Part Fear Factor, Mostly Awe-Inspiring
10.07.2009 - 12.07.2009 105 °F
If you have ever watched an episode of Fear Factor, then you won't have any trouble trying to conjure up images of what it's like to sleep in the Sahara Desert. But, I will get to that part later...
Me and 9 other CCS volunteers headed out in a van to Merzouga which is within the Sahara Desert. It is in southeast Morocco, and only about 20 miles from the Algerian border. We had a guide named, Hamza, who drove our van and figured out the logistics of everything...everything from Sara puking in a plastic garbage bag all the way into the desert and Alexandra puking off her camel for the entire 1.5 hour ride. While Moroccan food is very tasty...it is often not the easist on our wimpy American stomachs.
After 9 hours we arrived in Merzouga and were greeted by extreme heat, mint tea (what better thing to do than drink hot beverages in the 105 degree heat?!), and headscarfs to protect us from the sun and sand. The first thing I noticed were the gorgeous orange dunes. They seemed to go on forever and the sand looked so soft and fine. We met our camels and hopped on for our 1.5 hour ride. The ride, while a bit uncomfortable, was beautiful and I quickly allowed myself to relax in the magic of the moment. The rolling golden waves of sand spread out in front of us, unbroken and endless, until they disappeared over the horizon. Riding in the middle of this humungous space gave us an unshakable feeling of solitude.
Our camels traversed the dunes with ease and we soon came to our campsite. It was incredible to go into what appeared to be the middle of nowhere and then apparently stumble onto our perfect campsite. The campsite was simple: traditional tents pitched into the sand, and no facilities, water, electricity or fire at all.
We had arrived with just one hour until sunset. We were told that we would be able to hike up the dunes to watch the sun slip past the horizon, signaling the end of another day. What we didn´t realize, however, was that this trek would probably be the most difficult workout of our lives! While the main dune looked high, its relative difficultly was impossible to determine until you started up the steep ridge. I termed it the "Saharan Stairmaster"... in all of my collegiate lacrosse days or triathlon training nothing has made me feel the burn like this before!
There were 10 of us in our group and we huffed and puffed as best we could....we would stop for picture breaks, sling a few profanities here and there, and then we´d trudge along....one foot in front of the other. I would count 20 steps and then sit down.....sounds pretty pathetic, don´t you think? Well, out of us 10 trekkers, only 4 of us made it to the top. How do you like them apples?? Upon hitting the tip of the peak, I was filled with the most gratuitous feeling to be in the presence of such awe-inspiring greatness. After letting out a celebratory and excited yell, we settled down to watch one of God´s greatest gifts unfold before our willing eyes.
Filled with appreciation, there seemed to be no better time than now to take a LIVESTRONG photo. The large dune signified a hurdle in what brought us to something truly magical. I know that my Aunt Kathy and Anastasia are up against significant "dunes"...however they are not alone and each day that passes they are allowing us all to see the magic within them, with each hurdle they overcome.
My most favorite and exhiliarting moment I have had to date, was the feeling of running with abandon, down the dune. Most people walked down the ridge and followed their original footprints that were made on the trek up the ridge. However, I could think of nothing better than running at full speed, letting the grade of the dune propel me forward. I could feel the warm wind in my hair and hot sand on my feet. My whole body was filled with energy and excitement.
Once at the bottom we were met with more mint tea and our dinner tables were being set up. Hamaz set out candles, carpets, and plates for our feast. We were served incredible salad, chicken tagines, and bread. The chicken in the tagine was cooked with onions, potatoes, and vegetables...my favorite part was that it was "cameled in". How we could be in the middle of the Sahara Desert, yet served with such decadence??
After our meal, we were treated to some traditional Arabic song and dance. We were all dancing, laughing, and clapping under a brilliant sky sprinkled with shining stars.
However...it was at this point that I realized that all of this greatness did not come without some degree of uncomfortablness. As we watched the drummers, we saw huge bugs flying, jumping, and crawling towards the lights. The musicians, of course, didn´t flinch, as they are used to bugs the size of your palm. Yet, us Americans were screaming like babies, jumping up from our spots, and feeling a layer of goosebumps cover our hot skin. Jami started reaching down and picking them up in her palm and flinging them into the air...and saying, "It´s ok. Just sit back down, " in her mothering tone. I sat back down, eyes darting here, and eyes darting there. It was then that I saw a huge blob moving in a circular motion across one of the carpets. I grab Alexandra´s iphone...yes, I said iphone...and used it´s "flashlight function" to shed light on this moving figure. I quickly saw that it was one of those huge bugs...rolling what appears to a large rock across our carpet. But, no, upon further inspection we learn that it is a dung beetle who is pushing camel "you-know-what" across our beds. OMG. There is no way in hell that I am going to be able to sleep knowing that these HUGE poop carriers have invaded my bed. Sick, sick, sick. And this is coming from the girl who does a "spider check" in her bed back at home in Rockridge every night before slipping into the sheets. Therefore...can you say, no camel fast enough???
Upon getting ready to sleep, we are given a thin sheet which is pretty rediculous considering the fact that it´s still roughly 90 degrees or so. But, I decide to cocoon myself with this sheet from top to bottom as I wrap myself up like a pig in a blanket...no jokes!...and then I use my headscarf to cover my entire face. Only problem is that now I am sweating and can´t breathe. Let me weigh my options...death by poop beetles...or death by asphyxiation and dehydration... Hmmm...I prefer death by chocolate instead. But, then as I glanced up at the glittery blanket of stars laid out before us, I knew my choice was made....and 5AM would come soon enough.
We arose early to take in the sunrise from a nearby dune...but, not "the" dune...so it wasn´t quite the workout that it was the night before. While there was a pretty dense cloud cover that didn´t allow for much color, it was still quite a sight to see the sunrise in the Sahara.
Around 8AM we made our way over to our trusty camels once again and rode off into the sun...
I know that my words will never quite capture the emotions or the greatness of the experience, but they are an attempt to record a memory that I feel pretty confident in saying...was a once in a lifetime experience, for which I am forever thankful.