"The desert purifies the soul"
is an old Tuareg saying
that I have come to understand completely.
From an early age vacationing near the dunes at Pyla in the Southwest of France, I was fascinated by deserts and I read all the tales of the great British and French explorers who had trekked through and across the immense Sahara.
Wanting to escape the cold and noise of New York during the tense run-up to the Iraq war, I embarked on a project to explore the Moroccan Sahara by camel with my family. I found a great French outfit based in Marrakesh that provided us with a guide, driver and Land Rover to reach the Sahara. After a day of brutal driving on rocky tracks, we finally reached the meeting point where we were introduced to our Berber desert team and our camels.
Our Caidal tents were worthy of "Out of Africa" lined inside as they were in bright silks. Woven fiber rugs and Berber carpets served as our floor. We had separate dining, sleeping and bathing tents.
Camel riding at first is a painful experience but becomes almost hypnotic as you sway with the camel's movement. Those who travel through the desert embark on a spiritual voyage as well, as the mind focuses on the immensity of the desert, the intensity of the heat and the traveler climbs the immense stretches of sand in search of peace.
No two places could be as different from each other as are New York and the western Sahara Desert. From the vast expanses of the Sahara's empty sands to the truly stunning starlit night skies, the desert really is the complete antithesis of traffic and billboard choked Manhattan (or London, Shanghai and Bangkok). Don't misunderstand, I love the excitement of the world's great cities, but I find with increasing frequency that I miss and need the counter-weight of the desert to feel whole and fully spiritually balanced.
I was overwhelmed by the beauty, the silence of the scenery and in awe of the great dunes. Climbing the dunes is truly an astonishing experience for it seems that there is no end in sight. From the crest of the dunes, the immensity of the landscape is quite overwhelming in its sheer but fearsome beauty. The orange color of the sand as it gleams at sunset is the most unforgettable memory of the trip. I'll never forget my desert stay because it compelled me to re-examine many of my priorities which has ultimately helped me further focus and sharpen my aesthetic sense.
In preparing this post, I had hoped to be able to provide you the name and contact information for the wonderful company that facilitated my travels into the Sahara. Alas, my research indicates that the company I had engaged is no more. If I've tempted you to venture into the desert (and I hope I have), you might try contacting Sahara Trek a company that appears to offer a similar experience.