November 6, 2018
In college, a Morocco Lonely Planet guide appeared on my studio desk on its own one day. At that age I was not well-traveled and my world revolved around the distance between school, my apartment, grocery store and a couple bars. I rarely got out of the city and traveling to Morocco seemed impossible.
Before I knew it I was stargazing against the darkest sky on a Moroccan carpet at a campsite in Merzouga desert. The warmth of the desert sand from the leftover heat during the day lingered, and lying there with no light and sound pollution, I felt like I was part of the desert, like I have been there hundreds of years. That night I drifted to sleep out in the open between the vastness of the curious sky and a sea of red sand, far away from home.
During Ramadan, villages and towns are quiet during the day and you can see children playing in front of their riad, or nomads walking with their mules. It was hard to find food in town but since I was a tourist my host provided me delicious meals. But because I wanted to experience the culture to the fullest I fasted with the rest of the country.
After an eight-hour bus ride through small towns and the beautiful Atlas Mountain, I made it to Tinghir. I hired a climbing guide, Julio, who picked me up at the bus station. He is French and the owner of a guiding company. Julio has 30 years of climbing and mountaineering experience and I was happy to get such a knowledgeable guide in such a remote area. We hopped in his white Jeep Wrangler and headed to the mountain gorge area.
The sun was shining bright and high, the air fresh, and I was chalking my hands constantly trying to get through this one difficult section of a multi-pitch sport route. The gorge was quiet. I could only hear my own breath and clipping sound of the carabiners. I was trying to place my foot on an edge that is the size of a dime, and my foot slipped and I took a 30-foot fall, with the sound of the rope and carabiner hitting the wall echoed to the other side of the gorge. As I was dangling in the middle of this climbing heaven, I saw crepuscular rays shining down on one of the most spectacular canyons in the world. I thought I can die in this moment and be completely satisfied. And we continued to climb on for another eight hours, without food or water. I was in heaven and people in heaven don’t need to eat.
After three days of climbing, my fingertips were destroyed, so Julio decide to take me on a desert excursion. Merzouga is a small Moroccan town in the Sahara Desert, near the Algerian border. The drive from Tinghir to Merzouga is like being in a Mad Max movie, with dust devils sprucing up from the hot desert ground everywhere while camels are lying lazily without bother. After we arrived, I was put on a back of a camel for our desert adventure. Dune after dune, sunset to night fall, we finally arrived at our camp. That night we had a traditional Moroccan feast under the starry Moroccan sky and exchanged many great stories with two other desert camp helpers.
I woke up just before dawn. It must have been windy that night as I found a small mountainpile of sand inside my ear and over the sheet and carpet. I quickly brushed away sand off my body and, without shoes, Julio and I hiked up the biggest dune in the desert to watch the sunrise. As we were hiking up, the wind continued to blow, and a mile long sheer silk of sand brushed through our feet. Finally at the top, the sand stretches as far as the eyes can see in all directions. Suddenly the first sliver of bright red sun hit the horizon line and the dessert lit up bright orange red. I thought to myself I can die in this moment right now, again. We sat still and in silence for the next 30 minutes, connecting with nature as if we were the cactus plants from the desert itself.
This solo trip was like a dream came true. It’s interesting how navigating a strange country on your own can teach you so much about yourself. The trip is as magical as how the guidebook showed up on my studio desk ten years ago.
November 9, 2018