"Solo in the Sahara" by Gwenyth Szabo
Over halfway through my study abroad experience and I can’t believe it! Fall break was a nice rest from classes, but it really allowed me to refocus on why I am in Morocco. How am I going to take advantage of the last two months abroad? What can I do differently to enhance my experience? What is on my bucket list? I considered these questions on my flight back to Morocco, and an immediate priority on this list was traveling to the Sahara Desert. From all of the excellent reviews and unbelievable pictures, I knew I had to see it for myself. My first weekend back from fall break, I planned my first solo trip in Morocco to the Sahara.
The journey to the Sahara is not easy, but it is completely worth it. Like Mount Toubkal, there are many forms of transportation required to reach the destination. Friday afternoon, after sharing delicious couscous with my family, I took the train from Rabat to Meknes. With the help of my program coordinator Doha (she is amazing!), I reserved an overnight bus from Meknes to Merzouga.
While I was not looking forward to the bus trip and worried I would not be able to sleep, I sat next to a very kind Moroccan woman who shared pictures of her family’s travels to the Sahara. We spoke completely in darija which was one of my goals for the second half of the semester in terms of honing my speaking skills. She showed me pictures of her daughter sitting in the sand and rolling down the dunes. At the end of our conversation, she had offered to let me stay at her house when our group would travel to Fes. Moroccan hospitality is unmatched from my travel experiences, and I was so grateful for her kindness. My conversation with her renewed my excitement.
The bus ride was long and as Morocco enters into winter, the weather does get significantly colder, especially in the mountains. In Rabat, the weather has become rainy and cold — Meknes being no different. After a cold bus ride with some sleep, I arrived in Merzouga very early and was escorted to my hostel (“une auberge” in French) where I was given a room to sleep. The auberge was comfortable and had great Wi-Fi, which I did not expect being surrounded by desert.
Later in the evening, it was time for the experience I had been waiting for: riding a camel and spending the night in the desert. With the help of a guide, I mounted my camel and held on as it see-sawed up to standing position. When camels rest, they tuck their legs under their body, so getting up requires leaning forward and then backwards to get on all-fours. The initial throw forward almost knocked me off the camel, but the saddles have handles for riders to catch themselves. Riding through the desert was more beautiful than I had imagined. The sand looked perfectly smooth, like the pictures I saw online while doing research. The dunes were majestic and it felt very peaceful.
At the campsite, the group shared tea and dinner, waiting for the stars to come out. Dinner was a delicious chicken tajine with vegetables, bread, and rice with olives on the side. The group devoured our food and began to exchange stories of travel destinations and time in Morocco. When the group heard I had been living in Morocco for over two months, they began to ask me questions about living in Morocco. I felt proud of my experiences and being able to answer their questions.
That night, the stars were the most amazing I had ever seen and before going to bed, the group gathered around a campfire to listen to traditional Amazigh (Berber) music. Even though my phone couldn’t capture how magnificent the stars were, one of the greatest parts about travelling alone is that you meet many new people. On the overnight bus back to Meknes, I sat next to a tourist who shared her photos with me, including this one of the stars. The entire experience was surreal, and I can’t wait to come back and do it again!