Last weekend I brought a group of seven 40 and 50 year-olds to southern Tunisia, the land of unique underground Berber dwellings and the exotic Sahara Desert. Like many visitors on group tours to the desert here, our plans included a camel ride through the dunes and an evening meal. But the similarities ended there.
Journeying Into the Sahara Desert in Tunisia
Our excursion started thirty miles beyond where most tour buses stop, in a remote village at the edge of the Sahara. Four men from the village waited with twelve camels to load our bags, tents, food and other supplies. As we packed up, a group of curious children from the village approached to talk. What I loved most about this adventure was that there were no other tourists around and we participated in the experience with locals. Mabrouk was the oldest and head guide. His smile beamed and his singing started the moment we began our one-and-a-half hour trek deep into the expanse. He told me later that spending the night in the sands with his friends is his favorite thing to do and that, group or not, he would do it anyway. That reassured me we were in for a fantastically authentic experience.
As we caravanned out into the dunes, or “waves” as the men said, something in the sand caught the eye of another guide, Mohammed. He reached down and carefully brushed off sand from an ancient hunting arrowhead dating possibly hundreds of years or more. Mohammed and I had just been talking about our families when the artifact distracted him so he gave it to me as a gift for my son.
An Unforgettable Evening in the Sahara Desert in Tunisia
Later after arriving at our spot we all pitched in to gather sticks for our campfire, prepare vegetables for our evening meal, and set up Arab-style tents. As evening fell and the stars began to paint the sky, Mohammed, Mabrouk and another man started singing, drumming the darbuka and a playing a wood recorder. They sang traditional songs about family, the black Sahara night, weddings, the date harvest, and more. Mabrouk’s circular breathing into the gezbah (wooden,flute-like instrument) produced mesmerizing notes that carried on like the sands around us. It fit perfectly in the desert setting.
A Satisfying Sleep Under the Stars in the Sahara Desert in Tunisia
Drowsiness soon took over and some of the group retired under the stars while I settled down in the open tent for a deep sleep. I’m not sure if it was the quiet of the desert, or the satisfaction of an authentic experience spent with friends, but I definitely slept well that night. I’ll always remember this overnight in the Sahara desert with my Tunisian friends, and I look forward to helping fellow travelers experience it as well!
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