Friday, April 13, 2007

Into the Sahara

For each step I climb, I slide back halfway again as the ground shifts beneath my feet. The hill is steeper than I anticipated and between gasping breaths I find myself wishing I had carried the skis from the campsite for the returning descent. Instead, I press on to reach the top and finally emerge to see a hazy sunset through the sand blowing in my face. I perch on the dune's edge and admire the play of shadows on sand while my heart finds its usual pulse once again. I half-run, half-slide back town the steep hill into camp, where I dump a quantity of the Sahara out of my shoes before joining the group for tea.

The weather is already cooling and my telephone has no reception - all the better to enjoy the stars and the drumming here in our own private oasis, where the camels sleep outside and we find mattresses waiting in low Berber tents. It's hard to imagine how close civilization remains: under the endless stars it is possible to believe in our isolation but surreal to remember the posh hotel only two hours' ride away. My own mind prefers the fantasy of life as a hermit to the memory of the breakfast buffet, for romantic notions abound amid the dunes. As the cold slows my mind, I crawl beneath the heavy blankets and turn to sleep as a defense against its force.

Signal or no, my cell phone still beeps its morning alarm at 5:30 and I shiver awake, slip into my still-sandy shoes, and fight my way back up the mountain dune to await sunrise. Classmates scatter to more distant peaks as we each seek quiet solitude in which to welcome the morning. Soon after dawn, we drink one last cup of mint tea, zip up our backpacks, and climb onto our camels for the return to civilization.

The trip that yesterday had been novel today hurts with every jouncing step. I watch my camel's feet squish against the sand and wonder how a motion so seemingly fluid jolts my tailbone so much. Our caravan creeps at snail's pace until two hours later we collapse back into the hotel for yet another breakfast buffet and a long bus ride home, leaving those images of asceticism and fancy back among those dunes after our short escape from reality.

1 comment:

scarlettscion said...

the camel, it hurts my tailbone! so true, we got off and walked at the same pace as the camels, wasn't so bad. I think they become more useful when it is so hot you HAVE to sit still and/or need to carry heavy loads.