biodiversity and cultural heritage.

Paradoxically, the increasing popularity of desert tourism is undermining the very essence of the allure of these places.

What is more, the worsened desertification nowadays is the major cause of rising poverty.

Here are some things you can do as a responsible traveller:
• Leave only footprints in the desert.
• Select tour operators that are in harmony with the landscape visited.
• Walk or ride on camels, donkeys or horses instead of driving 4x4s or other motor vehicles in the desert.
• Respect the local communities residing in the desert and appreciate their craft skills.
• Talk to the Berber and learn about their cultural tradition and nomadic wisdom.
• Share what you learnt from the trip with your friends.

As global citizens, we all have a vital role to play in preserving our wilderness. In fact, desertification is directly linked to global warming. When there is an increase in the average temperature, it enhances evaporation and dries up the top soil, thereby exposing the land to wind erosion and ultimately desertification. You can help put a stop to desertification by reducing our impact on global warming, such as participating in tree planting, reducing consumption and switching to a greener lifestyle.

Hopefully in the near future, solar technology will become feasible and economically viable in the Sahara Desert, thus helping to increase rural electrification and bring cleaner energy to the world.

While remaining optimistic, let us not forget to answer the call from the Sahara; to create a sustainable desert tourism industry, which minimises the impact on the ecosystem, empowers the local community and uses the revenue earned from tourism to combat desertification.

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