On New Year's Eve, I spent the night in the Sahara desert. I went into the desert on a booked tour with 12 strangers from around the world asking myself, “I wonder what it was like as a traveler crossing the Sahara for months in a caravan”.
When our group arrived at the edge of the Sahara, we loaded up ourselves and our things on camels and crossed a mile of red dunes. It was sunset and at the end of our camel ride, we were anticipating arriving at a campground run by Berbers, who we recently learned were indigenous Moroccan tribes, with a large campfire, food, water, and shelter.
Once arriving at the Berber tents we realized nobody knew our group was coming. Somehow they had overbooked the trip and were short somewhere between 15 and 80 sleeping places. We assessed the situation: there was no fire, the temperature was dropping below freezing, we had no idea if there was food or water, or what was going to happen next. Not exactly what we had been sold for our NYE tour which was supposed to be a lively affair of drums, locals, and excitement.
There was mass confusion due to lack of communication and language barriers. We were all a little afraid because we weren’t sure what was going to happen. I decided to walk away from the continual talk of what was going to happen to 100 meters away where 20 people were quietly observing a Berber attempting to get a fire started. He continuously tried to get a lively fire roaring but was unsuccessful. After an hour, he succeeded. We were all relieved that we would have a source of warmth amongst the freezing temperatures.
After the fire started I went back to the tents and was pleased that there was food. A couple new friends and I were brought into a dining tent and served a simple meal: chicken tagine, bread, and rice. A warm meal has never been so satisfying.
Once we had eaten dinner, we returned to the fire with the rest of the group as the fire toyed with our emotions by threatening extinction every half hour. The Berbers fed it chairs, logs, desert brush, and whatever else we could find. Our hope that it would stay alive through the night.
We still weren’t sure where we would be sleeping and if there was enough room for all of us. The Berbers started coming around to small groups of us saying we have a few sleeping spots left, and we needed to come claim it before they ran out.
Based on their assessment about 10 people would need to sleep outside in the 29-degree weather. Those of us that arrived together quickly huddled to assess the situation. We all decided no matter how little room there was in the tent we would make room for all and squeeze in tightly to make us fit together. In a world often deemed to be filled with so much selfishness and hate it was beautiful to watch a group of strangers come together to look after one another.
We had been fed, we had a place to sleep, and we had a fire, we could finally relax. We sat around the fire and the Danish couple in our group brought some perspective. The trip so far wasn’t what we expected, but at the end of the day it was New Year’s Eve and we were in the Sahara desert underneath millions of stars. With that mentality, we began to play with the local drums, talked about New Year’s traditions around the world, and excitedly discussed what fortunes the new year would bring.
We happily counted down to 2017 together, sharing wine, a crackling fire, and the sound of tribal drums. As the clock struck midnight I was running up a 100-meter dune, out of breath, trying to catch the fireworks and simultaneously allow myself a moment of reflection of how grateful and happy I was to be where I am.
In the end, I grabbed a couple of blankets and slept curled up next to the fire beneath the stars, indenting my body in the sand, and allowing the soot, smoke, and warmth to take over. I didn’t sleep well with worries about embers falling on me from the proximity of the fire, the possible extinction of the fire and subsequent freezing, and wondering if all of my valuables would be stolen from one of the tents.
It was here I realized that all of the concerns and excitement I had that night were shared by all who have chosen to traverse the vast Sahara in a caravan. The basic human needs of food, water, and warmth, the worry of your values being stolen, and the excitement of the promises of the future for what is next.
I’m often asked why I like to travel and it’s for moments like these why I keep buying plane tickets. Instead of fearing the unknown, I fear to be comfortable and complacent. Being in a state of discomfort allows me to broaden my horizons, connect with a larger breadth of people and experience a reality far outside my imagination, and be tested to continue my practice of patience and gratitude to see the world in a more beautiful way.