My niece Louisa, a university student, is spending part of this summer in Morocco taking an intensive Arabic language course. She started blogging about her experiences on her blog called "On the Streets of Fes."   Her latest entry, "A Trip to the Sahara," is an interesting account of a trip to the Sahara with great photos which I thought you would find interesting...
This weekend turned out to be the most amazing weekend of my life. It was the Sahara Trip, which was organized by the school so about 30 students all went. We drove about 7 hours through the Moroccan country side which was amazing in itself. Our destination for the day was a luxury hotel in the middle of nowhere. At this point in the program, everyone was hot, tired, and a little bit sick of their homestays. This hotel was absolutely amazing. It had two pools, a disco, and real showers. The food was amazing and we pretty much had the hotel to ourselves. After a night of drinking and swimming, we were able to sleep in and then the next morning we took off again for our second destination. We stopped at the Kasbah Tombocktu and swam while we waited for the sun to get lower in the sky.
Around 6 pm, we started loading onto the camels. Please take into account that camels are not the most beautiful animals and they also make odd sounds. Once I put one leg up onto my camel, it immediately stood up, which caused me to lurch forward to the top of its back. Finally I was settled and I tried to ignore the camel behind me which was slobbering on my leg. Camels are extremely uncomfortable to ride and they are roped together in groups of 3-5 with a Berber man walking in front.
The Sahara is amazing. The red and yellow sand in huge dunes around you for as far as you can see. There are snake and scorpion tracks in the sand and when we stopped to watch the sunset, we climbed one of the dunes and took in the beauty around us.
We reached the Berber Oasis shortly after sunset and were welcomed to rugs laid out on the sand with tents in a circle. The Berbers served us tea and a few of us climbed up the huge sand dune behind the camp in hopes of sand skiing. We ate dinner at ridiculously short tables and then listened to some of the Berbers drum and sing. Since we were in the middle of the desert, there were no lights except for the candles set up around the camp. This way, we could see thousands of stars. The entire Milky Way was visible and there was no moon, which made it especially dark. We started dancing to the Berber drums and I was extremely happy. After, a few of us sat down with some of the Berber guys and started to talk. I realized they all spoke Spanish so I was thrilled that I could communicate with them. I met Asou, who was 21 and lived in the larger town near the hotel. He has been leading camel treks for 10 years in the Sahara and knew about 5 languages just by listening to visitors in the desert.
My friend Gabrielle and I made our way out to the “bathroom” and on our way back, we ran into Asou and another Berber guy. They explained that they were about to climb the dune behind us which was about 600 meters and made completely of sand. Gabrielle and I looked at each other, shrugged, and followed these guys up the side of the mountain. At this time, it was pitch dark, none of us were wearing shoes, and the dune was just about as steep as possible. Every step you took, you slid down another step. After about an hour or an hour and a half, we reached the top. The view was absolutely breathtaking. Since this was the tallest dune for miles and miles, you could see everything. To the North, there was a small town with lights. To the South, hundreds of meters below us, was the camp, which was impossible to see because it was very late at night and all the lights were out. To the East, you could see the black mountains that made the Algerian border and to the West, you could see the dunes going on and on for hundreds of miles.
It was the most incredible experience being able to stand on the very tip of this dune, by ourselves and get caught up in the Sahara wind watching hundreds of shooting stars. We spent the entire night up there, walking on the ridges of the dunes and learning words in the Berber language. At 4:20am, the mosque in the town to the North announced the call to prayer. This consisted of a flashing light from the mosque and the call which you could faintly here through the wind. Around 4:30 am, the guys had to head down the mountain to start getting the camels ready because the sun was about to rise. We sat up there as other students from our camp slowly made their way up to where we were sitting. They were amazed and jealous that we had spent the night up here and watching the sunrise was incredible sitting there with all of our friends. After the sun rose, we quickly jumped and slid down the mountain so that we could get back before the heat set in. I was so tired on the camel ride back that I actually fell asleep at one point, which I thought was impossible. We arrived at the hotel, showered and ate, and then started the long drive back to Fes. As I am writing this, I am sore everywhere, dehydrated, and exhausted but I am extremely lucky to have had this experience and I will never experience my night on the top of the dune for as long as I live.
To see more photos from Louisa's trip and to read more about her experiences so far, please check out her blog, "On the Streets of Fes."