I've never much liked deserts. Californian, Jordanian, Emirati. Doesn't matter, I'm not keen on them. Sandy and dirty and hot is not my idea of a good time. So when I decided to go into the Sahara, it was something that was obligatory. "One can't go to Morocco and not visit the Sahara" was the traveler's mandate and not having a violent aversion to deserts (just a mere dislike) I decided to do as the masses do and travel into the border regions near Algeria.
I went in with no grand expectations, just a desire to see an obscene amount of stars and to bond for a bit with a long lashed camel. It was an incredibly long road to get there with numerous pit stops that guides seem to think every tourist wants to see: carpet shops, argan oil cooperatives, and rose scented toiletries. On the way we stopped at the Dades Gorge, which was stunning and I wouldn't have minded hanging out there for longer and just relaxing, but we had a schedule to keep and the driver waited for no man. Except for his coffee and cigarettes, of course.
Upon arrival in Merzouga I was in awe of the merciless sea of golden dunes. This was infinitely cooler than I thought it would be. This desert...this one I could get used to. As the sun inched down the horizon our camels were awakened and I was the first one picked to hop aboard. The camel guy must have sensed that I've had previous experience with the humped variety and that I wasn't a squealer. As the camel righted itself, first backward, then lurching forward and then finally upright, I was proud of myself that I didn't freak out, I handled it like a baller.
When the camels were loaded with human cargo, we set off under the fading sun. The wind was calm and for that, I was thankful. I had heard stories of sandstorms and burning suns and I was grateful that was not my lot. We climbed up dunes and down into the valleys, the camels plodding and rolling but sure footed. We traveled for almost two hours into the great expanse, with every foot I felt smaller and smaller. When I could no longer see the town behind me I settled into a calmness and a peace that I rarely get unless in meditation.
When the stars started poking out their sparkling heads and the dunes turned a burnished russet, we came upon our camp for the night. Night fell quicker than a drunk assed Tin Tin and I dropped my bag in the main tent and set out away from our camp to get some star porn. The stars had come out in full force and for the first time I saw the Milky Way in the Northern Hemisphere. Sitting upon my personal dune, flattered by the attention of the stars, I wept. I wept for the pain of the attack. I wept for the mortality of my parents. I wept for the fleetingness of the moment. I wept for the indescribable beauty of the landscape around me, sure I would never be able to put the feeling into words, trapped forever with an image that I cannot convey to any one else.
That night I kept going out into the dunes. The others in the camp were laughing and talking loudly. I just wanted the silence that I had traveled so far to find. I perched on a dune in sight of, but not in earshot of, the camp. The wind eventually began to rise and I noticed my footsteps had been erased. I ambled back to the camp and bedded down with some monstrous looking insects and noticed that the morning alarm (a man clapping before dawn) had come entirely too early. Time to board the camels and head back to town. My Saharan dream was over, at least for now. I'll never see deserts the same way again.