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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

Sahara crossing by foot in 12 days

Updated: May 8, 2022

9 crazy adventurers, along with 3 nomads and 10 dromedaries
About 280 km in 12 days by foot across the Moroccan desert
With 20kg in our backpacks crossing dunes and sand storms, not to be slowed down by any setbacks

Sounds like an adventure - and that's what it was :-)

Let's start from the beginning. Meeting point with the other participants is in Marrakech. We arrived two days before the start of the tour to acclimatize ourselves. The Medina, the ancient city center, is super busy. There are traders everywhere who sell all kind of stuff. The only way to escape from the noise is behind the walls of the riads (hotels) or in the mosque. The official get-to-know dinner is Monday evening, but we meet most of the participants on Saturday evening. We get along great from the start. For the next day we arrange a guided city tour with a guide. We visit the famous Bahia Palace and stroll through the souks. We still need suitable clothing for the Sahara - linen shirt and trousers as well as a cheche, the typical headgear that protects against sun, wind and sand. We still have to practice negotiating a bit - later we learn that you should start the negotiation with a maximum of one third of the price first mentioned.

The Cheche, multi-purpose tool of the desert

At the official start on Monday evening we also meet our guide, Thorsten, and get some information about the tour. On Tuesday morning we take the bus to Foum Zguid, where we start. We head over the Atlas Mountains towards south. Of course, the bus ride takes much longer than planned. We finally arrive around 4 p.m. and have a warm welcome with Moroccan tea in the riad. The last night in civilization, so to speak. At this place we meet Mustafa - our local guide - for the first time. He grew up as a nomad and knows the area we are hiking through like the back of his hand. Also in the team are Adi and Hasan, two Moroccan camel guides.

Bivouac Les Nomades Foum Zguid Marocco, Marokko Sahara Adventure Dessert
Mustafa and Adi with our dinner

The next day we finally start off. Everyone carries its own luggage, including sleeping bags, sleeping mats, clothing and daily provisions. The dromedaries transport our tents, water and food supplies. Due to his photo equipment, Micha has almost 20 kg on his back, me about 15 kg. The walking pace takes some time getting used to. At the beginning we struggled to keep up. And I have to acclimatize to the heat. The thermometer usually rises to between 25 and 35 degrees, but it feels much hotter. For this reason, we start walking immediately after sunrise, so that we usually reach our camp at around 12 - 2 p.m. So we can relax at the hottest hour in the desert at a shady oasis on the carpet. Adi and Hasan provide us with fresh Moroccan tea (with a lot of sugar) and later with a delicious lunch. Surprisingly, there are all the time a lot of fresh vegetables, such as aubergines, peppers, potatoes. Really delicious! We didn't expect that. And in the evening we are cooking again. We're doing really well and the food is as diverse as it can be when every kilo counts.

Michael und Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Marokko Marocco Sahara Dessert Wanderung Wüste Foum-Zguid
One of our delicious lunches: Salat with homemade bread

Our overnight places are also very diverse and range from the "typical oasis" as you imagine it, with palm trees and a water hole, to endless sand dunes. Most of the time, however, it is only a large acacia tree that provide the necessary shade. Of course, our route takes us to fountains and water holes about every 48 hours, where we have to fill up our water supply. I love the evenings the most. The tranquility, the endless space and the magical sunsets followed by starry nights. I probably have never seen so many stars as in the Sahara.

Michael und Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Marokko Marocco Sahara Dessert Wanderung Wüste Foum-Zguid Milchstrasse Sterne
Milkyway in the Sahara at new moon

After a few days, I have acclimatized to the way of hiking and feel quite well. The daily stages are mostly around 20 km, which we walk quite fast. The afternoon is for relaxing. We have plenty of time to get to know each other. Sometime, we explore the surrounding table mountains in order to enjoy the unique far-reaching views and the sunsets from there.

Michael und Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Marokko Marocco Sahara Dessert Wanderung Wüste Foum-Zguid Tafelberg
Sunset on the table top

Of course there is also the obligatory low that I have reached on day 5 and 6. After a sleepless night in a sandstorm, a rather strenuous stage awaits me, first over dunes and then through a boulder field. And you are asking yourself why you're doing this. But then there are also those wonderful moments where a water hole is waiting for a swim! How cool is that? After 7 days finally a refreshment and at least basic personal hygiene :-)

Michael und Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Marokko Marocco Sahara Dessert Wanderung Wüste Foum-Zguid Oase
Oasis in the middle of the Sahara - time for personal hygiene

Once as we were running out of meat supplies, Mustafa asked if we would like to buy a goat. Why not? At the next nomad settlement, the animal was already waiting and we tied it to a dromedary. When we arrived at our camp for the day, it was time for slaughtering. Of course, Mustafa and Hasan who are very familiar with it, took over. The deal was, however, "If you want to eat meat, you have to watch and at least assist a bit.". I personally was very interested in that experience. A quick and clear cut in the throat, then the goat's skin was pulled off and it was gutted bit by bit. Really everything from the animal was used. On the first evening the innards were served, which had to be eaten as fresh as possible. Liver wrapped in some belly fat and grilled over the campfire, as well as a kind of haggis, stomach filled with heart, liver and other innards. Not for everyone, but it tasted delicious. From time to time we baked fresh bread - the nomad way, that means in the sand oven. Take a well-kneaded yeast dough and cover it with sand and embers. Soon the bread is ready! And it tastes so delicious! All in all, we had a really good culinary experience.

Michael und Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Marokko Marocco Sahara Dessert Wanderung Wüste Foum-Zguid
If you want to eat meat, you have to be willing to kill

We mostly slept outdoors - just with a sleeping bag under the starry sky. I loved those nights. An incredibly beautiful feeling to fall asleep and wake up directly under the open sky. Only sometimes, when scorpions or snakes were in the area, we had to sleep in the tent. Surprisingly, voluntary contact with wild animals was strictly forbidden, follwing the motto: "Just because you caught a lizard when you were 7 years old, you shouldn't pet a snake". Even more because almost all snakes living there are deadly poisonous.

In addition to the rule with the wild animals, there were of course a few other ones that had to be adhered to, such as unauthorized/unannounced removal from the camp site. This was illustrated once at the campfire using the example of a former tour participant. Let's call him "Harry" for the sake of simplicity. Harry was an elite soldier and was not quite up due to various mind-altering medicines and drugs. So one day, when Harry was stoned, he decided to move away from the camp into the desert, only equipped with a bottle of water. Long story short, it ends with the completely dehydrated and already unconscious Harry being accidentally found by a nomad and thus narrowly escaping death. Shortly before fainting, he left a message with his name on it, written in camel dung on a rock face. The moral of the story, orientation and finding water in the desert is not an easy thing.

Michael und Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Marokko Marocco Sahara Dessert Wanderung Wüste Foum-Zguid
Arduous walk on endless sand dunes

As the tour progressed, the wear and tear in the team was clearly noticeable, injuries such as countless blisters, bruised knees and shins, strained muscles, ligaments and joints increased, so that many of us were looking forward to the end. However, we have always tried our best to counteract the wear and tear through yoga and massages as well as many small surgeries in the so called "Emergency room Sahara". Micha and I actually made it through the tour without injuries or serious pain. If we got enough sleep, we could deliver the performance but still enjoy it along the way. It is also very positive to report that we are the only team ever that has not had any cases of diarrhea. So, big thanks to our cooks, the water team for the conscientious disinfection and the hygiene morale of the participants - washing dishes, hands etc. is always a sensitive issue when water is scarce.

Emergency room Sahara

Of course, the great and creative gift of the participants to the team also had a positive effect on our morale. These ranged from card and board games to exquisite coffee to delicacies and spirits.

Michael und Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Marokko Marocco Sahara Dessert Wanderung Wüste Foum-Zguid
Warming up at the fireplace in a cold night

A highlight was our last evening in the desert. Our camp was only 5 km away from the village of Mhamid, where the tour ended. In the afternoon we walked there to get drinks and snacks. As a special surprise, Mustafa even organized a shower for us at a café. So awesome - try asking the dude at the bar in Germany if you can take a shower at his house, after 12 days in the desert! And so, freshly pimped, we had an awesome party in the desert that evening. Woohoo! Who has ever danced amid sand dunes? Finally it also paid off that our team lead dragged a sound box through the desert for12 days. Thank you, Thorsten :-)

All in all, truly an unforgettable experience! I have to admit that I was totally fascinated by the landscape. I wouldn't have expected that. And after 12 days of digital detox, no alcohol, no washing and no other comforts, you start to appreciate things a lot more. Micha and I first treated ourselves in a hamman and had all the dirt scrubbed off. But after half a day in the noisy Marrakech, I longed for the silence of the desert. I will definitely come back :-)

Michael und Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Marokko Marocco Sahara Dessert Wanderung Wüste Foum-Zguid
Protective wall against the sand storm

Michael und Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Marokko Marocco Sahara Dessert Wanderung Wüste Foum-Zguid
Have you ever played football in the desert?

Michael und Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Marokko Marocco Sahara Dessert Wanderung Wüste Foum-Zguid
Sunset stroll on the highest dune for miles around

And here are a some misconceptions about the desert that we can now refute:

The desert is made of sand

The terrain was really very diverse. On two days we had pure sand landscape with dunes. Otherwise there was a lot of stone and rocky desert or gravel and boulder fields. And then of course acacias, which often gave us shade. Very special are the countless table mountains, which have a really magical effect.

It's always hot in the desert

We had everything from 0 degrees at night to 35 degrees during the day. But it can also get chilly during the day if there are clouds in the sky. And clouds in the desert always mean wind. This can be very uncomfortable. I even caught a cold.

Eggs need to be refrigerated

No, absolutely not. We had fresh shakshuka every morning for 12 days, a North African specialty made from poached eggs in a tomato, chilli and onion sauce. Eggs will keep for weeks unrefrigerated unless you start putting them in the fridge once.

Functional clothing is the ultimate

Adequate clothing for the desert should typically be made of cotton. The water you sweat does not evaporate as quickly as with synthetic fibers and therefore remains close to the body to cool. By the way, this was checked by Jean-Marc, who became dehydrated in this way and had to drink 7 liters before he could pee again.

A big tribut to finish to the ...

Michael und Marion Marquardt mmq Photography Marokko Marocco Sahara Dessert Wanderung Wüste Foum-Zguid team ever

Many thanks also to Mustafa for his guidance and his experience and of course also the fun we had together. You can find Mustafa's website here. He offers all kind of desert tours, be it from Marrakesch, with dromedaries, jeep etc.

P.S. The pictures are mostly taken by Micha, and some by Alex Spoerndli. Thanks, Alex!!!

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