“Oksana!”, I heard panic in Max’s voice and immediately contoured my body and turned around trying my best not to fall off the camel.
“What is it?”, I screamed against the wind.
“Shit, Oksana”. Max was visibly distressed, frantically patting his shorts and looking around his camel saddle. “I don’t have our car keys”.
“Where are they?”, I asked not quite sure yet if I needed to start panicking or if this was just another case of Max misplacing something in his pockets/bag. “Relax, I’m sure they are just in some pocket in the bag”. I assured him, fully believing what I was saying.
“Muhamed, can we stop the caravan?” I yelled out to our camel guide who continued to lead our two camels through the desert. “We need to check the bags to find our car keys”, I explained.
“No, you don’t understand, Oksana”, Max insisted. “They are gone! They were in my small Velcro pocket and now the pocket is undone and the keys are gone”.
I couldn’t quite process the information. Were the keys lost? Did we have spare ones? Was this a big deal? Where we in trouble? What were we going to do?
It was our second day in the Sahara Desert, but we were still in absolute awe of our surroundings. It was just the two of us, our two camels (called Bob Marley and Jimmy Hendrix) and our camel guide, Muhamed, making our way up and down the dunes in search of tiny nomad settlements or the cool shades of the oasis.
We departed our hotel, Hotel Noad Palace in Merzouga, a town in the east of Morocco, the day before and after a painful (no one tells you camel rides are painful, so we will), 2 hour journey across the dunes, we rode into the sunset to a simple mud hut in a one-family nomad village in the Erg Chebbi
We ate a delicious Tagine meal prepared by the family and spent that evening drinking Berber Whisky (that’s what the Berbers call Mint Tea), playing cards, and joking around with Muhamed while practicing our star and light photography. (Muhamed was fascinated!)
The second day was possibly the most relaxing day we had in months. We saddled our camels shortly after breakfast and made our way to an oasis hidden away in the heart of the sand dunes. It was a short 1.5hr ride to get there, which our butts were oh-so-grateful for! We then spent hours lounging in the shade in the Oubira Oasis, drinking tea, eating more delicious food, playing cards, and chatting about life. Rested and relaxed, we were keen for another ride across the desert. We snapped pictures, played with our camels, and we were really looking forward to another great night in the Sahara.
But everything was about to change…
“Any luck?”, I asked Max who has now jumped off his camel and was frantically rummaging through his day pack.
“No. The key is gone. I’m walking back to the oasis to look for it”
“You can’t go back by yourself. It’s a f&$&ing desert and we’ve been weaving through it for more than an hour now. You’ll get lost!”, I cried out in disbelief.
“Ok. It’s no problem.” said Muhamed. “The camp for tonight is only 10 mins away. We continue walking, get to camp, you leave your things and we can walk back to look for key”
It was 6pm, just an hour before the sun dips below the horizon and covers the desert with a blanket of complete darkness. I didn’t like the idea, but there seemed to be no other option.
Upon arrival, Muhamed tied up our camels, introduced me to another Berber who was running the campsite (which, by the way, was a LOT nicer than our nomad mud hut the night before) before heading back into the desert with Max.
I was in for a long wait…
After spending 30 minutes flipping our bags inside out in search for the missing key, I decided to make good use of my time and take some shots of the desert.
Camera in hand I headed out of the campsite and to the top of the sand dunes. The sky was fierce! I snapped away at the harsh cloud lines and the beautiful sun dipping below the horizon and for a few minutes found myself completely mesmerised by the desert yet again. Lost key? What key? It didn’t seem to matter. The desert had me captivated.
The wind picked up and the clouds were looking more angry with every passing minutes.
I heard a faint noise from the campsite and looked over to realise that our camels had broken free and were hobbling (their right front knees were tied up to keep them in place) away from the camp site.
Shit! This wasn’t good.
“Camels! Camels! Help!” I ran back into the camp looking for the Berber.
He came out of the kitchen tent, looked at the sky, then at the running camels and sprinted into the desert to catch them. All of a sudden, the GoPro that I set up to take a time lapse of the sunset had dropped to the ground, knocked down by gusty winds.
A wave of sand covered my feet. I finally put two and two together. Angry sky+strong wind+animals running away for their life = we were about to get hit by the sandstorm.
My mind hit panic mode.
Max! The key! There was no way he was going to find it in the middle of the sandstorm. It was getting dark out. Are they even going to be able to find their way back?
The wind gust picked up another wave of sand and covered me in it. I ran back to the tent looking for shelter.
But I couldn’t sit still. I covered up (luckily by now I had become an expert at tying a desert worthy turban) and went back to the edge of the camp fighting against the sandy wind every step of the way. I stood there for what felt like eternity…
When 2 figures appeared on the edge of the horizon my heart filled with joy! It’s them! They are back!!!
I didn’t care about the stupid car keys, I didn’t care about all of our possessions, passports and other valuables being locked in the car. I just wanted them back safely.
And they were. I hugged Max tightly, not wanting to let go.
“I didn’t find the keys”, he whispered.
“It doesn’t matter” and in that moment it really didn’t.
We tried our best to enjoy the rest of the time we had in the desert. The delicious meal, Berber whiskey, and some traditional Berber music, singing, and dancing helped us put aside our worries…even if it was temporarily.
The next morning Mohamed and two of his friends borrowed a ATV and retraced our steps in the desert searching for the damn keys. But the desert had them now. The sand storm had covered our tracks and made it impossible to find something so small in the gigantic sand dunes.
Despite losing our keys, we returned from the Sahara Desert in complete awe of the experience. Hearing the stories of the Sahara nomads from Muhamed, drinking tea and eating home made tagine in the nomad’s camp, watching sunrise and sunset among the sand dunes, and seeing the desert Berber lifestyle with our own eyes was the highlight of our time in Morocco.
Upon returning to the hotel the next morning, we called our rental company, Europcar, and with some help from the amazing hotel staff were presented with 2 choices.
- Sit tight and wait for 2-3 days for the spare key to be delivered from Casablanca, or
- Order a tow truck which would tow our car and us to the nearest Europcar dealership, which happened to be in Ouarzazate, some 300kms away.
The rental company played nice and agreed to cover the cost of roadside assistance, leaving us with only $250 fine to pay for lost keys. I guess it could’ve been much worse!
An 8-hour sweaty, smelly, bumpy tow truck ride later we arrived in Ouarzazate, where the Europcar manager managed to unlock our car and free our belongings. Since the car keys were still missing he gave us a new rental, collected our $250 fee and let us go on with our Morocco road trip.
They say, all is well that ends well and, given the circumstances, we got off pretty easy, but losing our car keys in the Sahara Desert has got to be the STUPIDEST thing we have ever done!