In March 2015 Optical Express sponsored nine year old Freddie Cannell to trek 100km across the Saharan Desert in aid of Guide Dogs For The Blind. Now, back in the UK, Freddie has updated us on the trek in which he kept a diary log of his day to day pursuits. We decided to share his adventure with all our magazine readers:
Friday March 6th
The day had finally come for us to start our long journey. We drove to Gatwick Airport, we enjoyed food and drink in the executive lounge. This made me feel special. Whilst we waited at the boarding gate I looked for other people who were going on the trek, you could normally spot them because of the walking boots.
We then boarded the plane for Marrakech. Our flight crew were amazed at what I was going to do and gave me some sweets. I even got invited into the cockpit by the pilot when we landed. We spent our first night at a hotel in Marrakech.
Meeting the pilot
First night in Marrakech
Saturday March 7th
We had an early start at 6.30am for breakfast, ready to begin our drive to Ouarzazate over the Atlas Mountains. It was really cool on the drive as there was still snow on the top of them. On the way we stopped to look around Ait Benhadou, there was an old Kasbah and we had tagine for lunch. It was really hot out of the shade.
Finally after 7 hours driving we arrived at our Riad in Ourzazate. We had a group meal and got to know the people we would be trekking with. We had an early night as tomorrow will be another morning of travelling before starting the trek!
The Atlas Mountains
The whole group at Ait Benhadou
Sunday March 8th
The first day of trekking was finally here but we had to finish the drive first. We literally drove to the end of the road. As I climbed down from the minibus it suddenly hit me as to what I had challenged myself to do and I felt overwhelmed and scared.
The guide, Jamal, was very encouraging and promised me a yummy lunch before we started. He was right – we had mackerel, fresh bread, salad mint tea and fruit. Then I got to meet Rooney the camel and the camel man Mohammed.
We set off after lunch for a short trek into the desert to our first camp. This was our first taste of the true desert heat and lack of shade. We climbed some small sand dunes and I had my first ride on Rooney – he was gentle but very bumpy!
When we arrived into camp we had a lesson on putting up our tent and we were not allowed tea until camp was set. I also had my first experience of desert toilets – a hole in the ground.
The final part of the journey
Starting off on the trek
Me, Rooney and Mohammed
Putting up the tent
Monday March 9th
The first full day was a bit harder because we were walking all day. When we stopped for lunch mum and dad made me have a rehydration drink. I must have been dehydrated as it actually tasted nice. I went a flatter route then so I was closer to Rooney because it was so tiring doing all the high dunes in the heat.
I was very relieved to see the camp at the end of the afternoon then we were greeted by the crew and a lovely refreshing drink of mint tea.
When we had put our tents up we had a lovely meal of Moroccan soup, pasta and bolognaise. I was so tired I went to bed and missed out on pudding! Tonight was to be my first night sleeping outside the tent and under the stars. It was awesome and I even saw a shooting star! It was cold outside so I pulled my sleeping bag tight around my head.
Having a drink in the shade
Jamal, our guide, pouring some mint tea
Me sleeping under the stars
Tuesday 10th March
After taking down the tent and packing our supplies for the day, we had breakfast. I loved breakfast in the desert because they gave us cake!
We had a 5 hour trek this morning and covered about 17km. I saw something amazing today – a black snake in the sand. Jamal told me it was a black cobra – how cool is that?
Today we realised how much Rooney eats. He’s always stopping to munch at the plants when we pass them – especially the purple flowers, they are his favourite.
When we got into camp we had lunch and doughnuts, then some time to ‘chill out’ before the ‘big one’. In the evening we climbed the highest sand dune in the area called ‘Eric’. It was 200m high and a very hard climb. We sat on the top of the dune to watch the sunset – it was breath taking. Coming down Eric was fun and easy so I raced one my fellow trekkers, I won! I will sleep well tonight!
Breakfast in the desert
Rooney eating his favourite flowers
Trekking up ‘Eric’
The view from the top of ‘Eric’
Wednesday 11th March
Today has been awful. I felt really poorly – mum says it was sunstroke. I felt dizzy, sick and I was shivering but I wasn’t allowed my fleece! I had to spend most of the day on Rooney as I didn’t have any energy. Mum and dad kept making me drink sugary drinks and eat high energy bars.
The guide, Jamal, wouldn’t even let me ride Rooney on my own as I was so dizzy so mum had to ride too so she could hold me up. Everyone was kind and was worrying about me. At lunchtime I had a sleep in the shade before riding Rooney to camp. I didn’t have to help with the tent tonight. Once the sun went down and it was cooler, I felt much better.
The camp was awesome and I found loads of cool fossils, we were near a temple and Jamal said its tradition is to leave a gift and make a wish, so I left one of Rooney’s favourite flowers as my gift.
Tonight’s tea again included bread but this was special. I watched the chef make a sand oven and I helped him cook the bread in it – it tasted amazing.
In the evening I sat on a sand dune with the guide and chefs, we sang traditional Moroccan songs.
The toilets in this camp are the worst yet, so I didn’t use them. I just hid behind a sand dune instead…
Me, Mum and Rooney
Resting in the shade
Helping make the bread
Singing on a sand dune
Thursday 12th March
This morning I helped the chef make breakfast – pancakes they were delicious!
The first part of today’s trek took us to the temple that I went to last night. We walked up and over some sand dunes then along a dried up river bed. I walked most of today, only needing to hitch a ride on Rooney for a few short bursts. When we spotted the camp it was such a relief but it was still a long way off. Hussain, the second guide, we were walking with found me some shade to have a sit down and he had brought some Moroccan sweets to give me energy – they were lovely!
We also then walked through what used to be a village and you could see where the houses had once been. When we finally got into camp, it was in a beautiful place and I was surprised to see palm trees in the desert. Some of the people trekking with us are from a netball team and they played ball with me.
Tomorrow my school are having a day learning about the Sahara, so I left a message for them from the real Sahara!
Tonight is our last night in the desert so I’m feeling a bit sad as I really enjoyed the challenge so far, even if I was poorly one day. We played games in the main tent until I went to bed.
Leaving an answer phone message for my school
Me, Mum and Dad
Our last desert sunset
Friday 13th March
After taking our tent down for the last time, after packing my bag for the last time and after collecting my last ration of water we were ready to complete the challenge!
We walked over some more sand dunes before reaching the rocky edge of the desert. I felt pleased, relieved and sad when I saw our minibuses.
I said a sad farewell to my best friends on the trek, Rooney and Mohammed, and got on the minibus ready to start the long tiring journey back to Ourzazate, Marrakech and finally home.
I feel really proud of what I have achieved and I am happy I completed the 100km trek across the Sahara Desert. I really hope the money I have raised will help Guide Dogs.
Thank you to Optical Express for helping make my challenge happen.
Back at the minibus
Saying goodbye to my friend Rooney
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