PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Morocco Day 8

As an avid traveler, I’m not sure I have a “bucket list” per se because travel for me is about life not death. But I definitely have a list of travel dreams.

To accomplish one in a few years is incredible. But to accomplish two in less than four months seems unfathomable. However, a mere months after reaching my seventh continent, I was able to ride a camel in the Sahara Desert and watch the sun set over the dunes. I don’t take these experiences for granted and today, I experienced a reality that was even better than my dream.

It was also Eid, the end Ramadan, a day of celebration. As we drove from our riad to the desert, we passed by men, women and children in resplendent dress as they took part in the rituals of this celebration to end the month of fasting. To be able to witness this in a Muslim country was a pure delight and gave me a deeper understanding of the Islamic faith. Our guide, Mohammed, told us of the traditions like the children going to sleep the night before and waking up on Eid with their celebratory clothing next to them on a pillow.

Our first stop was the Todra Gorge. This place reminded me of the Needles Highway in South Dakota and a bit of The Narrows in Zion National Park. In other words, it was way cool and beautiful.

We made a couple of other stops before we hit the desert. First, we stopped at a roadside market, where I fully embraced my inner tourist and dressed up in traditional Berber clothing for a photo. Cheesy. Yes. Fun. Also yes. I don’t let cheesiness stop me sometimes, for good or ill. I also purchased head gear for the camel ride. (Did  I deliberately dress in desert colors today? Yes, I did.)

One of the big surprises for me was stopping at a factory where they took fossils from the mountains to create furniture and art. The mountains surrounding the Sahara Desert are filled with ancient marine fossils from the time that this was an ocean millions of years ago. The reason that the Sahara sand dunes exist to this day is that they used to be the beaches that surrounded that ancient sea. The pieces of furniture were works of art, and I found it utterly fascinating.

After this stop, it was time to go meet our camels and begin the trek across the desert. My camel was named La Haj, which is the word used for the journey to Mecca, but also means journey to a sacred place.

This seemed incredibly apt to me. I know it may seem like the ultimate in touristy activities, but for me, for reasons I truly can’t explain, this was a sacred journey. I have long been fascinated by the desert dunes and images of being borne across them on a camel. And I have to admit, having three camels on the journey also felt biblical.

As someone who considers herself a wordsmith, I feel inadequate explaining what this meant to me. But they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think that the look of pure and unadulterated joy on my face in the photos I have posted conveys more than I could ever express. Watching the sun dip behind the dunes is a memory I will cherish the rest of my life.

After arriving at the camp, where we slept in tents that can be best described as “glamping,” we settled in and had a lovely dinner before joining the other guests — about a dozen other people from Turkey and Italy— around the fire as our hosts engaged in drumming and song for us.

When we were done, the guides led us out to look at the Milky Way and absorb the quiet of the desert.

What a day. What a life.

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