|Sunset in the Sahara|
The Sahara Desert -- how does one even figure out how to think about it? 3.6 million square miles. Almost as large as China or the United States. Sand. Nomads. Dromedaries. Scorpions. Snakes. More sand. In its harshness and severity I ultimately saw extreme beauty and solitude. I would go back in a heartbeat.
Arriving at Dar Azawad, our small kasbah style hotel, we dropped off our bags and prepared a quick overnight backpack of clothes to take with us into the desert. What does one wear while riding a camel and sleeping in the desert? This was a fashion question that I had never dealt with in previous years, and seeing as I have no fashion sense whatsoever I actually didn't give it too much thought. In fact, not thinking much about what I was wearing had been my modus operandi regarding my clothes during the entire trip, which I would unfortunately live to regret when I later saw all of the photos from the journey. And having to listen to Steve tell me "I told you so" when he questioned my attire I put together before leaving the states. Another regret.
With bags in hand we were back in the car, headed to the rendezvous point to begin our trek into the desert. More dust and sand, our Berber guide and a couple of camels awaited our arrival. A handmade, hand-painted sign with an arrow indicating 'Toumboktou' swung from a post. Veronique dropped us off and I noticed her speed quickly back down the road knowing that there was wine and a comfortable bed awaiting her. I was beginning to wonder if we had been tricked.
|Steve, before the scarf|
We couldn't do anything about the trash, so we chose to look to the left and focus on the austere beauty of the desert. A light sandstorm whipped up and we watched it sweep and swirl across the desert floor, listening to the ghostly sound of it whooshing in the otherwise silent space. We soon turned east and now were heading directly into the Sahara.
Once the remnants of civilization disappeared, except for the occasional mud-walled kasbah, I slipped into my suspended state of disbelief that I was actually where I was. The vastness of the desert and its beauty engulfed me and I was without words.
|Beautiful, ancient kasbah along the route...|
After an hour or so of rhythmical plodding through the sand we arrived at our camp and a beautiful, mystical and exotic scene unfolded.
A few small, mud-walled buildings made up a communal area, and spread out on the sand were enormously beautiful Moroccan rugs, one scattered on top of another. Small, low tables with leather poufs and stools were scattered about, and the traditional pierced tin lanterns sat atop the rugs, waiting to illuminate the night after sunset. We immediately stopped in our tracks, sat on the poofs, drank our mint tea, and took in the beauty of the palm trees and sand dunes and gnarled and twisted trees shaped by the winds over time. It was magic.
I love this tree!
Rosa joins Steve for some mint tea!
Our camels, taking a well-deserved rest.
|Beautiful rugs and pillows, ready for us to relax...|
Sure enough, within about twenty minutes, the Swiss did arrive by camel. We made our introductions to Judy and Roger, and were quite happy to learn that English was a common denominator for us all.
|The Swiss, arriving by camel!|
|Our cot, moved out into the open...|
After our leisurely dinner we wound our way back to our campsite. There were no lights anywhere, no glow on the distant horizon, just an inky, midnight blue-blackness and a trillion stars above our heads. In fact, the sky was so crowded with stars and the Milky Way itself that we had trouble picking out the constellations.
With nightfall the desert grew cold and we ended up wearing everything we brought all at once. While putting on our layers in the walled hut a small, quick motion caught my eye. I looked at the wall but didn’t see anything. Then the motion again, and now a scorpion came into view. And might I point out it was where my side of the bed would have been had we decided to sleep inside. This was not good, and as much as it goes against our nature to kill anything except mosquitoes this little guy met his demise from the heel of Steve’s shoe. It actually made us both sad because we were the guests in his town. But then we got over it, …sort of. We weren’t afraid of it coming outside but rather taking up space rent free in our backpacks or tennis shoes. Neither of us like those kind of surprises.
Layered in all of our clothes, we also dragged several heavy, handmade woolen blankets outside with us. I had my paisley pashmina from Italy with me and as I wrapped my head up in that I thought I probably look like a homeless person who has done their clothes shopping from the dumpster at goodwill. I was very glad that Judy and Roger’s site was over the next sand dune.
The wind was blowing and a light spray of very fine sand covered us in no time. We lay there, not saying a word as there really are no words to describe sleeping outside at night in the Sahara. There was a three-quarter moon that kept us company, the Milky Way blazed a brilliant trail across the sky, a trillion stars twinkled and pulsated and sometimes fell from the sky while we watched them shoot across our heads, and we lay there in silence all night, wide awake in the Sahara.
|Early morning view from the cot, just after sunrise...|