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Love in the Time of Camels

Love in High Definition

MOROCCO | Wednesday, 14 May 2014 | Views [1014] | Scholarship Entry

It was love at first sight. Laid bare before me, she was brown, smooth. Her curves undulated under the cruel sun, heat radiating from her bosom. This, I thought, is what love is.

It takes 9 hours to get from Meknes to Merzouga, Morocco, by way of an overnight bus and a derelict 4x4 with bald tires. The desert overtakes the spare mud brick town slowly; the cracked pavement breaks apart, giving way bit by bit to orange sand roads just past Rissani, the path only apparent to locals or those with eyesight keen enough to decipher the windblown waves in the sand from tire tracks. And then, without warning, she’s upon you all at once: the Sahara. Dunes rocket 200 feet into the sky, and while the color spectrum seems to recede to the same ancient oranges, blues, and browns, it’s as if the world is suddenly, unmistakably, high definition. The desert takes you for her own, swallows you whole.

A man in a threadbare djalaba hands me a rough jute rope. At the end of the rope is a nose ring, and at the end of the nose ring is a camel’s left nostril. The right nostril, I notice, is shredded. The camel snorts, and I jump. I scurry onto his back, and one by one, his joints unfold, lurching us both violently back and forth. I clutch the too-warm metal bars of his saddle until my knuckles crack.

We amble, my camel and I, straight up a massive mountain of sand. With every step, the ground beneath his feet gives way and we slip slightly backwards: Sisyphus in a desert wasteland. I wonder absentmindedly if any human has ever touched the grains of sand struggling to work their way into my eyes.

We crest the dune just as the sun is beginning to sink below the horizon. I close my eyes to keep the seasickness at bay while my camel comes to rest on his belly. When I open my eyes, the desert, the great Sahara, is sprawled there before me, in all her glory, for the first time. The sky is ablaze with color, and already I can see the liquid silver ribbon of the Milky Way snaking through space above me. The sand glows preternaturally, washed so smooth by the winds it looks like a painting. A hundred feet below me, a troupe of the Bedouins I’ve come into the desert with are already setting up the camel hair bivouak, and gnawa music is pulsing through the evening heat, the drumbeat matching the electric rhythm of my pounding heart. And in that infinite, eternal moment, it was love.

It takes 9 hours to get from Meknes to Merzouga. It will take my heart a lifetime to leave.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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