Our last excursion as a program was to be a three day trip to the town of Merzouga, in the South East corner of the country on the very outskirts of the Sahara Desert. We left on a Friday morning and a nine hour bus ride through the Moroccan country side and Atlas Mountains. Night had fallen by the time we arrived in Merzouga where we met a local Berber businessman in his hotel who had a small group of workers take our bags to the campsite around half a mile to a mile away. With the moonlight and starlight guiding us we walked to the campsite set up for us in the desert. It was set up in a traditional Berber manner. On one side was where the beds were located. There was a line of tents connected together to make a square leaving the middle of the square barren with sand. On the other side was the dining tent; all of these tents were decorated and floored with extravagant Berber rugs. There was also a generator to give us temporary light, during the cold, dark Sahara nights.
We were welcomed as if we were royalty, with a four course meal and stories, song, and dance around a warm bonfire. Before our dinner many of us explored the sand dunes, some of us pinching ourselves to just make sure we are actually in the Sahara Desert. Later on, the generator was turned off and there was pure silence. I remember learning about the Sahara Desert in elementary school and seeing pictures of endless sand dunes and Berber nomads leading caravans of camels to their next destination. I could have never imagined that I would have ever witness firsthand the Sahara Desert, the largest desert in the world (let alone Africa for that matter). After the generators went off one of our hosts led us to a nearby sand dune to watch to stars. The night was illuminated with numerous stars. I could see constellations, stars that I’ve never seen before, and even from time to time I could see shooting stars. It was a very humbling moment for me and many others in the group. I was already amazed by the Saharan night, and I was looking forward to what other experiences lay in store.
The next day our itinerary consisted of 4 x 4ing through the desert and riding camels, can’t get any better than that. While we were eating a delicious breakfast around six 4 x 4s drove up to our campsite and soon after we piled in and drove off. We drove through some small villages and eventually stopped at one village to visit a Berber band. The band played traditional Berber music which consisted of primarily drums, a ginbri (like a guitar), and a qaraqib which is a type of metal clacker. Eventually everyone was dancing (including me, of course) to the rhythm of the music. After we were finished dancing we went back to our vehicles and drove off deeper into the Sahara Desert. It was quite the experience driving over sand dunes and seeing the occasional camel and Berber hut. We eventually made it back to the hotel of the Berber businessman and had couscous and relaxed for a while. Now it was the part that I was looking forward to for this entire trip. After a couple hours we went outside of the entrance of the hotel to see a line of camels pass by us going up the road to a little open space off to the side of some buildings. We followed the line of camels and one by one each one of us was given a camel to ride. To be honest I was a bit nervous getting on the camel, primarily because that most of these camels were possessed with some demon as most camels having some sort of foam coming out of their mouths. It was kind of creepy to say the least. Also, probably for the first ten minutes of the camel ride I thought I was going to fall off but thankfully the ride became smoother and my camel didn’t trip over anything. We trekked through the Saharan dunes and it was yet another humbling moment on this excursion. This was a once in a life time opportunity which was like a dream made into reality.
We eventually made it to a dune that was the size of a very large hill and we stopped at the base of the dune. We dismounted our camels and climbed the hill, just in time for the sunset. There, on time of the sand dune, I witnessed probably one of the most beautiful sunsets in my life with shades of yellow and orange and red engulfing the twilight sky. We then descended down the dune, back to our camels and returned to our camp.
The next day we left for Meknes. No one wanted to leave, but all good things have to come to an end I guess. During this excursion have realized what really matters in life and there is more to this world than my home town of Woodbridge, Virginia, or even the United States. The world is like a mosaic, if you stay in one place all of your life you will not be able to appreciate or witness the full pattern of the mosaic. The Sahara Desert was an experience in which I shall never forget and I will make sure to use the inspiration that I received from the desert throughout my life.