Published: February 19th 2010January 7th 2010
"Le premier soir, je me suis donc endormi sur la sable, a mille milles de toute terre habitée." ~ Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Of all the places that I've slept, the Sahara Desert will go down as one of the surreal, most memorable, most brilliant, and loudest places that I've ever slept. It was fantastic: we made our way out from Merzouga on our camels for about an hour until we reached our tents. Once at our tents, we were welcomed by our Berber guides with mint tea, joking around, music, and delicious food. It was very "packaged tour experience," but I put that aside as I enjoyed the night.
The night itself was unbelievable. We reached Merzouga at dusk and quickly saddled up. During the camel trek to the "middle" of the desert (ha!) the sun went down and we were delighted with the way the sand changed colors (which would actually be less delightful as the sunrise colors). We had barely gotten to our camp when the sun finally set and it was officially night time. And when it became night, it was all about the stars.
When I was in Canada a
few years ago, again in the middle of no where, the entertainment for the night would be counting shooting stars and satellites. It was so easy, since there was no light pollution. In the Sahara though, it was difficult: the sheer amount of stars made it almost impossible to catch anything moving. It was so bright! There were so many! While we did see a few shooting stars the real highlight was the milky way. It was like a ribbon of light wrapping its way through the sky, cushioned on each horizon by a huge dune of sand. I'll never forget the way it looked.
Our entertainment for the night, aside from the night sky, were our hosts. The Berber guides employed to feed and shelter us were very interesting people. I was amazed at how many languages they spoke. They seemed to be incredibly proficient in 5, 6 completely different languages. I'd imagine that coming in contact with so many people from around the world, due to their position as guides, would make them get by in the major languages, but these guys were pros! Japanese especially; they loved our sole Japanese companion and loved testing their knowledge
of his language. But overall, our guides loved to joke with us and ask where we were all from. We drank mint tea, learned some Berber phrases, and lounged in our tent, with a few candles lighting the whole scene. Very cool!
As cool as the night was, nothing could surpass our sunrise journey back to the little town of Merzouga. We woke up at the crack of dawn from our cozy slumber in our camel blanket tents. We had a good rest, despite falling asleep to camels belching all around the camp all night long. We were warm and woken up quiet abruptly, so I was a tad bit grumpy when I emerged from the tent, glasses on and in need of a shower. Instead of a shower, I was greeted with a camel. As soon as I was up, a few meters off the ground, we began on our way back through the desert in order to catch the main event: the sunrise.
Yesterday, I enjoyed the camel ride, but I was still getting used to the movement of the camel/sand/dunes/slopes. This morning, however, knowing full well what to expect, I was able to watch the
sunrise with relative comfort -- aka, I didn't have to grip anything as my camel lumbered down a dune or half on a slope. But, even someone who's attention was half on the camel, half on the surroundings could not miss the spectacular sunrise.
The desert started out visible, slightly pink, and sleepy. By the time we were up our first dune, the sun began to peek out from the horizon and the colors far in the distance became more brilliant. As the sun gained momentum and rose, very large and very red, above the sand, you could just imagine how the dunes--stretching from the pyramids of Egypt to the hooves of my camel--changed from the pink to rose to coral to red to gold. With each minute, the sun made its ascent and the desert shimmered in colors. The best part, aside from the dunes aflame with rich hues, were our shadows that grew more distinct as the sun rose higher. It was fun seeing our caravan both on top the sand and silhouetted against the sides of dunes and down across the sand ripples.
Our journey lasted probably about an hour, but I could have gone
on for much more. I wanted to be Lawrence, with the whole desert for me to explore. I wanted to caravan across the mighty Sahara, tracing trade routes and battling the elements. My taste for (comfortable) adventure was whetted, and I wanted more. Alas, we found ourselves saying goodbye to our camels in Merzouga, where we could finally brush our teeth and were given our breakfast.
Looking back on the whole tour, I am very glad we did it. I was at first apprehensive about going on a ready-made tour, wanting to do it on my time schedule and perhaps getting the change to see Fes. But this worked out real well; we got to meet a lot of great people and even got to relax a little bit. It was our first taste of Morocco/Islamic country/Africa, and in hindsight, I'm sure we would have walked away with less money in our pockets, less time to spend elsewhere in Morocco, and less rest than we did today. Next time, we might be able to get a little bit more adventurous, but we were perfectly content with our Saharan expedition for this time around.
Next up we spend 3
full days in Marrakech. We're looking forward to haggling and pushing around the souqs and sights of the bustling town that we've barely seen in daylight! For now, au revoir from the Sahara!
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