Sunday, August 8, 2010


We arrived at Merzouga in very good humor, albeit punchy from hours on the road. The sun was a bit warm, but the day was winding down so we had the good fortune to miss the most intense heat of the day. We rushed to check in so that we could catch the sunset while sitting high in the camel (dromedary - one hump) saddles, in the Sahara desert no less.

The Kasbah Tombouctou sports two camels kissing by the entrance. Hmmm, suggestive? Once I stepped beyond the lobby though, I felt I had entered a more ethereal place. Something was very different about this place, and it wasn't just the fine sand creeping into every crevice. Maybe, I'm just a sucker for an astoundingly beautiful landscape, but even in the rush to the camels, I felt like I was gliding over the path. The mood at the Tombouctou, however mercurial - because the mood is different depending on the time of day, or night, was energetic at the anticipated sunset camel ride. We would go through several moods before we left Tombouctou, none of them unpleasant, at least for me.

My camel, I think Jimi Hendrix was his name - they were all named either Jimi Hendrix or Bob Marley, was pleasant enough. He lowered himself obediently, and I climbed on and we were off. Paulette was in front of me, and Ben was behind me. The camel saddle has an interesting attribute that I've never noticed on a horse saddle, maybe it's because the camel lowers and raises himself - very different from mounting a horse. My eyes struggled to take in the scenery. It's as if I couldn't physically see everything at once. Too much to possibly take in with mere human eyes. The sun was setting, and we were all glad to be taking the sunset ride rather than the sunrise ride. The weather was perfect, the group was in excellent spirits, it was all quite perfect. We left our camels and climbed a sand dune, and stood around, reduced to few words - unusual for our group. Youssef, Paulette's and my camel handler, buried me in warm sand up to my waist. The sun sank behind the dunes slowly, and photo and video opps presented themselves, and we just stared at where we were, and marveled over what we were doing. Finally, some of us ran down the dunes to the waiting camels, some slid, some walked, we all came down in one way or another.

When we returned, and walked from the camels resting place to Tombouctou, we gathered our things from the lobby and started to our rooms. I had room 11, a single, for the night, and Eddie and Daniel had room 12 right beside me. We couldn't find our rooms at first because they were the only two rooms that were not included on the signs. So we decided to go for the numbers that were at least close to ours. The entrance to the hallways was fanciful and we were fairly enchanted right away. However, when we entered, it was so dark that we couldn't find our way at all. Eddie and I went ahead, feeling the walls to try and find a light switch, but to no avail. We were walking carefully, and climbed a couple of stairs which Daniel couldn't see as he was a distance behind us. He said, "Oh, my god, it's so dark, it looks like you guys are floating above me." We found our dreamy rooms, turned on the air immediately, and started the settling-in process.

Later, we went to dinner - the most succulent, incredibly sweet apricots that have ever passed my lips . . . We were in an incredible setting, the desert beyond us, and great conversations, including a particularly memorable bit of talk about movies with Eddie and Youness, this stands out as one of my favorite dinners of the entire trip. Afterwards, as we all lounged around savoring the atmosphere, company, and drinks, the drummers came. Everyone took turns drumming, but I just wanted to listen and savor, so I lay on one of the benches off to the side and stared at the stars and, okay, sublime may be the right word for those particular moments.

Later, after everyone had gone to bed, I took a walk out to where the camels were resting. The beauty is almost too ephemeral to hang on to, much less describe. Looking up at the milky way, and seeing the desert meet the sky, the camels here and there - I think I'll struggle my entire life to keep that image accessible, and not to let it diminish with passing time. Even now, I can't write about it without getting teary.

Later that evening . . . soon to be sobered up from the intoxicating desert experience, I was lying in bed reading with my door unlocked when Eddie burst into the room dressed for bed. He raised his arms to the air conditioner and said, "Yes! it's cool in here!" Daniel, also dressed for bed, followed and I invited them to climb into the spare bed in my room. (I didn't realize that the beds were two different sizes and poor Eddie and Daniel shared the double, while just I was in the queen.) They tried to have their air conditioner fixed, but to no avail that evening. We spent the first night in Merzouga roomies: Daniel chatting in his sleep, me - restless, going out for a later-night walk, Eddie sleeping without moving a muscle. My restlessness began that night in Merzouga and hasn't quieted since.

Now, watching one of the world cup games the next day in the warm, sultry tv room after an extraordinary experience on the 4 x 4s in the desert was an excellent afternoon as well. Both those things would have been fabulous on their own merits just because we all had so much fun. The singing of "Buffalo Soldier" with Sherri, Eddie, Joel, Youness, and our awesome driver at top volume while jumping over sand dunes was perfection, and watching the match with everyone sprawled around talking smack was so completely comfortable and yummy - and was sort of the icing on the Merzouga cake.

I'm not going to say Merzouga was magical, because that seems too easy. Also, it doesn't quite work - there's so much more. Maybe it's where we all were, physically and emotionally, that made it so incredible. Whatever aligned to make it what it was, memories of Merzouga conjures something in me that I hope never goes away.

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