After much anticipation, the weather has finally warmed up and this afternoon marks one of the few times I have left my house without a coat. Green buds are bursting on the trees and the sky is an infinitely deep blue. The sun beats down in mid-afternoon and its chilly absence cannot be missed as soon as the sunset call to prayer echoes through the medina. While this week was the usual combination of classes, taxi rides to and from school, and frequent doses of mint tea, my recent trip to the Sahara broke up the routine.
After inhaling a hearty heap of Friday Couscous, I boarded the van with three other students in my program as well as two other Americans to embark on our desert journey. Over the course of the next seven hours, we glimpsed the snowy fields and ski hills of Ifrane, wove over mountain passes in the Middle Atlas, and got a taste of the “pre-desert,” as it was described by the staff member who was accompanying us. We spent the night at an over-the-top desert resort, complete with an endless dinner buffet, spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and rooms perfectly themed to fit our desert surroundings. The next day we resumed our adventure with a two hour drive to another resort closer to the actual desert. There, we loaded up on a Moroccan tagine of beef, peaches, prunes, and nuts and dropped off our excess belongings in preparation for the camel trek.
In late afternoon we were guided around the back of the hotel where we found approximately thirty camels scattered about. Among them, five were saddled up, positioned in a line and connected by a rope, and waiting for us. With minimal instruction from our guide, I swung one leg over the saddle and quickly learned to hold on tightly to the metal bar in front of me as the camel lurched into a standing position, back legs, and then front. Once atop our camels, we began a slow, bumpy plod through the golden sand that stretched for miles ahead of us. Our guide, on foot and holding the rope that connected our line of camels, led us expertly through the perfectly carved dunes while the sun began its slow descent behind us. After about two hours of silent plodding, we reached the “oasis” where we would spend the night.
Before getting too settled, we decided to climb to the top of a towering sand dune to watch the sunset. The hike was deceiving as our destination loomed ahead yet each step forward took us about a foot back down the dune. By the time we reached the top almost an hour later, the sun had disappeared but we were still able to appreciate the stunning expanse of the desert with the little light that remained. We finally descended once the nearly-full moon and abundant stars appeared, lighting our way back to the camp. After enjoying another tagine for dinner, we headed off to our tents in preparation to catch the sunrise bright and early the next morning.
I awoke to the clamor of my neighbors abandoning the warmth of their tents in time for the desert sunrise and joined the trend of climbing halfway up the big dune to get a good view. The appearance of the sun lived up to my expectations, slowly drenching the miles of rolling dunes in light and slightly raising the cool air temperature. Just a few minutes later, we were summoned to gather our belongings and reclaim our camels for the journey back. In two hours, we were back at the hotel, and our uneventful eight hour drive to Fes commenced.
We are currently in the last full week of classes before our spring break, during which I plan to visit Chefchaouen and Tangier in Northern Morocco with some other students in my program. For now, I am busy preparing for written and oral finals in my Arabic class and a research project for another class.
Stay tuned for more adventures!