As we entered the majestic golden dunes of the world’s largest desert, a magnificent rainbow appeared which seemed to bless this extraordinary experience! It is a desert, so rainbows are extremely rare. I could hardly believe my eyes. It was a sunny day, the dunes alone are spectacular and God treats us with a magical rainbow entry!
It had been nice all day, but just as we started getting ready for our Sahara “entry” it started to sprinkle. I was a little concerned, but Allessandra said that it was actually a good thing as it would pass soon and a light rain puts a nice crunchy layer on top that makes it easier not to sink. The rainbow was just icing on the cake and was in the distance, so no rain where we were.
Like most people, I had some fears about going to the Sahara. There are not too many six year olds or mobility challenged,over weight 55 year old women who do it and it is not something that DaVinci or I ever thought we would do. If it was not for Mozart, it was not something that we would ever have done, but now we are so glad that we did. Allessandra, Hmad and their Les Nomad’s crew were the perfect people to do it with and we were so nurtured thru this grand adventure.
I am lucky that I can even walk and have spent considerable time in a wheel chair and on crutches. I crushed my knee jogging in the nineties and broke my femur and it has never been the same despite surgery and tons of various therapies. It use to go out fairly regularly which was extremely painful and would leave me unable to walk for months (from simple things like just rolling over in bed!).
Knock on wood,but the last time it did this was when I was pregnant, despite being much thinner at that time. (I ended up being stranded on the floor of my kitchen for hours in the dark waiting for DaVinci to come home from work to discover me). It has been six years so that gave us some confidence. My weight is injury and health related and not something that I have dealt with my whole life in this manner.
Needless to say, I always have some concerns in the back of my mind about my knee as it is a constant source of pain. If it were to go out, it would end or severely impact our RTW trip. So my primary fear about the camel trek was falling off (as some do) and having my knee go out or be re-injured in the middle of nowhere in the Sahara. There were practical concerns too because I have trouble getting from the ground or low places to standing position and Berber nomads do not use chairs or bathrooms. I had no idea how hard it was to walk on the sand dunes until I was there in person, although my ever ready bunny Mozart made it look effortless and fun.
I am claustrophobic, so I also had some odd fears about perhaps the expansiveness of the Sahara possibly being too much for me. I actually had dreamt about that kind of panic attack in the desert! Not to mention fears about snakes and spiders and scorpions and such crawling on me while I slept. DaVinci teased me that perhaps I should throw in some worry about a skyscraper falling on me while in the desert. (Grin.) It is good to laugh at phobias! Mozart, of course, did not have a care in the world, since thankfully her nature is fearless.
Allessandra was wonderful dealing with all the concerns and understood. We have both done adventure things like bungee jumping and repelling off a mountain in a ropes course, thus realized that the Sahara trek was a similar emotional as well as physical experience. One must face these fears and be in a good place to start for an optimal experience.
Although it was expensive, we decided before we entered that it would be best that I take a quad into the Sahara to our Berber camp and DaVinci and Mozart would take a camel and meet me there. We just did not want to chance my leg going out and I was not disappointed as I really did not want to ride a camel.
By perfect coincidence and fittingly, the Berber who picked me up in the quad only had one leg! Allessandra had told me he was born that way and his mother had sobbed at his birth in fear for him for it is a hard place to find work to live even with two legs, but he went on to become quite successful and someone from Spain had helped him as a child.
He was a warm and charming fellow and told me to hang on tight with my arms around his waste and off we went. It brought back memories of a childhood ride I had taken with my father on his BMW motorcycle when I was around four and I hung on the same way. The village ladies in scarves and djellabas giggled as we too chubby gimps took off on the quad, probably quite a sight.
I had a little fear, but when I saw the rainbow I just could not believe it and thought it was a special gift and sign that all was perfect. I instantly relaxed and began to really enjoy myself and the thrill of this moment. What a gift!
My driver was a delight and kept asking me if I was okay and we said lots of emphatic “Yes?” and “Yes!” back and forth to each other as a kind of light hearted game that he started. It made me giggle with delight and reminded me of my dear old teacher Michael Howard who wisely told me in my youth “you must say yes to yourself, darling!”.
I felt deliriously ecstatic with an overwhelming sense of freedom as we zigzagged thru the glorious amber, huge waves of dunes as we rode them like a giant roller coaster. I had thought of it as a totally utilitarian method of getting me to the Berber tent for the night and had not realized that I was in for such a thrill ride. It is a great way to see the Sahara and was pure joy. It was one of those peak moments in life and the rainbow (which I adore) was like the exclamation point to punctuate the ecstasy.
The Sahara is gorgeous in the Erg Chebbi sand dunes, almost surreal like an ocean of golden waves that goes on into infinity. It is a little like flying on clouds. The quad is the quick way to the desert as it only took me ten minutes to get to the area that took DaVinci, Mozart and our nomad almost an hour. I did not see anyone on my way in and there was a young nomad boy at our camp when I arrived.
Meanwhile DaVinci and Mozart had their own view of the magical rainbow and the beautiful dunes atop a dromedary. Mozart had the most experience since she started early in the morning on her first camel ride to her concert. They enjoyed the slow walk thru the desert and also took a zig zag and up and down path that sounded similar to mine,but we did not see each other. They passed another large group coming in and saw another one in the distance as sun down or sun rise is the time more camel treks in the Sahara take place.
Some people say riding a camel is painful especially for men, but DaVinci and Mozart did not find that to be true. I guess there is a bit of an art to keeping balance when they go up and down hills or that was their perspective. It sounded like kind of a counter weight strategy, bending forward when the camel was going up and leaning back when he went down.
I wish I had the camera, but we had wrapped it in a baggy and DaVinci carried it in his pocket. He was more worried about sand than taking pictures and he tends to take much less than I do, so we only have two pictures of the rainbow. If I had the camera we would probably have a hundred from every angle. DaVinci likes to take care of things, so was very conservative, not wanting the sand to take out our second camera.
So the picture does not do justice to what we saw,but at least we have it. The sky was not that dark. Had we all gone together we would probably have fantastic camel and rainbow pictures, but it is all perfect how it is and we have our memories.
Camels are very slow, so I think it was a very different experience than what I had, but they loved it all the same. It is hard to see the beauty and expanse of these Erg Chebbi dunes and not be touched. DaVinci had remembered studying about it in school and was almost in disbelief that he was sauntering along with his daughter on a camel there. He considered calling his sister from this milestone, but the cell phone was left behind with the laptop under someone’s care. He enjoyed the artistic formations that the dunes and shadows made together.
Before we left we were all helped with putting on our nomad turbans which help for body moisture protection somehow and covering the nose and mouth from sand if needed. Their camel had one ear that was nearly bit off by another camel and DaVinci told the nomad leading him that he should call him Van Gogh which made him laugh and laugh.
A line of loaded camels in the Sahara is a magical image that must be in all of us from things like “Lawrence of Arabia” or the other many movies filmed here. As I waited at our Berber camp I watched some meander by, each one taking my breath away. Finally my “babies” had arrived and I was so happy to see them and they looked the most mystical, as if some strange alchemy of the Sahara had turned them into an Arabian Knight and Princess perfectly at home on their dromedary. They looked like they were straight out of a story book. My heros! Our mysterious night in the Sahara was off to a fantastic start. (Art by Mozart).