SAHARA OF MY LIFE

After driving for a while, we finally got to a place that looked like a building by the side of the road, in the middle of the desert. We had driven for hours with no sight of getting anywhere so when I saw the building from afar I jumped in my seat. The driver looked at me and smiled while nodding. We got to Merzouga.

Everyone in the van got out and after stretching out and admiring the panorama for a few minutes, we walked towards the back of the van, where our driver was waiting to pass our bags. We were directed to the building to use the bathroom and to get ready for our camel ride through the desert. Our guides welcomed us teaching us how to properly wrap our heads the “Moroccan way” and they helped us get on our dromedaries.

Once on top of “Isabella”, the name I gave my camel or I should say “dromedary”, we started to venture in the desert, walking slowly at the beat of the dromedary leading or being lead by their masters. The desert was in complete silence, the wind was gently blowing in our faces and the reflection of the sun over the dunes shaped the shadows artistically on the sand. We could see the reflection of our entire herd on the sand, walking in a single line. I am not sure for how many hours we rode our beautiful and elegant desert animals but we watched the sunset while on top of them and it took a little bit after the immense ball of fire hid behind a dune for us to arrive in the mysterious camp that was waiting for us. I was surprised we were not the only ones staying there for the night. The camp was way bigger than I thought and it was ways apart from civilization. There were the typical big white tents that were 3 times bigger than the ones I saw at  Zagora.

We took some pictures of the camp, with the remaining lights of the sunset that tinted the entire sky pink and orange and all the pretty colors in between. I had not managed to make any friends there by then but I started talking more to the people in the group. The front of the inside of the main tent had round tables set up for dinner. Space was bigger and the back of the tent had compartmentalized “rooms” that had beds on the floor ready to be used. I picked mine and happened to be in the same room with two of the German boys and one from Japan. After dinner,  I overheard Ludi ( one of the German guys) telling his friend Gob about taking photos of the stars. The guy from Japan, Yuta, also had a good camera and after them agreeing to go shooting, Ludi asked me if I wanted to come. I said “Yes!”.

Outside of the tent, the rest of the people from our group plus the other groups were sitting by the fire and talking. The guides were dancing and singing and playing music. We had our lanterns and blankets with us. The guides were distracted enough that they did not notice we left until a few minutes after, when they started calling us, signaling with lights for us to come back, but we were far away, and all the way up the tallest dune we could find. Far from the music and the noise and the lights, we found ourselves feeling like we were standing on the edge of the world, the edge of the universe. Just the fact of being there felt like the most amazing experience of my life and being there, in the middle of the desert that I always dreamt about visiting one day after reading  “The Alchemist”, was an absolute bliss that I remember vividly.

The sand was really cold and I sat on it, regardless Ludi had placed a blanket for us. I sat on the sand and felt its coldness, its shape. I took one of my gloves off to feel the texture. I could not really see it, all I could see was the beautiful sky illuminated only by the stars and the lanterns of Gob, Ludi, and Yuta.

We shot for a while, took pictures together, to the sky, of each of us alone, in pairs. We had so much fun. I sat down watching the entire time, and I could not help to feel like that was probably going to become one of the highlights of my trip and one of the highlights of my entire life.

That night Ludi, Gob, Yuta and I became friends and for the rest of the trip, enjoyed many moments together. The next morning we woke up early and packed. We got on our dromedaries and started our trip back to civilization. My dromedary, Isabella, was getting distracted by random pasture she saw and kept taking the entire group out of the path. It was breakfast time and we were hungry too. At some point on the trip, we stopped. Our guides told us “It’s sunrise time” and all of us excited, hiked up the dune and sat to watch the beautiful moment and enjoy. It was beautiful. We took pictures and talked and enjoyed until our guides signaled us to come down to continue the trip back.

Isabella kept wandering off the path looking for snacks until we got back to the side of the road, across the building I saw the previous day. -”Breakfast is served” – Our host said while walking towards us to welcome us. We had pastries, and mint tea and snacks. It was all delicious and satisfying. Along with breakfast, it was also time to say goodbye to many of the people that we happened to meet from other groups. One of the girls from another group overheard I was planning to travel from Morocco all the way down to South Africa alone. She came to me and told me that Morocco was the last part of her trip. She had done it all the opposite way starting from South Africa and wished me well before saying goodbye. Talking to her made me feel at peace. I knew I was not the first one to do such thing, or the only one doing it, but I had never met anyone else who had done it and seeing her and how bright her eyes shined when she told me she had done it certainly calmed me down. I was at ease.

Our trip back to Marrakesh was again a full day of driving. I sat again at the front of the seat and admired the view. There was so much to reflect on. Once again, just when everything and everyone became too familiar I had to keep going. I was planning on leaving that same night to Chefchaouen, a beautiful and magical city I came across with when looking at maps online. We drove for many hours and stopped for lunch once again at the same place where everything started. Ouarzazate seemed still the same, it had not changed. It was me who had changed and the echo of that realization kept repeating over and over at every place I came back to more than once. It was about to repeat at Marrakech, for the second time.

The beautiful Jema El Fna looked busy and full of life as usual. Our driver stopped right by it and unloaded our luggage. He was so kind and so happy all the time. We thanked him very much and tipped him well. I had no idea if he had a family or not but his job was hard. He had to drive for days and hours back and forth, with people he could not communicate with. I think when one has that kind of job, one has a lot of time to think, and thinking sometimes can be a double edge sword : It could bring us closer to the sweetest realizations in life for the better or it could cave in our entire life if we are not able to conclude what we are currently doing is leading to our happiness. Either way, he seemed happy all the time. I was sure he felt he was living a purposeful life. We wished him well and he continued waving at us after we started walking towards the plaza, then, he got in the van and continued driving.

Some time on our way back, we agreed to have dinner together and share our contacts to stay in touch. We went to one of the places overlooking the plaza and had a very satisfying dinner of tajin of course. After we talked, we laughed and shared our last meal, we walked around the plaza and one of the guys suggested to grab a “Moroccan Smoothie” that he had discovered was very popular there. He said, “It has to be really good when there are so many locals buying it there all the time”- So we walked in between the alleys and found the smoothie place and shared one more time before saying goodbye. The smoothie was delicious and I still remember saying “Cheers” to everyone while noticing Yuta was smiling so hard. I could see he was very happy.

I parted ways back to the Riad “Marrakech Rouge” to get some of the remaining of my luggage and contemplate if I should wait until the next day to take the bus or not. When I arrived at the Riad, the sweet lady that had given me the deserts on my first day in Morocco was there. She asked me how I liked the Desert and I told her it was amazing. I got all my belongings and one of the boys that worked at the hostel got a taxi for me and walked me outside to the street to get it. I said bye to him while giving a last glance to the red walls that surrounded me. It was very dark and I was going to leave Marrakesh forever.

The taxi took me to the bus station CTM where I tried to buy a ticket to Chefchaouen but I couldn’t. So I bought a ticket to Fes instead and there I was to buy a ticket to Chefchaouen. How complicated! I also realized the bus was to go to Casablanca before going to Fes. My last destination in Morocco was Casablanca, where I had planned to fly from. As soon as I boarded, I fell asleep. The ticket, the luggage, the line, everything was a complication and I was tired of dealing with it. I woke up and I remember seeing the sun rising behind the buildings of a city and a big sign that read “Meknes”. I was very close.

I finally arrived in Fes and could not find a ticket for Chefchaouen because they were sold out. I waited and kept coming back to the counter and finally found a ticket for a few hours after so I had a little bit of time to kill. My luggage was heavy and carrying it around was hard. I decided to go out and venture with my luggage and I tried to find a plug converter to charge my phone.

Two hours, ten stores and five people after, I found what I needed and walked back to the station and sat on the second floor, smoking cigarettes and killing time while I waited for the bus. I think I sat upstairs, downstairs, outside, on the entrance stairs and everywhere you could imagine while waiting. I even made friends with the cigarette lady that was standing outside of the building. My bus finally was about to depart and with that announcement, I was put out of my misery. I got on the bus and fell asleep again. I was going to Chefchaouen, the magical blue city I had read about and while I wondered what kinds of things I was about to discover, a nostalgic feeling once again overwhelmed me. I was completely alone, uncommunicated and traveling somewhere I had never been.

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