Sahara Sunrise

Dear family and friends,

What a time to be alive— am writing you from a hotel bed in La Paz, Bolivia. After three months of circumventing the planet, I’m now back in EST time zone! Hooray! I have just arrived after some thirty odd hours of travel on several continents. My altitude is 13,310 feet, double that of Denver and Ben Smim. Thinking it’s time to kick my workout routine up a knotch–nothing like some good altitude training. But that’s tomorrow. Today I’m going to focus on breathing extra deep, drinking coca tea, and enjoying some rare wifi.

I spent the last week in Casablanca, but before that I went on spring break with a group out to the Sahara desert. On the drive out, we saw ancient kasbahs (castles), that had been occupied centuries before but are now used for film sets (most recently Game of Thrones) and backdrops for tourists photoshoots. We drove through several oaises that were bursting with color and life, a complete contrast to the dry desert that lay ahead.

When we got to the edge of the desert, we left our bags in the van and boarded camels. The views were unreal. We rode for an hour out to our camp and then climbed the dunes to watch the sunset. As I was looking out, a young boy came and sat by me—he took out a bunch of souvenirs from his bag, keychains and stuffed camels, etc., and arranged them in rows in front of him. His own portable gift shop. Then his friend came and set up right next to him. I smiled at them, but motioned that I had no money on me. They continued to sit there with me, and so we three watched the sun set. I glanced down at beaded camel eyes, a random pair of earrings, and up to the boys’ four eyes, which looked at me, then at the sunset, then back me. I remembered I had some Moroccan dirham in my overnight bag, so I motioned for them to stay while I ran down to grab it. Aziz and Mohammed, aged twelve and thirteen, helped me pick out a couple souvenirs that were in my price range. They priced out everything in Spanish, and so I was hoping we would be able to talk a little more, but they only knew Spanish numbers. They spoke Amazigh, or Berber, which is a classification of indigenous dialects in North Africa. The dialects are being lost, though, as French, Arabic, and English are “valued” more highly by society. I knew the words for thank-you and my name is, so that was helpful. Through gesturing and doodling in the sand I learned their ages and that Aziz lived in the valley below where we sat, but Mohammed lived somewhere on the other side of a very large dune. The sun set and they went running home. I joined my crew back at the camp for delicious tajine dinner and stargazing.

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The next morning we woke up super early to catch the sunrise. We boarded our camels and set off. I noticed pretty quickly that my camel, let’s call her Sal, wasn’t doing so hot, but there was little I could do, as our guides were at the front of the line, and my legs couldn’t possibly take me ninety minutes through desert sands. The wind picked up as Sal teetered over the edge of a dune. I turned my head down and closed my eyes tight. With Sal’s unclear condition, I felt pretty uneasy about this steep decline. As I opened my eyes, I caught a glimpse of my friend, Jackson, sliding off the side of his camel right behind me. His camel freaked out and started running toward Sal and me. I don’t really know how to explain the noises the camels made as they were wigging out. It was nasal-y and distressed. Jackson’s camel ran up into the back of mine, and as mine turned around to say “WTF,” I was ejected off the side. I let out my own nasal-y distressed screams as I went tumbling into a sand dune. The crew turned around to look at us, sitting confused in the sand. I soldiered on, Sal soldiered on, and Jackson and his camel were taken to another part of the line.

So that was my trip to the Sahara–albeit brief, I had time for a few selfies with the dunes, a keychain purchase, and to form a memory of being thrown from my camel at sunrise.

The altitude is making me sleepy–that and the dearth of sleep I’ve found this week, so I’m going to sign off for now. I’ll keep you posted on what adventures await in Bolivia.

Peace out–yours truly,

PJ

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