“Ben, wake up!” Duncan whispers from the other side of the tent. Mike shuffles in the cot next to me and pulls his blanket over his face. “Why is it so dark?” He groans, settling in for a few more minutes of sleep while I pull on jeans and a sweater, feeling my way in the thick inky air. I illuminate my watch and mark the time: just after 5:00 AM. Time to ride a camel.
Twenty minutes later, our group groggily makes its way to a train of sixteen sleepy camels lounging in the sand. We mount the black mounds one by one, confirming that they really are our desert steeds only when they lazily lift their hind legs to wrench their bodies, and our own, skyward.
We rode the camels up and down the moonlit dunes, trusting that our surefooted dromedaries and our fifteen year old guide would get us safely to the sandy perch where we watched the sun slowly ascend above the cliffs at the Algerian border. After a brief pause for group pictures, we made our way back across the red dunes in the growing light of dawn.