My birthday in the Sahara

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by Karoline Wirths

On the morning of June 7, a Targi named Yaya picked us up at our hotel. Wearing a light blue, airy robe with yellow and gold embroidery, he very kindly helped us stow our small hand luggage into a silver SUV and so we set off on our desert adventure. Our communication worked better than we thought in English and that quickly led to a feeling of trust.

So far, we had been looking at the mountain wall about 30Km from our resort in Zagora every day with the idea that behind it the desert begins. But as we crossed the ridge we were surprised to see another valley with date palms and another mountain range behind.

Yaya steered the car off the road after about an hour and a half of driving to join us for a picnic in a shady spot under palm trees. So out of the air-conditioned car and into the heat, which hit us very hot in the face. Quickly a carpet was spread out and the cooler with fruit and sandwiches fetched from the car. In a small sand depression was quickly created a small fireplace for delicious tea, which was prepared in a small metal pot.

Then the journey continued and we crossed this valley as well. In the last village before the desert we stocked up again with frozen water bottles.The Sahara announced itself very impressively on signs at the wayside with the heading “Attention desert” And under it in five languages the sentence “Water is valuable here. Consume it moderately and respectfully”.

So we drove into the Sahara, which at first consists of barren scree landscape but with paved road.

My eyes quickly became accustomed to the yellow and ocher tones, which had a very pleasant and calming effect on me and I could not get enough of them. After a few kilometers, scree turned to sand and Yaya drove off-road between small dunes. No signs, no road, no – at least for us – visible landmarks. Nevertheless, we felt completely safe, because what could happen to us in the company of a Tuareg?

Then, behind a dune, there was suddenly a small valley in front of us with a camp consisting of several tents. As a reception committee in front of it lay two young camels. So we were at our destination and fortunately did not have to do without comfort.

First we oriented ourselves, which tent should be our sleeping tent, where the washing tent was and where the dining tent. In front of this tent were spread out carpets with many oriental cushions, which disappeared so slowly under a layer of sand. For the desert welcomed us with a strong and steady wind that blew the sand which blew unpleasantly in the face and in the eyes: Actually a horror scenario for a contact lens wearer like me! But for that we had Moroccan headscarves and could cover the face with it as far as possible cover the face.

To escape the sandstorm, we first took refuge in the food tent, where we were greeted by a setting like something out of the Arabian Nights: walls covered with fabric in oriental patterns, the floor laid out with carpets, wrought-iron tables with tablecloths and placemats, matching chairs, stylish and inviting. We took the opportunity to have a relaxed little conversation with our guide in English.

Yaya told us that his parents live in the desert, about 400 KM away and he with his wife and four children in Zagora. I could really feel how happy he was about our interest in his life and work. It could not be more opposite: On the one hand a proud people living with and in nature and on the other hand we Europeans, living in comfort and more and more distant from nature.

Our sleeping tent was also furnished in Moroccan style. Big enough for two plus one person, but in our case only for the two of us. And anyway: The whole camp for us two guests plus four Touaregs as service staff proved to be an unexpected but nice privilege!

Unfortunately, the wind gusts did not let up even towards evening, just as Yaya had initially predicted. But that didn’t stop us from climbing the nearby dunes. The view into the “nothing” as I like to put it, into the sandy landscape reaching to the horizon let me completely decelerate. Without the factor time once to enjoy this peace, to experience the conscious moment, to be thrown back only on itself, without a civilization noise. So we let the desert work on us.

Of course, I absolutely had to visit the two camels. Undaunted, I trudged towards the two animals and so close I have never come to these animals before: Petting animals they are not necessarily. The camel fur felt straw-like.But when the two young animals, one light and one dark, realized that we were not going to feed them not feed them, they quickly lost interest in us and turned in another direction. Towards evening another Touareg came into camp with his three camels -.

Zack I sat up. I had chosen the lead camel and when that got up, it was pretty high! The Targi gave me to understand, how I should position myself correctly should, oh yes, there was a seat ring felt under the blankets, behind the hump. And there was even a handle in front to hold on to-perfect!

So off we rode. .Up here at least the sand was no longer blowing in my face. The Targi led us through the sand at a wavy and leisurely pace. With a feeling as if time was running slower, I enjoyed the ride very much.  The animals were always sure-footed, whether it was up or down. Passing many dunes, we also saw from a distance other camps, Berber tents and other abandoned dwellings.

After about an hour the round was over and I had to look again how the camels fold their long legs together. When lying down it is first the front legs, then the hind legs, when standing up it goes in reverse order. Therefore it takes some getting used to!

The Touaregs were sitting together in the lee of a tent when we got back from our camel ride. We got ready for dinner and first of all ready for the sunset.  The toilet could be used normally and the shower gave enough water, washing hair was unnecessary.

In my specially purchased caftan and the turban Yaya benevolently tied around my head, I felt smooth like the leading lady in a movie, sitting on the highest dune watching the sun go down: The outline of the dunes in the setting sunlight…simply unforgettable!

When the sun had set we were served a dinner just for the two of us in the food tent: There was as Entre’a salad, then the Tangerine with vegetables and in addition meatballs and to drink tea and water. After the meal we sat down in front of the tent, the wind had calmed down a bit, the air was pleasant and my gaze wandered up to the starry sky. Very sharply outlined and very brightly shone thousands and thousands of them.

Behind us, the Touaregs gathered in the tent and there was a surprise birthday cake for me, with candles on it and even with my name. Everyone had gathered and drummed while singing “Happy birthday”. After I blew out the candles everyone got a piece of cake and they sang other songs later. It was a nice and relaxed round.

In a quite turbulent night (I as a non-camper in a tent shaken by gusts of wind) the unfamiliar noises just didn’t let me sleep soundly and with the flashlight in my hand I shone again and again into the corners of the tent.

As it slowly became light outside I was glad when the morning started and us with a beautiful sunrise at 6.15Uhr welcomed. The wind was now completely gone. Quickly the restless night was forgotten and I climbed the highest dune to sit down and watch the sun rise from there. The outlines of the landscape were very sharp and clear. The dunes were shrouded in a completely different light than they were at sunset. This conscious, unique moment remains unforgettable for me.

Even now, as I write about it, I can play it back in my mind like a movie and sit up there again…. We took breakfast in front of the tent, on the carpets and the diwan cushions, very classically in Moroccan style. There was a very tasty coffee with special spices, it was the most delicious coffee I had ever had. My happiness lasted and I enjoyed the breakfast, where just nothing was missing, even pancakes and juice and jam were there.

After we packed, there was still the opportunity for a few panoramic pictures. In addition, Yaya photographed us as a couple – visibly proud he handled our camera.

In return, one of our photos shows Yaya with a red snow bob on his hand on the dune, actually rather surreal but funny…before I slid down the dune on it…..On our way back, first through sand, then through scree, we were able to take another look at the highest point on the ridge, over the first valley we had to drive through to get back to civilization.

Author: Karoline Wirths Contact: Photos: Thomas Isenburg

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