How I Spent My 28th Birthday In The Highest Dunes Of Sahara

by Lena

with Jimi Hendrix ( yes, that’s his name .. ) on Erg Chebbi dunes.

28th blog post about my 28th Birthday

My 3 day, 2 night journey into the Sahara began early in the morning, 26th of March, at my favorite cafe – Imzzane Cafe

This was a last minute decision.. as usual & paid around $100 for this trip five minutes before departure..

I ended up sharing this adventure with 7 other people..

It was a great group of hardcore travelers from different parts of the world.

There was a lady who was on her around the world adventure, two young guys from Japan, an artist from Italy and even photographers who make me look like an amateur…

wait, but I am one..

 Our journey began by driving through stunning beauty of Atlas Mountains…

stopping at small cafes along the road for pictures and coffee…

at one of those places our amazing driver Mohamed even got me a present ..

My first Moroccan Turban in gorgeous red color..

he also gave me my Moroccan name ~ Fatima Which means – Captivating

with our driver Mohamed

The road through the mountains was like a snake, which we tried to catch.. but the views are worth it!

The roads are surprisingly good here. Well I guess all roads are great compared to some in a lovely Costa Rica

Solo Berber of Atlas Mountains

We traveled along the former Caravan Route and visited Kasbahs of Ait-Ben-Haddou, which means ” Fortified City “

It is also one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A lot of Hollywood films were filmed here. Among them are ” Gladiator ” , ” Alexander ” , ” The Jewell Of The Nile “

and my now favorite ” The Sheltering Sky ” …

which I watched a few days ago for the first time and fell in love with the story, characters and cinematography.

Inside the Kasbahs I was greeted by the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen..

The mysterious man in blue…

His eyes paralyzed me to the core and I could barely move..

Completely forgot where I was ~ at one of the world’s heritage sites and couldn’t break the eye contact..

Did manage to say that he has beautiful eyes to which he replied ” And so do you ”  I somehow snapped out of it and continued exploring Kasbahs..

He let me inside the Kasbahs for free…

everyone else got charged.

” Wedding Dance “

While we were exploring The Kasbahs I hoped that by the time we come out, the man in blue will be gone so I don’t have to look into those eyes again..

He was there. Proud he stood in his beautiful blue dress, turban, chalk eye liner, like the ones sultans used to wear and with such intense otherwordly energy, which again stopped me in my tracks.

Thought to myself, ” Elena, start walking! You have a loving boyfriend waiting at home, have you gone completely mad?  ” ..

He didn’t want pictures taken. Some believe that a part of their soul is being taken with each picture.

Our group led by Mohamed made our way through Kasbahs to the river …

The man in blue followed us …

I looked back and heard him say ” Stay .. “

I disobeyed and turned towards river ..

but this might have been a still from my life if I didn’t cross the river …

me inside the Kasbah

I will always remember the man in blue and his eyes.

Could he have been a mirage ?

Maybe…

But I did manage to find one picture of him …

© Photographers Direct

( if anyone knows the name of the photographer and his/her website please let me know, I will add it to the photograph )

After we crossed the river our group had lunch at a restaurant on the other side with a view of The Kasbahs.

It was quickly filled with ” the ugly tourist ” types that I can’t stand

and quickly made my way downstairs, where I had the rest of my lunch with Mohamed.

” After Lunch ” taken by Mohamed

Since then, I tried to eat lunch with drivers instead of tourists.. and had an incredible experience. We shared delicious food and I listened to them laugh, talk,

fight, joke and saw how they tare Moroccan Hacha ( bread ) apart like true professionals.

We continued our journey and stopped in the Ouarzazate city for a short break. Ouarzazate is nicknamed ” The Door Of The Desert “

” Solo Journey “

By this time I knew that life is not going to let me easily forget my last hours of being 27…

My whole body was aching, my eyes were watery and a very familiar weakness slowly began taking over my body…

a cold…

“Ha, thanks life! Perfect timing… what’s next?!”  I yelled outside of our mini bus, covered from head to toe in dust from a whole day of driving and walking.

But still tried to compose myself and not let the whole mess get to me… and asked Mohamed to stop at the nearby pharmacy, where I got some pills that I started taking the minute the bill was paid.

Our group was very understanding and tried to cheer me up.

I knew that if I get a good night sleep, stay warm and wake up like a new person in the morning… ready to take on the highest dunes of Sahara…

We got back in our mini-bus and continued our journey.

this flower was a gift from Lynn Guo, painter, who lives in Italy.

I look like a local until I pull out this tiny thing… Photo by Lynn Guo.

After a few hours we reached stunning rock formations by the name of  ” Monkey Toes “

our whole Sahara Gang

And Dades Valley where we going to spend our first night at a lovely hotel surrounded by mountains and river.

Was still feeling very sick, but blown away by the stunning beauty that was surrounding me.

Our group had a wonderful dinner at the hotel; warm soup, which was perfect for someone who has a cold and delicious chicken Tagine.

They also explained to me what the ” Lucky bone ” was and since it’s almost my Birthday, I should make a wish and break it..

everyone knew what that wish was …

You see, we were not lucky with weather conditions, so I wished for clear sky on 27th of March.

I left the table early, had a hot shower, wrapped myself in all the clothes possible, took my medicine and fell asleep to the sounds of nearby river.

The day I turned 28 started wonderfully..

I felt much better than the day before and was looking forward to spending a night in the Sahara.

We visited a beautiful Berber village ” Tamtattouchte “

But as I was making my way though a really thin muddy path I slipped…

I had my camera out and it was either me or her…

I took the hit…

a really bad one actually…

so bad, that my ankle still hurts, after almost a month..

Just imagine… in the middle of nowhere, with a cold and now with this pretty thing on my ankle…

I loaded myself with aspirin that was given to me by one of our crew members and continued our exploration through the village …

We were guided by a handsome Berber ..

who made me a beautiful present …

” Berber and his camel “

I wasn’t the only one struggling that fine morning…

Our group was also invited to a traditional Berber home for some mint tea …

After a few minutes his sister joined us and I tried my hand at wool making, well not exactly, since it kept tearing…

And guess what, my childhood dream came true; I got to fly on the magic carpet …

We were shown different carpets and different meanings of patterns.. for instance this one means Yin / Yang  in Berber

When he was trying to sell his carpets to us he said something that made us all laugh

” We don’t push like George Bush “

After about 30 minutes it was time to get back on the road …

We were driving so much that some of us were in need of a good stretch …

We drove up to the magnificence that is Todra Gorge ~

Me and Lynn took a walk along those powerful mountains..

and saw letters EL right on the mountain… she captured EL next to EL : )

After our walk through the gorge we had lunch and headed towards Merzouga… getting even closer to our final destination…

Erg Chebbi dunes..

Somewhere between Todra Gorge and Merzouga our mini-bus stopped at a light and a young boy on bicycle drove up and handed a huge pink box through the drivers window right into Mohamed’s hands…

I was blown away..

it made sense now..

Mohamed asked how to spell my name a few hours ago..

 We soon reached our next transportation…

27th of March 2012. I am now officially a 28 year old Berber woman … on a camel ..

that will take us to our camp in the highest dunes of Sahara…

Unfortunately Mohamed was really tired, he wanted to stay at the small hotel by the desert and catch up on his sleep, so he can drive us safe back to Marrakech.

I gave him a hug and wished him a good night of rest.

He gave that huge pink box to our camel driver Mustafa to take with us.

Well, my wish didn’t really come true.. but at least it wasn’t raining!

I got up on Jimi Hendrix’s back, took off my shoes and run my feet through his soft coat.

this is much better then no sunset at all ..

even though I’m badly hurt my sense of humor is still alive ..

In an hour or so we reached our camp. It was already pretty dark. I couldn’t believe I was in the middle of Sahara about to spend a night in the desert…

I almost forgot how badly I was hurt but got a reminder later on..

By the way, I loved riding a camel! Have heard some horror stories about riding it for long periods of time.. not me, I loved it! And can’t wait to spend a month or so crossing the Sahara on one of my other Birthdays. Riding a camel is incredibly easy compared to riding a horse..

Now it was time to climb to the top of those dunes..

The whole gang was already up and taking pictures while it was still light…

I wasn’t so lucky..

but that didn’t stop me from climbing…

I took my water bottle, camera and a torch and began my hike up the soft dunes of the desert …

Slowly putting one foot in front of the other but could feel the sand sinking me to where I started…

I wasn’t going to give up… and continued the climb through sweat and a few tears ..

One of the guys was coming down because he couldn’t make it to the top…

He urged me to come to my senses and head back..

He said “Your ankle is going to hate you in the morning “

My answer was “Even if it takes me a whole damn night to climb this dune, I won’t stop” . He didn’t understand who I was; I would hate me if I did stop..

He didn’t know my life moto ~

” If you can not, not do things, you have to do them “

I came so far, it’s my Birthday and I’m in Sahara ! – I wasn’t going to let life’s challenges, keep me from doing what I came here to do…

I was going to have an amazing Birthday, even with a badly sprained ankle and a cold to match..

After what it seemed like eternity, I finally made it to the top …

And you know what?..

Me being there that night, meant so much more to me, than to someone who just waltzed up to the top without any difficulty..

No, I didn’t get to see the Sahara from the top while it was light.. but I felt the flames of orange sand between my toes,

while balancing right on the top of the dunes and continuing to climb higher and higher… from one dune to the next.. leaving behind the unimportant background sounds of the rest of the group …

Hearing my breath echo through space, wind kissing my face, the sky which started to clear up and stars that began peeking through the clouds …

I felt weightless..

I laid down on the sand and listened to the song of the desert…

Silence & Peace.

I didn’t walk down, I actually ran down to our camp,

and was greeted with cheers, applause & delicious dinner

picture taken with my remote control

 Everyone was joking how me and Mustafa look like we’re the Moroccan groom & bride to be -

Me ” Oh my god, what Mr. Bond is going to say ” .. Mustafa ” What did I get myself into? My wife will kill me… Honey I don’t know this crazy woman! “

And then they brought this while singing Happy Birthday …

a cake from French Bakery in the middle of Sahara!

according to the number of candles I’m 5 : ) it said Elena in English ~ Fatima in Arabic

The Flame of Sahara

We played drums and laughed. Then we made our own music video ; Lynn played the drums and I danced . The rest of the crew were responsible for lights and filming. Hopefully Lynn will send me the video soon, so I can upload it. She said it looks pretty good.

Shortly after we made our way up to the dunes … second time ..

Blue Scarab of The Sahara surrounded by footmarks of Mustafa’s hand..

on top of the dunes .. twice that night .. by the way the ring I’m wearing is a second gift from Mohamed

We all lay down on top of the dunes and just watched the shimmering stars that were everywhere by now.

Someone mentioned that my “lucky bone” wish did come true.. it cleared up.

Sahara is the place where you can hear deep into the very roots of your soul. I have never heard such silence before.

After a while it was time to head back, since we had to wake up early and make our way back to Marrakech. Everyone left, except for me, Mustafa and ” Japan ” that’s his AKA that I gave him.

We told stories laughed and listened to Sahara.

If it wasn’t so chilly and if I didn’t have a cold, would have for sure fallen asleep right there, on top of the dune..

but we decided to head back to our tents..

You probably heard of sandboarding down the dunes … they actually had a board at the camp.. but..

if you know me..

You know that, I’m too Old Fashioned for that kind of stuff…

I did decide to sleep outside and carried my blankets with a mattress out of the tent.

Japan also slept outside. Mustafa got his warm sleeping bag, blankets and crashed next to me…

I fell asleep to his Berber lullaby under the stars.

Really early in the morning I was awaken by rain..

yes, it rained in the desert!

You see, I’m a rain child and usually bring rain everywhere I go.

We woke up early and made our way through the desert back to the small hotel where Mohamed stayed.

you see I was very comfortable on Jimi Hendrix’s back ..

When we reached the hotel I thanked Mohamed for the delicious surprise and told him we all tried to save a piece for him..

but the gang of desert cats from the nearby Berber home stole his piece while we were on top of the dunes..

However our whole Sahara crew did tip him at the end for being so amazing.

Everyone had another Birthday surprise for me..

a gorgeous souvenir from one of the Berber villages…

… colorful eyeliner holder …

I looked back at the dunes one last time… knowing in my heart that I will be back…

So you know how I’m the rain child ?… well guess what, I’m also the hail child …

Moroccan Hail

wanted to say welcome to Moscow, instead of Morocco ..

This was a whole day of driving through gorgeous nature ..

By the time we entered Marrakech it was raining so hard, that you could barely see anything. We felt sorry for the people who were driving today to the Sahara.

It turned out that we were actually pretty lucky with weather on our trip..

We said our goodbyes and I ran under the rain to my place, which is hidden in the mysterious maze of this town,

 only a 2 minute walk from the main square, Jemaa El Fna.

I was looking forward to my next day in Marrakech and to my first visit to Moroccan Hammam…

Even in the chaos of this town and pouring rain I could still feel and hear…

the silence of Sahara…

_____________________

 The woman behind the words …

” Things “

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