I submitted the post day before yesterday just a few minutes before we left for a 90 minute camel trek into the Sahara Desert where we spent the night in a Berber tent. We had a traditional meal of soup, tagine, bread and fruit, followed by mint tea. We got up before six yesterday morning to watch the sunrise, and then came back to our hotel, the Auberge Sahara in Merzouga, for breakfast before continuing our tour of several cities in the southern part of Morocco.
Given our age we were quite apprehensive about having this experience. Moreover, the advice we were given from those who had previously made the trip ranged from enthusiastic approval to concerns about the state of our mental condition. Primarily, their concerns were that the trek could have a very negative physical impact that would significantly diminish our enjoyment for the remainder of our trip. Listening to the advice we preferred to hear, at about 5:35 p.m. Saturday afternoon, Omar the camel handler had Denise, myself, Kathy and Vann all mounted up and ready to begin the adventure. Each camel is tied by a rope to the saddle of the one immediately in front, and Omar held the lead of the first, thereby setting the pace. The motion is indeed a sort of rocking back and forth and the slopes of the dunes require that the rider pay close attention; first to the sudden movement downward when the slope declines, and then to the lurch backward that results from an ascent. We were grateful that we reached the “tent-bivouac” in only 90 minutes and were impressed throughout the trip by the climate conditions.
Throughout the ride a brisk wind blew, and even though temperatures are already nearing 100 degrees this time of the year in this region, it was quite cool. Just as we arrived at our destination and began the scary process occurring as Omar had the camels kneel so that we could dismount, we felt some drops of rain. We actually scurried to the tent, a difficult process in the deep sand of the desert, in order to avoid getting soaked. Then for the next forty-five minutes or so, we sat in our tent and observed an unusually rare event even for nomads who live here: an honest-to-goodness thunderstorm.
The wind did move the storm away from us fairly quickly, leaving behind a cloud cover that prevented our being able to see any stars. However, there was quite a display of lightning in the distant sky, and rumblings of thunder, until about ten o’clock or so.
By that time we had finished our meal and the foam mattresses covered with blankets had been prepared for us to sleep. Before going to bed, I went outside the tent and just sat and thought for a while. Like any grandiose work of nature, the Sahara Desert certainly has the power to awe and inspire. The vastness and the quietness caused me to ponder, to consider my place in all the wondrous creation around me. I had the chance to express again my gratitude for my good fortune in being able to experience that which we had observed.
The ride back to the auberge provided an additional opportunity for us to take in the sheer beauty of the landscape. The dunes reminded me of those three-dimensional graphs that computer graphics software can generate. Some of the ridge lines seemed so fine and precise as to be a single line in a graph. The dunes are a rich, deep orange in color but with a sort of brown hue. They are constantly undulating in the wind, slightly but always changing. Their beauty contributes to the mystique of the desert, a place to which philosophers, thinkers, and religious seekers have always been drawn.
As the camels made their plodding, but steady progress toward our return destination, I thought about how important these animals were and are in their part of the world. For centuries they have been enormously important pieces of the commercial enterprises that have sustained millions of people, and melded together people and ideas of very disparate origins.
During our return, as the sun rose in the sky, we witnessed the appearance of our own shadows on the side of a dune, not unlike familiar Christmas cards depicting the magi. In fleeting moments I might have questioned the wisdom of anyone undertaking a long journey on the back of a camel; our ninety minutes covered perhaps two or three kilometers. The journey of the magi must have taken months, and the trade routes, especially those originating in the Middle East and crossing the Sahara are even more challenging.
Though a little sore and fatigued by the effort, we successfully managed to make it back to our hotel. These ships of the desert had managed to get us back to our port safe and sound! We arrived with an even greater appreciation for all of God’s creation and count among the gifts of grace we have experienced since our arrival in Morocco this year, the awe that our time in the desert provided.