Trekking the Sahara for Oxfam Canada
by Karen A. Murray
So, I just got back from a week of walking through the Sahara Desert. Yep, I did just say, a week of walking, through the Sahara Desert. When I told my friends and colleagues I was planning this adventure, I got a barrage of questions, generally led by "Are you nuts?" followed by "Why? Are you nuts?" My reaction is "No! I'm not." But maybe I am, just a little, when it's for a good cause.
The 116-kilometre trek was a vehicle to raise money for Oxfam Canada. It was organized by Charity Challenge, a British company (with a Canadian arm) that organizes adventure challenges and partners with registered charities looking to fundraise. Oxfam Canada works to end poverty and injustice in the world by securing basic human rights, combining support for long-term development and humanitarian responses, with research, advocacy and campaigning against the root causes of poverty and injustice. I raised funds before I left for Morocco and when I got back. I talked a lot about the trip and Oxfam Canada's goals.
A little background: I am a seasoned desk jockey with a serious case of wanderlust. I love travelling; the further off the beaten path, the better. l love adventure and have come to love combining fundraising and adventure!
Six hours from nowhere
I met up with the group (except for one who missed the plane) in London for our flight to Ouarzazate in Eastern Morocco. The trek started six hours from nowhere when we turned off a dusty desert road and started walking. Thankfully, we had two skilled Berber guides who knew where they were going, because, in the desert, it all looks the same at first. Day one was a short 10 kilometres to our camp site, outside a Berber village. Clearly, we made an impression as the local kids paid us a visit. We played with them on the sand dunes for a few hours.
The next few days were longer - up to 30 kilometres a day - in temperatures reaching 39C. The trekking was physically challenging, across dried river beds, through mountain passes covered by rocks the size of soccer balls, through never-ending valleys, up and over massive sand dunes.
But the real challenge for me was the mental aspect of the trek. I have done plenty of long distance walking, including the Oxfam Trailwalker 100K / 48 hour "adventure." But it was draining to walk in a desert without landmarks to provide a sense of progress. Thankfully, I had an amazing group of compatriots to distract and entertain me. We did quiz questions, told embarrassing stories, and created lasting friendships.
Snakes, a scorpion and a sandstorm
The trek brought together a varied group of adventurers: butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. OK, no candlestick maker, but we did have a visual artist, an accountant with a sense of humour, a couple of teachers, a university student, a police officer, baggage handler (who actually delivered the seven lost bags), bio-scientist, hip replacement engineer, osteopath, a couple of entrepreneurs, and a lawyer. As the only Canadian in a group of Brits, I was treated to remedial English lessons and started speaking properly. Granted, the lessons were lost the second I stepped off the plane in Toronto.
Our Moroccan support crew kept us well fed, sheltered from the sun at lunch, well-housed at camp and entertained with local song and dance most evenings. We slept under the stars and marveled at the beauty of it, even through a sand storm in the wee hours. Our expedition leader and trip doctor held us together and dealt with a ridiculous number of blisters and lost toenails and nursed a couple of mild cases of heat stroke. Thankfully, I made it through without a single blister. We saw some rogue camels, lizards, and snakes, dung beetles and a number of dead goats and gazelles and a lone scorpion (only after a whole morning of searching).
So, to answer "Why?" I believe that the more you experience different cultures, and see different parts of the world, the more you internalize how similar we all are; that underneath our cultural differences and points of view, we are all human, we all laugh and we all cry and we all deserve a chance to better our lives.
Dreaming of the next great adventure.
Karen A. Murray is a Toronto lawyer who raised nearly $3,000 for Oxfam Canada in a Charity Challenge adventure trek in the Sahara Desert.