Silence in the Moroccan Desert
Our trip had a false start: my wife’s visa was incorrectly stamped to begin only on the second day of our trip, so the airport sent us home for a day, instantly squeezing our 5 day 4 night tour into 3 nights.
We landed in Marrakesh and took off immediately into the hills. Along the windy mountain roads there were no billboards or advertisements, except for an occasional Coca-Cola sign. While our driver kept talking on his mobile phone, most people we passed by looked much more at ease and relaxed — not busy and running around. We went past people riding mules and working casually in the mountains.
Even the towns had a pleasant simplicity to them. Houses were made out of red clay, as if they were just sculpted out of mud. Inside they were unexplainably different from anywhere I’ve been — they weren’t over-crowded with stuff. They had what they needed, but nothing more.
The first night, we stayed in a bed and breakfast kasba. Imagine staying in a big sand castle. We ate a lot of tagine — the Moroccan specialty cooked in a clay pot. (We ate a little too often, by the end of the trip… it started to get very repetitive.)
The real treat though, was the second night of the trip. After a drive to the edge of the desert, we left our belongings at the local lodge, and mounted ourselves on camels. Our guide led us off into the desert… we actually rode camels off into the sunset… just like in the movies! They were sure-footed and moved at a comfortable pace as we made our way down to our base camp and had dinner by a big fire pit.
The desert was peaceful and I found myself very present, just there, soaking it in. Everything about it felt magical — a unique experience I haven’t had before. The moon had a halo in the clouds, and reflected off the red sand. And it was so silent.
Living in London, the city was busy and noisy. Even though we lived on a “quiet” street, cars, people exiting pubs, sirens could be heard through the night. If you paid attention while riding the underground, you would notice screeching and clattering at every moment, even at times when people weren’t chattering away. A city like London is generally noisy and fast-paced: so many people are out and about, and engaged in so much activity. Plus, such a city is expensive, so everyone is working, playing, socializing all that much harder.
After awhile though, you become accustomed to the noise of the city. It falls into the background, but the agitation is still there, even if you’re not aware of it. To know the silence of the desert allows you to appreciate the over-stimulation you endure living in a city.
When we finished our meal, we climbed up to the top of a four story tall sand dune in the dark. Our group was small, and we were all alone (except for another camp at the bottom of the sand dune). Climbing up a sand dune is pretty wild because as you get higher, the sand just slips out from underneath your feet, and you slip back down — it’s like running through densely flowing water… all this effort, and you don’t go anywhere.
But after all that work, sliding down was hilarious. You could sit, and you would slightly sink into the side of the sand dune. Our guide would pull us down, as if we were on a sled going down a snowy mountain. We would slide for a bit and then stop. It was crazy, and something special.
But the sand… well, let’s just say it went everywhere. I mean, everywhere. There is still sand in my camera to this day. 5 days later, when we were back at home, I collected the sand THAT WAS STILL IN MY CLOTHES, and kept it in a small jar. We filled the small jar.
Every time I see that small jar, it reminds me of the incredible stillness in the desert. Well, except for the thumping of drums in a neighboring camp and their drunken clamor.
The desert was cold in the morning, and we got up in the pre-sunrise darkness to make our way back to the lodge. This turned out to be a good thing, because as soon as it came up, it was scorching hot. We took a cold shower and had breakfast before setting back out on the road. Someday I hope to return to the desert to see those stars once more and to experience that utter stillness… all over again.
Our last day was a long day of driving, making our way back to Marrakesh. We had some time in the evening to wander around the town, enjoy the night market and pick up some souvenirs, before heading in for the night.
Strange little country Morocco is, feels a bit lost in time. Without internet everywhere and little advertising, it feels like an entirely different planet. And I kind of hope it stays that way.
Also published at Aurai Online.