Getting lost to find oneself
One cold evening in January, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation about the first-time edition of Trek Rose Trip, in Montreal. My journalist friend Sarah-Émilie and I didn’t really know what to expect. But this 100% female, on-foot orienteering trek had piqued our interest, and its solidarity and ecoresponsibility components spoke to us. Without hesitation, we registered to participate, from October 20 to November 5, 2018. We even brought our friend Véronique, also a journalist, unknowingly along for the adventure, to make up our team: Les panthères roses [The Pink Panthers] (visit our Facebook page). The perfect trio for getting lost to find oneself…
WHAT’S THE TREK ROSE TRIP
Organized by the Basque agency, Désertours, with over 30 years of event organizing experience, in the heart of Morocco’s Saharan desert, as well as in Chile, the Trek Rose Trip is much more than a 3- to 4-day trek on an enormous playing field! In teams of three, the challenge consists of getting from point A to point B with the help of a compass (forget your cell phone and GPS), a road book, a distance calculating system called tripy, good walking boots, and of course, comfortable clothing like my Lolë Salutation Legging with pockets.
FEARS BEFORE DEPARTURE: I have to admit that I was a little worried about my physical condition. I had the feeling that my training these past months (jogging, biking, spinning and exercise routines called tabata) might not be enough. To my great surprise, my trekking companions shared the same concerns. We’d chosen to enter in the OPEN category (in 2019, you’ll be able to choose among four categories). I also feared getting lost; I have no sense of direction, and don’t get me started on my sense of observation! Finding points of reference isn’t obvious (dunes all look somewhat alike!). My friends and family were worried about me getting lost in a desert. Even though we’d be equipped with a GPS system to get us back to safety if we got hopelessly lost, I felt it necessary to keep our plan to take part in the Trek a secret for a long time.
Before the Trek
Hoping to give ourselves the chance to ease gently into this experience, we spent a few restful days discovering the great city of Casablanca, followed by the long road to Erfoud, passing through Midelt. I was rather surprised when giant snowflakes began to fall while we were crossing the Atlas Mountains. Let’s just say that this was not the Morocco I’d imagined. Luckily, the weather changed completely when we reached a flourishing palm grove nestled in the hollows of the Ziz Valley (known for its delicious dates, among other things), and entered the arid zone of the Sahara. The entire Désertours team, accompanied by talented Berber musicians, welcomed the one hundred women from Quebec. The next day, it would be the French women’s turn. We slept in charming bivouacs: spacious and comfortable white tents—think mattresses and blankets—showers (with hot water!) and toilets, surrounding a Moroccan-style space in which to relax, drink mint tea (so sweet!) and share couscous. A true “glamping” experience!
November 1st 2018
Duration: 8 hours 30 minutes / Loop 3 / Tags: 8
We were all up at dawn, surely due to the excitement in the air. Why not take advantage and stretch with the professional coach, dressed in my new Lolë Burst Ankle Legging? We acquired our dehydrated lunch (including a special self-heating technology that we’d never heard of before: that made us laugh!), our water and our tripy system, and there we were, crossing the great arch with great anticipation.
Having well-defined roles in our team of three and no speed challenge to face, we were free to take our time to get acquainted with the orienteering equipment, unknown to us before this adventure. It only took a few minutes for me to relax and feel at home: what a pleasure to find myself here, in the Sahara!
Small dunes—“dunettes”—dotted with copses of trees, followed one another to reveal tags and cairns (piles of stones reminiscent of Quebec inukshuks). Not easy to stay the course in this maze of sand waves. On the way, two snack and water stations (it’s banana, mandarin, date and fig season!) gave us a bit of hope. To complete the day, we’d have to scale blue-hued rocky peaks, one of my favourite landscapes on this trip! Once back, we enjoyed a most meaningful, lively evening around a fire, with the Israeli singer Tal, while lovingly encouraging the last teams arriving in the dark, carrying their light sticks proudly.
“THE MIDDLE LAND”
November 2, 2018
Duration: 8 hours 18 / Loop 2 / Tags: 10
I began this second day with a smile. I didn’t feel any tension in my legs. The morning stretches were wonderful! Sandrine, who works for a Quebec magazine, joined our team. We headed south once again; there was very little elevation to interrupt the flat landscape. I felt more confident with all the orienteering equipment and so privileged to be here, experiencing the present moment. I was also happy to leave nothing more than my ephemeral footprints behind in the desert. Lunch took place under four wood beams upholstered in fabric. Véronique renamed it: “THE most beautiful terrace in the world.” Dunes rippled on the horizon.
After crossing a large plain covered in pretty, flat fossils, a vast field of melon-like berries, inhabited by dromedaries, suddenly appeared. But the endless Erg Znaguy dunes were definitely today’s hosts: a succession of perfect dunes with well-defined peaks, to climb up and down for the last seven kilometres.
I’ve fallen in love again with my walking sticks! The beautiful landscape helped us forget the physical effort required. By luck, an etiopath was available back at the camp, to help release tensions from the day’s efforts.
November 3, 2018
Duration: 7 hours 36 min / Loop 1 / Tags: 10
During the morning yoga session, a small fresh wind blew and stayed with us for a good while. This confirmed that I was wise to pack some technical clothing, such as my short- and long-sleeved Lolë sports tops. This last day revealed the typical topography of the Merzouga region: half-sandy, half-pebbled, volcanic landscapes that appeared almost lunar, with high plateaus reminiscent of the American West, but with golden dunes tucked between the hills. We continued on to little passes between mountains and progressed onto the peaks to look for the tags concealed among the rocks. The wadis (rivers) of sand also brought us to food and water stations, and to a picnic in the shade of isolated trees.
The day went by too quickly. Maybe habit had set in already. To celebrate the experience, many of us admired the gorgeous sunset while sitting comfortably on a dune. I took the opportunity to wear my favourite Lolë Pasty top. Worth mentioning is the luxury of taking advantage of services available from massage therapists (or doctors or chiropodists, for those less fortunate).
The fourth day was dedicated to a solidarity challenge to support the Cancer du sein, Parlons-en [Let’s talk about breast cancer] association. Enjoying the magical sunrise on the dunes, we all walked for 4 km, proudly wearing pink, until the highest dune in Erg Chebbi. After three days of intense trekking, I have to admit that scaling this dune felt rather impressive. But the human chain that spontaneously formed was a perfect example of this first edition’s success, testifying to a definite desire for solidarity. Everyone helped one another to hoist the last women to the summit. It was very touching!
All funds collected by our panthères roses team and also in part by the Trek Rose Trip will go to the Enfants du désert [Children of the Desert] association.
These children also cross the desert, as part of everyday life in order to access education and a healthy way of living. The association has accomplished much in the last 13 years, including setting up 27 schools. Our visit got the ball rolling on the project of providing goats to single mothers and other women entrepreneurs, to produce milk and young goats which will be repurchased by the association and given to future families. The next step is to set up a cheese dairy to feed the hostels of the region. Thanks to the money collected, the participants were able to offer 75 goats to 35 women in the village of Haroun.
I’m proud to have walked 80 km in 4 days, under a blazing sun and very often in the sand. I’ve realized the importance of trusting oneself! I feel privileged to have experienced this physical challenge, in one of my favourite environments and to have shared so much laughter with my two accomplices and all of these inspiring women. As with everything, you need to “experience” the desert in order to really understand the power of change that it can bring into our lives. Crossing it on foot for 4 days and 80 km, in silence, is a conscious meditation that is most definitely powerful. Pre-registration for the second edition is officially open. Experience this dreamy place by reserving your jersey number for the 2019 edition now.
“I’m once again ready to change the World!”
I’m ending this story of my experience taking one of the most magical hikes in the Saharan desert of Morocco, while under the covers in my Istanbul hotel room.
Author, travel writer (magazines and at the radio), speaker and college teacher in Tourism Techniques, Ariane Arpin-Delorme is passionated about everything she does. She founded Parfums d’Asie travel agency a several years ago, as well as Esprit d’Aventure in 2013, where she continues to work as a customized and consultant travel advisor. Having travelled in 70 countries, she has amassed a variety of experiences in the tourism industry and has undertaken numerous international cooperation projects. Her driving force: traveling, writing, meeting people, climbing the world’s highest peaks, scuba diving and sailing…
Follow her on her social medias : Ariane Arpin-Delorme / Esprit d’Aventure
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