A trip in the Sahara desert goes far beyond the picturesque ride on camels . It is a journey into no man’s land , in the land of real travelers , of nomads.
Those of whom is not known where they were born, nor exactly when, those who speak Berber and not Arabic, those who cannot live far from their sand dunes , and each and every time that they have tried would then make their return , in the expanses of sand surrounded by emptiness for us and by everything for them.
There is no written tradition of this culture , the women are word carriers of these traditions thousands of years old of which life revolves around the needs of the camels , the source of life , survival and movement.
The presence of the stars. The drums and the evening chants. Life in the desert is slow, time does not exist anymore, because there, as they say, there is always time and there is no need to hurry though the time-table according to pre-established itinerary would have you already ready, if you run, with a placid and calm smile and deep eyes adorned by kohl kajal that is used even by the men, will invite you to stop and relax. You’re in the desert, and there’s no rush.
My first time in the Sahara Desert was in Zagora. An epic journey, without a travel guide nor an idea of >where I was going. I was 25, with little money and it was my first backpacking trip and in solitaire.
8 years have passed since that day in which for the first time I fell asleep under the sky so starry that more starry could not be.
This time the desert I have been to was that of Merzuga, in southern Morocco, there where the roads end at the border of the problematic Algeria, the border is visible and is marked by mountains. Morocco ends there and the neighboring country starts, with the arising of military lookouts and red sand.
Scattered nomad camps and groups of dromedaries refreshing themselves . A hard life that of nomads who travel for all their lives , stopping only until the bleak and barren land gives nutrition to their animals before moving on. It is the dromedary that decides whether to stay or leave. It is the resources of water the source of life of a population that we believe landless and perpetually in search for a place , not knowing instead that they already possess the abode , only that it does not have walls.
“The Tuareg despises limitations, destroys and breaks down obstacles and barriers. His country, which has no boundaries, are the thousands and thousands of kilometers of sand and ardent rocks, the treacherous great barren ground that everyone fears and try to avoid. The border of this land-desert country is the point where the Sahara and Sahel end and where the green fields of the permanent enemy of the Tuareg community, with their villages and their homes begins … The Tuaregs are eternal wanderers. But can it really be defined so? A vagabond is one who wanders the world in search of a place, a home, a homeland. The Tuareg his home, his homeland, where he has lived for thousands of years has it: the heart of the Sahara “
These words were published for the first time in 1998, the author is a great writer/travel journalist, my favorite amongst others, Ryszard Kapuscinski, and describes in a few lines a meeting that anyone who goes into the desert of the Moroccan Sahara will have the pleasure to do so, because the welcome will be of real nomads, of the true desert people, not of people who put on the required turban to take a picture with you and to make you feel in an ethnic and colourful photo setting.
Beyond the mountainous chain of the Atlas the desert extends to infinity , the mountains are left behind , the heat begins to be felt . But it’s February and it’s bearable, rather pleasant . The doors of the desert open and welcome us into the land of everyone and of no one.
The Moroccan I was used to in the cities, one who follows you till you are worn out and will not leave you alone until he gets what he wants will become a new character, a poetic and almost legendary personage.
It beautifies and softens, so that the facial features seem different.
Just like 8 years ago I was able to lose myself in the eyes of Milud, a nomad completely covered of whose deep black eyes were the only contact with the outside world, so that again this time the magnetism emanating from these mythological characters entranced me and with difficulty I withheld myself from staring straight into these irresistible eyes.
Everyone speaks so many languages, they say “thanks to you I now speak all these languages.” Probably some of them cannot even write in their native language, this I do not really know but I wouldn’t surprised, moreover, the Berber language is a language made official only two years ago and it’s hard to learn how to use the characters that make up the alphabet.
Then comes Mustafa, the camel driver. An exhilarating character full of fun, he speaks eight languages, is 26 years old and up to his 20 year he had traveled with the caravan of his family to the Moroccan desert until, five years ago, the family decided to stop in Merzuga.
He does not know where he was born, not exactly, he was born in the desert and that is enough.
He doesn’t even know what day it was when he came into the world, so that, like all the members of his family, celebrates his birthday on December the 1st.
This day he and his family will celebrate an event that had happened in an area still unknown in a day that has never been determined.
There are 20 years of learning in the lives of the nomad before they can make themselves independent , I am told .
- 5 years , the school of learning from the mother
- 5 years the school of learning from the father
- 10 years learning from the School of Life
He is complete and ready to face the harsh life of the desert that at the set of the sun is presented with tranquillity and coolness under the starry sky and the notes of the percussion instruments and the Berber songs will spread around to who knows where.
Silence and solitude , like freedom are elements that make a Berber , a sense of belonging of which sto be extremely proud of.
The free man is the mark of the Berbers (including women, who indeed are also figures of great power of a degree that gives them the power to get divorced and then also keep the tent and assets, a status very different from what they identify an Arab women, being effectively two different kinds ethnic groups ***), is printed on their flag shown off with pride, pointing out that they belong to a group that shares a religion with the Arabs, that, also in this case, in any event is different from what we may imagine.
The truth is that their religion is made up of stars and nature, a tribal people who still exists and is well preserved.
A population intense and strong, with a thousand stories and with ways of doing gentle and calm. We are in the Sahara desert. We have sung and danced around the fire. We have smoked shisha and drunk tea. We have lain belly up to watch the stars aware of being in the heart of the world, where everything is possible because it is there, that the freedom of each and everyone of us takes possession of its value and time regains a significant role in our lives.
There is Time … and freedom to be able to enjoy it to the full as well.
Welcome to the Sahara Desert!
For a 2 weeks travel itinerary in Morocco using public transportation click here.
I travel independently taking mainly public transport. A world trip began in 2011 is not yet finished, my mission is to explore the world and write about it. Travel consultant Galapagos, Argentina, Morocco, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Namibia.