Camel Trekking – Welcome to the Desert!

Merzouga, Morocco

We emerged from the night bus bleary eyed in the early dawn – rubbing our eyes from what little sleep we had and trying to fight off the desert cold. The bus soon left us in a deserted road of what we think is Merzouga.

Jack making a makeshift thermal using my scarf on the freezing night bus to Merzouga
Jack making a makeshift thermal using my scarf on the freezing night bus to Merzouga - one of these days he'll forgive me for showing his leg to the world.

What we could see in the dawn light was mud buildings on a dusty street. ‘Cafe’ was crudely painted on one of them. Everything was closed. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but after the cramped alleys of Fez, the open desert horizon was disconcerting.

The touts started making their way towards us,

– Excuse me? Where’s your hotel?
– Excuse me, sir? Mam? English?

The camel guide who’s supposed to pick us up wasn’t there. We tried to call him only to find out that the only public phone there takes a special phone card and not coins (what’s up with that?)

In the meantime

– Excuse me? I help?
– Mam? What’s your hotel? You need camels?
– Sir? Mam? Let me help? Hotels? Camel trekking?

was buzzing non-stop around us: to our left, to our right, on our face. Jack was kind of enough to take the brunt of this, chatting all of them up, which gave me time to think of what to do next.

The only other tourists that morning – 2 German girls – were getting into the only car on the street. They asked, ‘We’re going to our hotel, do you guys want to come?’

The only other option was to wait for our guy, Mohammed, to come. Assuming he was coming.

But that would mean being alone with these touts, in a strange deserted city, with no transports to take us away if we want to. So we hurriedly got in the car with them. As we were driving away, I asked the girls how much the fare was. ‘We didn’t ask.’ ‘Seriously?’ They shrugged. ‘It’s not that we have other option.’

Good point.

The driver ended up wanting 15 Dirhams from each of us. 60 Dirham for what should’ve been a 10-15 Dirham ride km ride was a rip off, even for the desert. Thinking ‘Well, it could’ve been worse,’ and too sleepy and tired to argue we decided to pay without making a fuss.

Turned out he wanted 50 Dirham. Each. Which would make the 10 min ride a $25 fare. We balked, ‘No way!’

At one time I believe I actually said, ‘200 Dirham?! Right. Just take us back then!’ – which goes to show how little sleep can addle one’s brain.

He ran in into the hotel to grab the owner – I’m guessing to demand his commission as well as to talk some sense into us. Fortunately, the front door was left open and all four of us ran in with our bags. Securely ensconced inside we felt braver. The German girls delegated the task of bargaining to us – they themselves became spectators of the ensuing back and forth.

We offered him 60 Dirham. Jack was waving our money in front of his face. He refused to take it. Some shouting back and forth ensued in a medley of English, Berber, and Spanish. He seemed to realize that now that we’re at the hotel, there wasn’t much he could do. The hotel owner translated ‘Ok, ok. He said he’d take 100 for all of you.’

‘60 Dirham or none at all’ – the hotel owner barked something in Berber waving our money that the driver finally and reluctantly took. Not without some grumbling and spitting on the ground.

Now Jack and I with the German girls are in the common room with the owner, we told him we don’t have a reservation and would like to see a room.

‘Wait!’ He walked to the kitchen. ‘We should have tea first.’

15 minutes later all four of us were falling asleep with tea cups in our hand – the adrenaline from the altercation with the taxi driver was ebbing away – sipping the tea bit by bit in silence. We were antsy to see the room, bargain for it, and go to bed, but he kept pouring more and more tea!

How much tea can that little pot hold?

Moroccan tea pot - holds more tea than you'd imagine
Moroccan tea pot - holds more tea than you'd imagine

We thought of the sleepless night bus from Fes. It was an experience we don’t wish to repeat anytime soon. Buses in South America seem like a luxury in comparison. Yup, that even includes the buses in Colombia.

Finally after what seemed like ages, the owner got up,
‘Let me show you to your room!’

Our bed in Merzouga, Morocco
Sweet, sweet bed

We tried to get him to talk about prices of a camel trek. The thing is, it would be considered inconceivable that we’d stay there without booking the camel trek from them. It’s how they make money, see? But all he kept saying was, ‘You rest first. Later after you wake up, we talk!’

I hate not knowing what I got myself into. But the bed looks mighty inviting. All we wanted to do was lie down – dusty clothes and all.

Well, I guess the desert will wait. The camels will still be there. The negotiation can wait, doubtlessly accompanied by copious amount of sweet tea.

But first, sleep.

‘Welcome to the desert!’ he shook our hands seconds before we crash into bed.

To be continued…


Traveling to Merzouga to do some camel trekking? Here are some tips for you:
– If you’re coming from Fes by CTM bus, they’ll drop you off at Rissani – a 20 min drive away. Do NOT get into any 4×4 car. Take a grand taxi, which is usually an old Mercedes Benz, and pay the 12 Dirham fee.
– If you’re coming from Fes by Supratours, you can go directly to Merzouga. Be warned that you’ll arrive at 6:30 in the morning. Do not expect any petit-taxis around.
– A better bet is to make a reservation and have your hotel/auberge to pick you up. All of them offer this service.

6 Replies to “Camel Trekking – Welcome to the Desert!”

  1. Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the internet the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people think about worries that they just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people could take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  2. What are you talking about Jaime? They have a great story to tell because of it, and the new skill of not getting ripped off in tourist traps. I'd take this barrage from the touts any day over an organised tour where you're shipped every 10 minutes from place-to-place without realising where you've just been, or left in the dark as to where you're going next.

    Not that there's anything wrong with tours. I just came off one over christmas.

    But after reading this, I'm happy to "wing it" to Morocco in the next few weeks. I can deal with the guys vying for my business in the street. I dealt with it in Thailand, Croatia, Greece, …it's all part of the tapestry of life.

  3. Oh wow… and lol this is why I did an organized tour… lol and I know I hate them, but I didn't want to deal with all this. Glad everything turned out okay… ahh Moroccan taxi drivers… you gotta love them!

  4. Well, part 1 is less harrowing than my arrival in Merzouga. I am wondering what shocking prices you woke up to. Gosh, never get in a car or stay in a hotel without negotiating the price first! I imagine that since you're typing this, you are ok, though. 😉

    1. This happened to me once at a restaurant as I was driving through the Atlas mountains to Merzouga. I assumed that lunch would be very cheap since we were out of the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh. So we got our sandwich, sat down, ate, then asked how much it would be. I was told it would be 200 dirham for the 2 sandwiches. This is what I would pay in Canada. I knew I was being played. I worried that I wasn't in a position of negotiation because I had already eaten the sandwich. Then, thankfully, the next thought that came to me was that I was in a TREMENDOUS position of negotiation because I had ALREADY eaten the sandwich! It worked out okay:)

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