Yesterday evening we set on camel back from Merzouga, a small town on the perimeter of the Sahara with buildings entirely made of clay and adobe. Our makeshift travel family of Aussies, Germans, Americans and Irish all riding in a caravan as our camels crunched their way along the red sand dunes for an hour. The Sahara is surreal, like stepping into one of those desktop screen savers it seems almost too pristine and too perfect to be in front of you. Yet there it is, rolling red dunes as far as the eye can see interrupted only by an occasional bush. It’s quiet as one would expect and with the slow rocking of the camel and natural beauty you are left reflecting on everything in your life.
We arrive at the Berber camp and it is a small assortment of tents huddled together and minimally lit. The Berbers are an indigenous group native to North Africa, they are a Moroccan pre-Arab culture that has ruled unperturbed and unconquered for hundreds of years in this region. With their own language and culture, the Berbers are said to primarily live in the more rural regions of Morocco while the Arabs and Moors reside in the main cities, such as Marrakech. Admittedly, I had not known much about the Berber culture so am thrilled to experience a desert camp and submerge myself in their traditions.
When we arrive we find Moroccan rugs laid out on the sand with little tables of mint tea and silver pots. Beds are pulled out of tents because on a night like this our blanket will be the stars. Shooting starts (I counted four) fly overhead and I make a wish for loved ones back home wishing they could see what I see. I’ve never seen so many stars and the constellations are dizzying. We have a dinner of vegetable and meat tagines, Moroccan soup and the traditional dessert of melon slices followed by dancing and drum circles to traditional Berber folk music. None of us speak Berber but soon enough we find ourselves whipped into a frenzy of dancing in tune with the drums. We are all high from the day; we are far from everything we know but out here–with nothing but sand and stars–we have somehow found a home.
We fall asleep on cots as the wind blows sand into our hair, clothes and sheets. We are convinced we will wake up looking like the sandman; I don’t seem to care though because the breeze is the most refreshed I’ve felt in all this Moroccan heat. The stars are breathtaking, I can see Mars with that distant red flicker, I can see the Big Dipper, I think I see Orion’s Belt and the Milky Way; I wish I knew more constellations and then go back to wishing on shooting stars.
I wake up to the vanilla daylight before the sun rises. In PJ shorts and a t-shirt I make my way up the dune and am soon joined by my trip mates who one-by-one wordlessly climb out of bed to watch the sunrise. The sun rises over the Sahara, kissing the orange-red dunes as the camels all sleep nearby. It is one of the few moments of the trip that doesn’t find our group scrambling for cameras and selfie sticks, instead we simply take it all in. The sun now getting high, we put away our beds and wrap our heads in colorful handwoven scarves as we get ready to ride our camels back to Merzouga and beat the desert heat. Our time in the Sahara Desert was like the shooting stars from the previous night; a brilliant display that came and went too soon taking a bit of our hearts with it and leaving nostalgia for red sand and stars.
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*I visited Morocco as part of a complimentary tour with Topdeck Travel. The Pin the Map Project does not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage, as always all opinions & experiences expressed are my own.