Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Sahara. For real. (Thursday, May 13)

You know how they say that the Grand Canyon is one of the few sights in the world that completely lives up to the hype? For me, the hype has always been about the desert, particularly the Sahara. I've always had a lot of romance wrapped up in my head about the Sahara. Something about the motion, the desolation, the absolute need for survival under a black sky. Even the word is exotic and gorgeous, to be breathed through. There is something terrifyingand darkly sexy about the idea of the empty desert, and I was totally ready to be disappointed.

But I wasn't. There wasn't anything about the Sahara that wasn't overwhelmingly beautiful, frightening, and vast, and that didn't, in an absolute and complete way, remind me that I am just a tiny little actor in a terribly gorgeous world.

Our Sahara was shaped by Ksar Ghilane, an oasis roughly 200 kilometers south of Douz, a tourist town that is the primary launching point for camel and 4WD Sahara treks (No camel trek for us - too dangerous in the summer). Ksar Ghilane is the largest oasis in the Sahara, and it is shaped around "the source," a small, muddy natural spring surrounded by palm trees and a few Berber campgrounds. Rappy had fun.

We spent the afternoon practing our headwraps with the young Berbers who live on the oasis. They are quick to offer opinions on your headwrap, and as a general rule, aren't fans of the Arab styles of draping. Too much conquering, perhaps.

The headwraps, made out of 2-meter long soft fabric, are used for everything from towels and belts to sun protection and rain protection and most of all, sand protection. (Not that it matters. The sand gets into everything. EVERYTHING.)

Once the sun went down and it was cool enough, we set out to explore the Grand Erg Oriental, which is literally a sand ocean lapping at the oasis. The sirocco, a summer wind that carries sand, was starting to act up, so we were fully wrapped and half blind, but we couldn't resist running through the dunes.

Sunset in the Sahara. I am small, and lucky.