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An Unforgettable Night in the Desert: A Student's Perspective

Camel ride at sunset in the desert

When I landed in Rabat airport at the end of January to start my semester at Qalam wa Lawh, I certainly did not expect to be riding a camel in the Sahara five days later. Less than a week after my arrival at the centre, I got the opportunity to join one of the school trips to the Sahara and to spend an unforgettable night in the desert.

Snow on the group during the weekend trip

If I didn’t expect to go on an adventure that early in the semester, I was even more surprised by the diversity of the landscapes that we crossed to reach the Merzouga dunes. Before getting on the trip, I was afraid of the long drive ahead of us, especially as I expected the landscape to be the same over and over again as we got closer to the desert. Actually, our long drive south was one of the things I enjoyed the most on the trip. We crossed many breath-taking landscapes, some of which were still covered by snow!

After a tajine and a good night of sleep, we woke up very excited on Saturday morning to start the other half of our journey to the Sahara. As we crossed the ‘Door to the Sahara’ and stopped along the way to take pictures of an oasis, we really felt that the camel ride we had been longing for was only a few hours away.

Our last stop was at ‘Dar Gnaoua’, in which we tried the delicious Amazigh ‘pizza’ and listened to traditional music before reaching our hotel. We dropped our bags there and met our camels for the second half of the adventure.

Riding camels in Morocco is an experience like no other

I am not sure I can describe exactly how we felt, camel riding in the desert as the sun was setting on the dunes. After the excitement and the many Instagram pictures of the first fifteen minutes, everyone turned quiet when the colour of the sky changed and projected a very special light on the dunes.

It was night when we arrived at the camp in the desert. We spent the night star-gazing – I had not seen the stars and the Milky Way so clearly in ages. Contrary to what most people would expect, it is actually very chilly at night in the desert. When it became too cold to keep star-gazing, we walked back to the camp and spent the other half of the night listening (and dancing!) to traditional Gnaoua music around a fire.

We slept for a few hours and woke up early in order to watch the sunrise on our way back to the hotel. This time, we were all very quiet from the start. I tried to focus, to print every colour and nuance in my memory to remember it all later, as if I knew I was leaving a magical place. The camels brought us back to the hotel and we slowly went back to the ‘real’ world.

I don’t know what I liked best – the sunset or the sunrise. They were really different, in that our camel ride at sunset was full of excitement and novelty, while almost felt melancholic during the sunrise ride – we had lived something very special and were about to leave it.

We had breakfast at the hotel and left early in order to go back to Rabat. Once again, the landscapes were breath-taking and contrasted so much with what we had seen in the desert. We saw snow, mountains, forests, plateaus and oases, all in the same day. Our biggest stop along the way was in Ifrane, a city like no other in Morocco, for the architecture looks more like a Swiss village than a Moroccan old medina. It looked a thousand miles away from our camel ride through the Merzouga dunes a few hours ago. As we went back to Rabat in the evening, I felt like we had been crossing several countries in one day.

Atlas Mountains on the way back to Rabat

Looking back on this trip two months later, I feel really lucky to have spent this night in the desert, especially in January when no one else was around. It was also a very bonding experience, since it was my first week at Qalam and I didn’t know the other students yet. We really felt that we had been sharing something special, and I would definitely do it all over again.

- Clara Défachel

#studyabroad #semester #qalamcenter #morocco #winter

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