Kids, Camels…and Thunderstorms?

September 20th, 2010

So, about my trip to the Sahara Desert….it was probably my most favorite experience in Morocco so far.  I really relish the time spent far away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and student life for that matter.  It reminded me of my spring break trip to West Virginia: no cell phone service, no computer, just you, the people around you, great big mountains.  We left Rabat on Thursday and spent most of the day traveling to our destination.  We did make a quick stop outside of a small town called Azrou to feed some monkeys.  That’s right, I got to see some monkeys up close and personal.  They were so cute too!  After a full eleven hours of travel we stopped at a really amazing hotel to spend the night.  This place had absolutely everything, an indoor and an outdoor pool, sports fields, a spa, a bar, Berber music and dancing, hookah, and camels.  So, after an absolutely fabulous evening of good food, swimming, and dancing I could go back to my giant room for a good night’s sleep before our excursion into the desert the next day.

Before we actually got to the desert we some other appointments we had to make.  We went to the ruins of Sijilmassa, what used to be the largest city in Morocco, but now has been reduced to a few crumbling walls.  That was interesting, but then we also had to go visit a local NGO that provides an after school program and backpacks to children in rural villages.  When we got off the bus we were immediately mobbed by all the children in the village.  These children don’t get a lot of foreign visitors, and so they all swarmed around us, reaching out to kiss our hands and ask us our names.  I think this is what celebrities must feel like when they go out.  I was amazed by how much excitement our presence brought these kids, and I was so glad that they had this NGO who was providing them with school supplies and a better chance at an education.  The president of the NGO also fed us lunch at his home.  One thing I love about Morocco is that their sense of time is a lot more relaxed than it is in the United States.  Therefore, lunch lasted several hours, and included tea, a salad course, two meat courses, and a desert of fresh fruit.  Then it was time to head to the SAHARA DESERT!

One thing that really surprised me about the desert was that it looked basically just like what movies and pictures of the Sahara desert look like.  Basically there was nothing but red sand dunes, and tufts of desert grass as far as the eye could see.  I was amazed by how well our Berber guides could navigate.  I would have been lost five minutes into my journey because there’s really no landmarks anywhere.  We all rode in a camel caravan, complete with blue turbans to keep the sun off and sand out.  I also figured out why, in addition to protection from sandstorms, people in the desert cover their faces.  Camels smell.  Most of us were covering our faces to keep the stink out, because the desert was actually pretty calm.  It had rained earlier (yes, I’m serious) so the sand was pretty settled.

We spent the night in a Berber encampment in a small oasis.  The tents were very low to the ground and had about six sleeping mats in each one.  Our group shared our camp with a group of very friendly Dutch tourists.  We ate dinner (Berber food is really good) and danced to Berber music.  I even got to try to play some of the drums, but failed pretty miserably at it.  I found the guides really interesting to talk to.  Most of them told me they hadn’t been to school at all, and yet they all could speak (at least a little bit) multiple languages.  Ask any of them and they’ll say, “I speak Berber, Arabic, a little French, a little English, a little Spanish, a little Italian, some Japanese, and even a bit of German.”  They weren’t educated in the sense that they could engage in academic discussion about nationalist movements in colonial Africa, but they were definitely smart (I can’t speak eight languages, or navigate in the desert), and full of practical knowledge, which I think is just as important (if not more in the long run) as the amalgamation of knowledge one gains in college.  Additionally, I can also confirm for you that the desert gets really, really, really cold at night.  Definitely bring a blanket.

The next day we rode the camels back and left the desert for another hotel where we would spend the night before finishing up our last leg of the journey.  While in the hotel a most curious thing happened.  There was a massive thunderstorm.  Truth.  It was just surprising to me that the desert could experience such large rain storms.  We lost power in our hotel for several hours.  I was actually pretty psyched because I got to carry a candle around the halls like someone from the eighteenth century.  At the hotel we were again treated to a lovely performance of traditional Berber music and dancing and then basically everyone went to bed because they were absolutely exhausted.  Although I’ve been getting pretty close to eight hours of sleep a night, I don’t think that it has been enough, and the late dinners make my body think that it’s earlier than it really is.

So in conclusion, everyone needs to visit the Sahara Desert.  It’s an absolutely amazing experience and I’m already thinking about when I can go back. 🙂

One Response to “Kids, Camels…and Thunderstorms?”

  1. Lauraon 30 Sep 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Awesome. You can read and read about a place, but nothing beats seeing it firsthand. Take me with you the next time you go! 🙂

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