Into the Desert: Face to Face with the Great Sahara

Rolling down dunes, camel trekking, sandboarding and a desert storm for the ages. Travelling into the Sahara Desert exceeded all expectations of what was already one of my most eagerly anticipated moments of this crazy year.

A 6-hour-turned-12 drive out of the historical-centre of Fes was a stressful period. The equally-long return trip was as unpleasant. Fortunately, the elation of being on the sand made the spirit-annihilating transit worthwhile.

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The last 30 minutes of hell day was made enjoyable by driving 4×4’s at hyperspeed across the arid plains.

The first day I, along with Ali and our bus mates, ventured into the pounding desert sun to scale the gargantuan >300m-high sand dune our accommodation accompanied the foot of, upon the desert’s very distinguishable edge. The sun was unforgiving and a single water bottle was not enough, even in the morning. Shiny with sweat, I made my way further and further towards the top, emptying the kilograms of beige-orange sand from my shoes every 100 metres. As if the climb did not do this already, reaching the top of the dune provided a euphoric view that almost fools you into believing you are looking at a postcard. It was indeed the most picturesque view I have ever seen.

 

Even after going down and up and down and up for an amount of time that exceeds memory, I was never able to fully come to grips with what I was seeing… for the first time in my life, I was speechless! I was without speech. Even still it seems surreal. With a lack of water, strength and will, the only logical way to climb down the dune was to let gravity do the work.

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You can pinpoint the second I know I’ve lost control of the fall and the G-force begins to kick in

In the late afternoon, after peak heat had passed we mounted a caravan of camels and set off into the hazy red towards camp for the night. The first thing I learned about camels is that they are tall bastards. The second thing I learned was that its not the most comfortable thing to ride, being a male and everything. Fortunately, the ride was as exhilarating as it was peaceful. The views of the dunes are highlighed by the dusk light piercing the desert haze. No camera can capture the spectrum of colours you can see with your own eyes from camelback at sundown.

The camp was over an hour into the desert. Small huts of bamboo, timber and animal carpets did all they could to shelter us from the storm that was brooding. As last light faded we shared a snowboard with a 5 year old kid on the dunes by camp, flying down with all the speed you can muster in your 6 seconds of movement. Fun while it lasted.

A distant display of lightning flashes contrasted the dry and still stark heat we were sitting in. Though as the flashes drew closer and the ominous smell of rain swept through, the winds picked up and suddenly billions of particles of sand were shooting at me with the force I had not experienced yet in my life. The rain began and the storm with it. Trust the desert to host the only rain we got in this furnace of a country.

The storm was fierce. Four of us took shelter in our hut. Everything inside the hut had gathered a thin layer of dust that made the place look eerily like the inside of Coop’s farm house in Interstellar after a slightly *more severe* storm of the same persuasion. After a while the room began to leak and the hanging carpet door began to gave way, so we embraced the storm and like human lightning rods, ventured out into the black. Sand and water consumed the air.

The beauty of the storm was in its uniquity. The air was warm, but the winds were fast. It was raining and sand was blowing everywhere, but they seemed to pelt us in equal measure. And most impressively, the entire desert was black until a flash of lightning would light the entire valley like daylight… but only for a split second. There was no capturing this. This was living in a memory. And naturally, it was unforgettable.

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After the desert, suffering a painful 12 hour stop-start ride to Marrakech (it could be worse), I reflected on my brief taste of the desert — it was literally a taste — and still could not fathom that what had happened was real and that it was over. Sure, it was a tourist package: a tourist trip, with other tourists, and a brief entry to the desert streamlined for tourists. And that’s okay. It does not make it any less amazing.

At the very least, it was a bit of fun. At the very most, it was perspective-altering.

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