Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day 23 - Essaouira, Morocco

Apparently they don't have cyber cafes in the middle of the Sahara so that's why I haven't written in awhile. I can hardly explain to you the magnificence of the desert. I rode on a bus for two days out to the Sahara over nail-biting, heart-attack inducing curvy roads over massive cliffs. (I swear that only two wheels were on the road at several points in the journey.) The first day I wandered through an old village of mud huts where Gladiator, Babel, and many other desert movies were shot. It was such an honor to see these native children talk about the movies being filmed and how their families were extras. "I was in the movie! Did you see this scene? Remember this guy? That is me!" It was surreal trying to imagine cameras and celebrities walking around these dusty paths.

After hours of mountain roads and small villages with donkey carts and children trekking miles to school, we finally caught our first glimpse of the giant golden sand dunes. Dunes rolling across the horizon with a million shadows standing in stark contrast to the brilliant blue sky. We were approaching sunset so the Berber men (the native tribes people of Morocco,) quickly ushered us onto camels wearing saddles made of thick blankets and rope. Civilization disappeared behind me as I was led further into the Sahara, swaying back and forth, back and forth to the rhythm of the silent camel. I thought to myself, all I really know about the desert is what I have seen in movies. Lawrence of Arabia, Mummy, and all the others that take place in this barren land. So if movies are correct, as they always are, that means there should be a sand palace on my right, a mirage of an oasis in the distance, and ninjas ascending behind us. Ninjas?! Gallop camel, gallop!

Unfortunately I saw none of that; just sand for miles and miles and garbage strewn about, completely ruining my romantic expectations of the desert. But I could look past it, into the sunset, and imagine brave souls crossing the desert on foot so many years ago. I day-dreamed into the sunset and didn't even realize that we were soon riding camels in the dark desert as we approached camp. Camels were parked outside the walled tents as we fumbled around in the darkness trying to gather ourselves. When I entered the walled tent I felt like I was in Harry Potter when they open the flaps of the tent to find a giant room with candles, food, and warmth. Out in the middle of the desert these men had set up a palace with rugs lining the tent and lanterns providing light for our weary minds.

After dinner our Berber hosts brought in hand drums and finger cymbals and sang ancient Berber songs at the top of their lungs. It was amazing to see these guys, who looked so bored leading us through the desert, expressing themselves so passionately with their music. Pretty soon we were all up dancing, banging on drums, enjoying the history of the desert with Berber music.

By now, night had fully engulfed us and the temperature began to drop. I stuck my head outside the tent and gasped when I saw the number of stars in the sky - unlike anything I had ever seen in my entire life. Remember those posters of the constellations? Or seeing a show in the planetarium? It was even more spectacular than that. The Milky Way stood out like it had been brushed across the sky and the planets popped like diamonds. More heads popped out of the tent, one by one, and each person gasped in excitement at the moonless sky lit only by the billions of ancient stars. Just another bit of history still alive in this vast desert.

I began to make my way to bed when a Berber man said, "No, no. Get your shoes on. We're all going for a hike." A hike? It was pitch black and I was standing in the middle of the Sahara. I'm sorry, but where the heck do you expect to take us? He pointed up off in the distance. "We're going to the top of that sand dune." Oh boy. We all started strong, hiking in the uneven, exhausting sand but stragglers began to drop like flies. I pushed myself harder and harder, soon climbing with my hands and feet on the steep sand dune. I could see the top silhouetted against the bright starry sky but it felt like it would never come. Only ten more steps....only five more....three more...where's the top?! It felt like a step ladder at the gym where you hike and hike but get nowhere. Vertigo began to set in as my footing started to slip and my eyes refused to adjust to the pitch blackness. Finally! I made it to the top and cheered with excitement as the wind whipped my face and sand bit my legs and arms. This is Africa!

What an amazing adventure! But now I am out of the desert and meandering the streets of Essaouira on the coast. Once an American hippie destination in the 1960s, old hipsters still roam the streets with dread locks and long Moroccan robes. The white-washed walls of houses and buildings with purple and mint green trim set against the blue ocean make for an easy place to relax and dream about camels and sand palaces.

And now, with only three days left to travel, this will be my last Moroccan post. But don't you worry, the adventures will surely follow me back to the United States and with them, more posts! Thank you to everyone who has followed me and shown so much support. I look forward to taking you along on my next adventure. With a big farewell, I leave you with some inspiration from a favorite childhood author:

"I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."
- Robert Louis Stevenson

I hope all of you keep moving in your life, never forgetting what it's like to be a part of constant change.

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