The good, the bad & the ugly | Two weeks in the Sahara 

Someone at the camp made the hilarious point that they thought they’d get into some really deep and meaningful discussions while volunteering in the desert – and yet there we were laughing and joking around the campfire about shitting in the desert. 

Things had developed surprisingly fast at the camp and the rancid squatter toilet was removed and replaced with a weston loo. The only problem was that the loo needed two days for the concrete to dry before anyone could use it, so the camp was toilet-less. To be honest I was really happy because we were free to dig a hole and poop in the sand dunes which was much more natural and hygienic. It wasn’t ideal for everyone, especially for a Danish couple who became quite unwell, with the guy having to run to the dunes for explosive diarrhoea. It was always hilarious hearing his stories once he was feeling a bit better and we could all laugh about it – like when the dogs would charge towards him when he had to go in the dunes at night, or his roll of toilet paper blowing away in the wind. Another new development in the camp was electricity; One night we went to our hut and found a lightbulb on and the solar power had been linked up to all the huts. I kind of hated the lights, not only because it was unnatural but because it showed me things I didn’t want to see, like the fact that silverfish loved the mud walls. There were so many of them that it didn’t even seem worth killing them. Also when we really needed a light it wouldn’t work. One night a mouse ran past my torch light and darted around all our bags and clothes covering the floor. It was like a computer game, trying to follow the mouse with my torch. There was nothing we could do so we had to sleep to the sound of it rustling through our bags. The next morning Craig found his rather large bag of peanuts had been totally eaten by the mouse!!! There wasn’t anymore food for the fat, blonde mouse to eat so it was rather amusing that night when the power finally worked and the mouse did a few ninja sprints across the room before patiently waiting in front of the door for us to let it out.

The camp changed even more after our two day trip to Erg Chigaga Dunes, suddenly our small group of four had expanded to 10 people. The next day more people came and the following day even more. At one point we had 19 people there and it was way too many. We were lucky that we had a lovely private hut, while other huts had five people (and their own mouse) squeezed in. It reminded me of the book The Beach, when the new people arrive and all the dynamics of the camp change. It was nice to meet everyone but one of the main issues was that we weren’t being fed enough. They were getting nearly €100 a day and maybe spending €10 on food. Sometimes one tomato would be shared between 19 people. Or a fish Tajine would be served and 7 people didn’t eat fish so we’d have bread, sometimes dry bread and sometimes they’d offer us ‘hard’ bread which we found out was the shit they crush up for the pigeons. We also seemed to eat a lot of starch with every pasta and rice dish being a slimy mess.

We still had fun though and played lots of card games, ate dinner and then moved to the fire pit for a big sing song. Some nights the locals would sing us lots of songs and I loved it but after a few days we realised the Sahara CD consisted of about 6 songs. So it was a nice change when the group started showing their talents. I particularly loved listening to the Danes sing and jam on the guitar. Pedro the German-Brazilian was great at playing random songs that everyone knew the lyrics to, so we could all join in. Then there were nights when we’d just chat and laugh, mostly about poo, but also lots of hilarious ‘would you rather’ questions which I wont repeat!

We had a few different jobs over our two week stay, one of which was moving palm trees. Ahmed asked a bunch of us to help him grab ‘a’ palm tree. Then he said we needed to go in his friends car, and we’d get a tractor ride back. I wasn’t keen on going along as I was freshly clean that day after a few of us hung out at a nearby hotel pool – but the tractor ride sounded fun so I joined 5 lads.

It wasn’t fun at all. The palm trees were unbelievably heavy and they had to be lifted onto the back of a trailer on the tractor. There were 3 trees to move and I could barely help. I tried with one but it was so heavy and I just felt like I was getting in the way of the lads. Then a couple of us noticed that there were palm tree trunks spread all around the outskirts of the wall! The guys were covered in dirt and sweat from heaving the trunks up and when they’d finally finished they all climbed atop the logs for their tractor ride home. I was ready to climb up when Ahmed bloody told me I was riding his motorbike with him! Maaaan! That was the only reason I came along. I didn’t feel particularly safe on the back of his bike as he rode with one hand on the bike and the other with his mobile to his ear. The final section to the camp involved a couple of swerves on thick sand and giggles and thumbs up from Ahmed.

The next morning we found out that Mem, an English guy had been stung by a scorpion just before he went to bed. It was a small yellow one, well camouflaged in the desert and Ahmed thinks it came from the palm trees. The lads in his hut had managed to find and kill the scorpion, and then proceeded to google what type it might be, coming up with lots of terrifying names and deadly side effects. Apparently Ahmed sprayed gas on his foot, and then called for a Saharan ambulance…which was far from what we’d consider an ambulance to be. He said the pain was unbearable and the ambulance moved so slowly, stopping occasionally for a chin-wag. Mem was taken to Zagora which is almost two hours away to a very small ‘hospital’ with stained bed sheets. Luckily he was told after 24 hours it would be back to normal and he wasn’t going to die.

Another job we had was planting tree branches which will apparently grow into trees. As with all of Ahmed’s 2 second demonstrations, he started in the easiest of areas and was digging through soft sand. When we took over the area had changed to hard, gravelly sand and was such a bitch to dig into. We also had to dig lines through the sand to bury electrical cables, and our novelty lamppost in the centre of camp now worked – which I really disliked as it ruined star viewing so we’d usually request for them to turn it off. And of course we made more mud bricks, I really enjoyed making them actually. The weather was warming up a degree everyday in the desert and it was getting really hot working in the sun. So we made bricks very slowly, creating a ‘production line’ with two people making the mud mix and throwing balls of mud to each person along a line until the final person threw it with all their force into the mould. There were a few mishaps like when I didn’t look before I threw and suddenly Rosa’s white blonde hair was modelling a handful of mud.

We’d take regular breaks from brick making to play with the puppies who have now come out to socialise. The job tasks on the website included animal care so we put a lot of love into this job! They were the cutest pups and unbelievably chubby things. Weezer was a great mum to them, always running over if she heard them whining and instantly relaxing when she saw us. All the dogs loved white people, but hated locals that they didn’t know. I guess some locals have treated them bad in the past and tourists have given them nothing but love. On a really hot day, Pedro walked over the dunes and into camp wearing his jellaba (traditional men’s robe) and shesh (turban) and the dogs ran after him, barking like mad until they realised he was a tourist!

The dogs and the people are what made camp so enjoyable. One day we watched the sunset on the dunes with Jack and Sheila and headed back to camp, hearing a loud yelp behind us. Jack was shagging Sheila and his penis had locked inside her. So they both just looked up at us, almost blushing with embarrassment about the situation they were in. Jack clearly fell for Sheila even more after this occasion and the next few days were hilarious. Jack could not leave Sheila’s side, constantly sniffing her and making numerous attempts at humping her. Poor Sheila spent half her time with her lip curled up growling at the naughty boy who just stood above her wagging his tail wildly whilst she tried to rest in the shade.

After two wonderful weeks at the desert camp it was time to leave. We’ll miss the chilled lifestyle we lived there; making a few bricks, playing cards, swinging in the hammock, walking in the dunes, cuddling the puppies, playing cards, star gazing, chatting, laughing and listening to music round the campfire. We certainly won’t miss the food, the wind that whipped up the sand, the silverfish in our hut, the cat shits, or the lack of hygiene. I’m surprised we didn’t get ill there, Craig had a couple rough days but it could of been a lot worse. There was no running water so washing up was done using bottles of salty water from the well and no washing up liquid. I didn’t see anyone else wash their hands and we’d all eat from one communal bowl. But, we’re still alive and we have some amazing memories, now It’s time to head to some civilisation and scrub my body clean. We had to wake at 5am for our bus, it was a still, dark morning and Ahmed insisted we join him for one last Saharan tea before we left. Him and Baba were already up for prayer so we downed the sweet shot and set off with a Canadian guy called Cameron along the sand track. He had a much better torch than us which was handy as ours needed constant winding up. It was a lot easier walking towards town as we had the village lights as a marker, quite a few people walked back at dark on our final night and struggled to find their way. Mem had to call Pino to ask him to get the vintage lamppost turned on so he could see where the camp was. Sheila and Weezer followed us the whole way which was lovely. We passed the distinct smell of death that we always winced at when we walked to the village. This area of the desert seemed to be a dumping ground for anything from rubbish to dead animals and we counted five dead camels on our last walk in the daylight. The dogs walked us through the village and up to the bus stop where they had a play with a group of stray dogs. Man I’m going to miss these amazing dogs.

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