Sahara is the Arabic word for desert. Visit a desert or two, and you will find out that the desert is a magical, ever-changing landscape and not just a huge pile of sand: huge golden dunes, flat packed desert, a moonscape scattered with strange rock formations or craggy and colourful mountains. If you care to spend a few days in a desert, you can’t help but fall under it’s spell. The harshness, the intense heat, the nothingness – sounds awful, I know – but this is what makes it so intriguing. It challenges you to just be in the moment – because the only thing that matters in the desert is right now. It’s hot, you need to seek shade. You need water. You need to survive the day, tomorrow doesn’t matter. And when the sun finally sinks down on the horizon (it’s gin o’clock!) , the night sky unfolds into a dark-blue, diamond-speckled blanket – leaving you speechless…and you realise what a very special place you are in.
The desert, the Sahara, is my favourite place on earth.
Here are a few pictures to tell the story of the desert, the people, the places, the life.
Imagine waking up in this moonscape of the White Desert, sprinkled with wild, white, erosion-formed rock formations. Look at them for a while, and they begin to take shape: mushrooms, frogs and rabbit sculptures will suddenly appear. If it doesn’t take your breath away, you might want to check you have a pulse. The sunrises / sunsets out here are spectacular – very soft and pastel- coloured. Sweet dreams are guaranteed in this magical place.
Which brings me to dreams in the desert. I once found that after spending an extended period of time in the serenity of the desert (I was crossing the Sahara though Morocco, Algeria, Niger, heading south – took about 2 weeks), my head emptied out all the “stuff” it was crammed with (kind of like emptying the trash on your computer). Without the day-to-day things that fill the storage space in your head, your mind becomes freer. I had lots of strange, vivid and wonderful dreams in the desert, like I have never had before.
You meet interesting characters in the desert. In the picture above I was on my way to a music festival – the Festival au Desert – 70kms from Timbuktu, somewhere out in the sand. However, as it was not a matter of “turn left on Sand St and then the second right on Desert Road”…like the directions we are used to, we got a bit lost. So we asked a local Tuareg that we found – he of course knows the dunes like we know the buildings in our town and came with us to the festival.
I got to spend a couple of days with some sweet Bedouin nomads out in the South Sinai desert – rising with the sun, feeding and milking the goats, making bread on the fire, accompanying one of the daughters into the desert all day to graze the goats – living with the rhythm of nature. No internet, no distractions, just the simplicity of life, reduced to the basics. Bliss! Life isn’t always easy but it is about the basics of eating, sleeping, surviving and being happy with very little. After all you don’t need a lot in the desert. Or anywhere for that matter…
You can put away your phone in the desert, you won’t need your Night Sky app or GPS when you meet someone like Jamal, a wiseman of the desert. He can read the stars and tell you what direction we need to go in, he knows all the herbs and their medicinal purposes, and he can read camel footprints and tell you things like if the camel had a rider, how old it is, if it is injured or pregnant etc. Valuable knowledge that is gradually being lost among the younger generations as they try to keep up with the latest mobile phone…
Nights can be warm in the desert, with a soothing breeze to stroke your face to sleep. But they can also be bitterly cold. I once slept under so many blankets (the night before a winter camel race in the Sinai desert) that I couldn’t turn over…and was still cold. And it is amazing that even though there seems to be a lack of trees in the desert, there always seems to be enough sticks etc lying around to get a fire going to make tea, cook food, and bake bread in the ashes. The people of the desert are very resilient and resourceful, their senses are more tuned in, they are more aware. They see, feel and sense things that we don’t.
If you like massive orange sand dunes, then Morocco is the place to visit. It is just what you imagine a “classic” desert to look like, it’s a place of Arabian nights and dreams.
Namibia is a sparsely populated country, mostly made up of different types of desert. One of my favourite nights in Nambia was spent camped out under a huge rock in the middle of nowhere. Sleeping under the stars connects you with nature and it’s energy… it’s something intangible, but everyone should try it!
If you are lucky you might find an event happening in the desert, like a camel race. This one takes place in January every year between two Bedouin tribes in the South Sinai desert. Chaos and madness barely begin to describe it – but heaps of fun guaranteed if you are willing to expect nothing and go with the flow!
Some of the world’s most amazing structures are in the Sahara desert – like the pyramids, and the temples and tombs of Egypt’s kings and queens, or the huge mud mosque of Djenne, Mali.
Being in the desert makes it acceptable to drink warm gin and tonics, and it still tastes fine. No ice out here!
As I said: the landscapes change all the time, from sand dunes, to flat desert, to rocky desert to mountainous deserts with strange rock formations. If you want to see colourful rocks, big, rocky mountains (“jebel” in Arabic), then consider a trip to the Sinai desert to stay with Bedouins or Wadi Rum in Jordan.
Silence is golden. If you ever need to truly escape for a while and free your mind, then consider a camel trip into the desert for a few nights. Listen to the wind. Feel it. Be in the moment. And see how good it is for your soul.