I was at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) a few days ago and Henri Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy filled me with a strange longing to experience a desert landscape. I imagine myself riding a camel through the shifting sand dunes of the Moroccan Sahara. The Sahara, meaning “The Great Desert,” in Arabic is the world’s largest hot desert and one of the harshest environments on the planet. I imagine the Sahara as a vast expanse of soft sand dunes, where dehydration and intense sunlight reflecting off the sand trick the eye into seeing things that don’t exist. The Sahara is much more. Most of the Sahara is characterized as rocky hamada, a type of desert landscape that has very little sand and is made up of primarily barren, hard, rocky plateaus.
I see myself riding a camel on massive sand dunes of Erg Chicaga, with a guide to keep us from getting lost. Story has it that long long ago, a wealthy family refused hospitality to a poor woman and her son. God was so offended by this act that *He buried them under the mounds of sand today. In the modern world, these sand dunes are know as Erg Chebbi or Erg Chicaga.
Starting before dawn to beat the heat; admiring the colourful sunrise, we’ll march in silence. Slowly we’ll get accustomed to the awkward gait of the camel as it lurches forward, even learning to sit cross legged like Lawrence of Arabia. When it gets too hot and the desert starts to shimmer in a thousand shades of burnished gold, we’ll set up our tents at an oasis and rest in the shade of a palm tree. They say if you know where to look, water is never more than 10 kilometers away. Could there be anything more ethereal than standing atop the picturesque dunes at sunset and watching as the harsh yellow glare magically transforms into soft glowing shades of orange, pink and purple? If the night is warm, we’ll sleep under the stars, or sing songs in the light of the radiant moon. On cold nights, we’ll warm ourselves by a crackling fire and listen to wondrous stories filled with lions and djinns!
The end of November, and January and February are the best times to visit Erg Chebbi/ Erg Chicaga. The weather is not as harsh as summer or peak winter and since it is off season, it is also the quietest time.
*He – I believe God is gender free. I refer to him as masculine purely for convenience and convention
P.S – The date is not a typo. This is from April 2015.