The Stunning Sahara: Camels & the Cosmos

Have you ever seen a picture of sand under a microscope? The undulating dunes of the desert are filled with miniscule particles as impressive as the massive stars in the virgin sky. You can’t perceive these earthly particles with the naked eye. However, you can certainly see plenty of celestial stars in the night sky void of pollution and light, with only vast space between your soul and the spectacle of the cosmos.

One of Morocco’s biggest draws for me was the chance to visit the desert for the first time. When I think of the desert I picture the scene in Aladdin where they originally stumble across the hidden entrance containing the genie’s lamp and the magic carpet. Huge dunes rising and shifting in sandy hills sculpted by the wind. The Sahara paints this portrait at only a few Ergs in Morocco. The majority of the Moroccan desert is actually covered by a layer of small black rocks and is much flatter. So onwards to the Erg it was for that picturesque scene of serenity. Erg Chebbi to be exact.

Situated next to the Erg is the small traditional Berber village of Hassi Labied. I stayed here with my Couchsurfing host, Hamid, a really cool 19 year old who showed me the ropes. We wandered through the local Kasbah, a plot of land containing large date palms and other desert vegetation. Plucking a date fresh off the tree and popping it into your mouth is a lesson in the sweet things in life! The village is quaint and contains a lot of local Berber culture but my true desire was to venture into the dunes beyond.

Hamid’s uncle happens to lead camel excursions out to an auberge in the desert. My camel bowed forward onto her knees in order to let me climb upon her humped back. As the camel extended her legs to their full height I could feel the true size of these amazing creatures. Her plodding steps had a certain cadence to them as I rose and fell in the saddle. Going down steep dunes I had to brace myself by hugging my thighs into the camel’s side to prevent from pitching forward.

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After a leisurely hour ride we arrived at the auberge and I went for a bit of an exploration. Ascending to the top of the tallest dune I could find the view was as I pictured it in my mind, a vast expanse of hills shifting between different shades of copper and gold as the sun began to set.

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That evening we ate the best tagine I had in all Morocco, prepared by our Bedouin hosts. Traditional Berber music and dance followed, as well as some hookah and jokes from our absolutely hysterical hosts. They repeatedly told me I looked like someone from the village, which wasn’t the first time I’ve had someone tell me I look a bit like I could be Berber. A few of the local people really reminded me of my paternal grandfather, especially with their thinly sculpted mustaches, so I guess they weren’t just pulling my leg.

The star of the trip came after the dancing as a light rain subsided and the clouds parted to the twinkling source of wonder above. The cosmos just look more alive from the desert. Shooting stars flash past with amazing frequency. So many distant stars tease your eyes that there appears to be space dust sprinkled across the sky!

I was keenly aware that I am but a small human being lying on a rock covered in sand hurtling through space, yet I felt infinitely powerful. So small and insignificant in the macrocosm, yet still undeniably a part of it all. Whatever ‘it all’ really contains out there.

It contains…as many stars as grains of sand. Unfathomable. Yet each tiny grain of sand is beautiful and unique when you look really close, like the lights shining in each of us.

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