Sahara Desert Trip Part III: Lost in the Bottom of the World

This is the third part of a long story. Scroll down and read parts I and II first. I’m afraid I insist. 

So, dinner was over and wee were sitting around having a few drinks and listening to music. The ladies tried to get me to dance but, for some reason, ever since 8th grade when I started going to school dances and everyone else knew how to dance but I never caught on, I refuse to do so. Not because I want to refuse (though it should me mentioned that a real man doesn’t dance, not like this anyway) but because I go into some sort of Autopilot mode when asked to dance. Ahem. Anyway.

So an hour or two goes by. Next to the Oasis is an enormous dune, the largest that I’d seen in the entire desert, and I’d made my mind up on sight to climb it. I thought others were of the same mind, but it turned out I was on my own if I wanted to climb it. I made, of course, the wrong choice and left the group, setting out upon the dune by myself.

I was soon joined by a fellow who would shortly distinguish himself by leaving my wheezing, coughing ass about a third of the way up the dune and continuing to the summit alone. Here’s the thing: climbing a dune is hard: every step up sends you sliding half a step back. After a few minutes, my heart was pounding and I was struggling to breathe. But I persevered. About half way up the mountain, something strange happened: I became suddenly and violently ill. I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but the short version is that I made a sound sort of like someone murdering an accordion and launched a gallon of half-digested food into the air downhill. It was gross.

But gross though it was, I carry the Sakulich gene that makes me stubborn in the face of all logic, reason, and entreaties. I continued to crawl to the summit. At one point, as I lay gasping in the sand, I knew that I could, if I really forced myself, climb to the top. However, for the first time in my life, I decided that carrying through on the hard thing to do propelled solely by a stubborn defiance wasn’t what I felt like doing that night. That, if anything, is a sign of personal growth. I returned to the camp, stumbled past the dinner table where most people were still sitting, and collapsed into bed. After drinking as much water as I could, I fell into an uneasy and angry sleep.

I was woken up by a fellow camper. I must have already been awake, though, because I remember seeing him sit straight up on his mattress, scream, and sprint out of the tent and into the night. That seemed odd at the time, and I remember thinking it was one of our hosts who was surprised he’d fallen asleep in a guests bed. But who knows?

What got me out of bed, though, was that I had to use the bathroom. Terribly. I bundled up, stumbled into the night, found my favorite tree, and did what people do when they need to go. As I walked back to the tent, I looked up into the sky.

The moon had set behind the dunes and every star that has ever been created was in the sky. Thousands, tens of thousands of them, crowded together like snowflakes. The pale milky way arched over the oasis, and even the faintest star was brighter than the brightest thing I’ve ever seen in the skies above the United States. They were all twinkling, and shining, and I just stood there with my head pointed to the sky. I sat down at the dinner table and just stared. Every few seconds or so a shooting star, or comet or meteor or whatever, would streak across the sky. There is no way I can ever see a night sky that will ever come close to comparing to that sky.

I don’t know how long I sat there and stared. I think it was an hour or two. I don’t know what time it was, though it had the smell of about 2 or 3 AM. I just sat there and looked at the stars. And nothing happened.

I sat there and stared up into the most perfect night sky imaginable, in the closest thing to a place of untouched natural beauty left on the face of the earth, an infinity away from everything I know, a lifetime away from everything I ever thought I would be capable of doing in my life, staring up at the complete spectrum of god’s creation, and the entire time I might as well have been cooking breakfast. I sat there and watched the sky, and I know that it was beautiful, and I know that I will never see anything like it ever again but that’s as far as I can appreciate it, and not a single deep thought or philosophical awe or personal revelation came to me.

Maybe I’ve used up my quota of deep thoughts involving the sky. Here at the villa, I like to sit on the roof and look at the stars and have a goodnight beer, and think. I’ve thought deep thoughts sitting on the villa rooftop, and here I was in an oasis under conditions a thousand times more beautiful, so surely I should have thought thoughts a thousand times deeper. And not a single damn thing happened. To be honest, as much as I was awed at the majesty of the night sky, I was confused at my incapacity to be awed by the majesty of the night sky. I kept thinking “…and?”

I sat like that, staring at the sky, for a while, and then went and got my blanket and pillow and slept on the carpet outside. It was cold, by the way: I had on a quilted shirt, long johns, hat, scarf, gloves, and blanket, and I was a little chilly. This entire time, it was totally silent, the only sounds being the wind in quietly howling through the trees and the occasional camel farting.

I don’t know what woke me up after that, but it was spooky as hell. When I looked out at the dunes, I thought I could hear talking from behind me, and when I got up to stroll around, I think someone a ways out in the dark walked around with me, and stopped moving whenever I stopped. I couldn’t figure it out, but it had me spooked. In fact, it might have been a nightmare for all I know. I said to hell with it all, returned to the tent, and slept in the corner with my knife on top of my bag.

The next morning, it was back on the schedule: up for tea, onto the camel, double time to the hotel, shit, shower, and shave as fast as possible, eat quickly, then back on the bus ASAP for the ride home at 200 kph. It was strange. This country is so laid back, but this trip was like a grade school trip where the teachers didn’t like you and just wanted to get home.

Overall I give the trip 3 out of 6 burgers. The scheduling sucked, I got explosively ill, things were just all around bad-dream-weird, and my hands stink of camels, but on the other hand, I rode a camel, got to see the endless expanse of the Sahara’s dunes spread out before me, and saw the greatest night sky any human being could ever hope to see. And I got to see a sahara sunset and sunrise. I’d do it again. But not before I can walk straight again.

Be seeing you.

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One Response to Sahara Desert Trip Part III: Lost in the Bottom of the World

  1. Alex M says:

    You sir, are the man. What an experience! And what an expert recounting, as none other could! I do hope we get to see some photos soon…

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