STARRY DESERT

There was I again on a bus, this time traveling on a straight line highway from Essaouira to Marrakesh. Being on a bus suddenly started to give me the feeling of familiarity I had been craving. The trip was short and sweet, just 3 hours and I was going back to the capital, Marrakesh, to the same beautiful Riad Marrakesh Rouge, where I had arrived previously. It almost felt like coming home but this time, I was to spend one night there to wake up at about 5 am and pack back up. I was about to start a trip to one of the most iconic deserts of the world : The Sahara Desert.

I came back to the hostel and all my luggage was still there, stored. I had to do a lot of rearranging because this time I was going to take everything, plus a Moroccan carpet I had purchased in one the many times I got lost inside of the Souk in the Medina.

It was 5 am and I was getting my daypack ready. I dragged my 70 pounds of luggage downstairs and had that delicious Moroccan breakfast one more time. The mint tea, the pastries, the pancakes, everything tasted delicious, as if it was the first time I was tasting it,  as if it was the last time I was tasting it.

A man came in the Riad with a list and started calling names. The receptionist signaled me to go with them. I gathered my belongings and gave the Riad a last glance : I was leaving again.

We were a small group and started walking through the labyrinth streets of the Medina until we saw a Van waiting for us. We placed our luggage in the back of the van and kept our daypacks with us. It was a chilly morning of the last Saturday of January of 2016 and I called dibs on the front seat, next to the driver. We waited for a little bit of time for more people that were to join us from different hostels or Riads, then, we began our journey east towards the mystic Sahara Desert.

I spent the first few hours sleeping and when I woke up, we were on the highway driving by beautiful landscapes and dunes, seeing wild camels run free on the sand plains and colorful people walking by the villages we passed by. The sun was shining and we were all happy, excited to see the beautiful Sahara desert for the first time in our lives. By mid day we arrived to the city of Ouarzazate, also called “The Gateway of the Desert”.

Mohammed greeted us standing in front of the “Taourirt Kasbah”, the beautiful 19th century palace that stands half renewed and has been named a UNESCO heritage site. The many rooms in the palace are half in ruins but are also inhabited by some villagers. Mohammed took us around and we gave a brief glance to it before heading to lunch, where we ate some delicious overpriced Tajin and got to share some words with a few of the people in the group. I was very quiet the whole time and as soon as I finished lunch, I went outside to sit by the main road, admiring the beautiful Kasbah. I felt perplexed and at the same time free. The heat was briefly touching my face and as I closed my eyes and smiled, a feeling of self fulfillment started flowing inside of me. For the first time in my life I was away from everything I knew, from everyone I knew and I was ok with it. “This is the real adventure”- I thought.

Right before we got to Ouarzazate, we had previously stopped at  Ait Ben Haddou, a beautiful group of houses in ruins called a Ksar. One can admire the beautiful architecture of the group of houses that is a perfect representation of the pre-saharan period.

After lunch, we continued our journey towards the city of Zagora, where we repacked and cleaned up in a facility next to the road, in the middle of nowhere, not before drinking some mint tea to seal the deal. I had made a few friends by then and I talked to some older people from Spain and 2 germans that were working at a surf camp in Taghazout. We were then taken to the camels that were laying on the ground, resting. I was instructed to get on it while it was laying down and then the camel lord would make some kind of noise with his mouth and the camel would stand up, and one by one, one after another, each camel started standing up and soon the entire line of camels was complete. The camels were tied to one another by a rope that was tied by their heads and then extended towards their tail tied in some way in the area to then go to the head of the next camel behind. That way the camels would follow one another and would not fall behind. The seat of the camel was put on top of two sacks of some kind of filling that made my seat feel uncomfortable. I was not sure if all seats felt the same way or not. It was hard enough to hold on to the camel while trying to take pictures. “Photographers have it really hard”- I thought.

We soon started riding through the beginning of the desert, slowly leaving behind the cars, the road, the drivers, the people, and a sweet breeze started blowing against our faces as we cruised through the desert. The sun started sinking in the horizon and as I looked behind me, the most beautiful landscape was being shown to me: The sun setting over the dunes of the Sahara in Zagora. We rid those camels until the night fell on us and as soon as we got to our beautiful camp site surrounded of white tents, our dinner was ready, waiting for us. We took our backpacks to our tents. We were given beds inside of tents that we shared and there were thick blankets folded on each bed, signaling a cold night ahead.

In the dining tent, we sat on the floor, covered with carpets, surrounding circular tables that had big tajine pots in the middle, as a centerpiece. Everything around us gave us the reminisce of a chapter from “Arabian Nights” and the berbers, our hosts, were carefully taking care of all the final details of dinner, where we tasted the delicious Moroccan cuisine, one more time, “Desert style” this time, and ate and drank and talked the entire time, enjoying ourselves. I sat by a group of Irish men and women during dinner. They had flown to Morocco for a Marathon and they were about to leave back home. I spent the night learning some Irish words that later in life came in handy. By the end of dinner, our hosts asked us to gather outside of the tent, where they had laid thick carpets around a bonfire and they started singing and playing music for us. It was a night to spend gazing at the stars.

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