Morocco was the last port during my voyage of Semester at Sea Spring 2016. I thought I had known exhaustion before SAS, but upon our final travel destination I encountered a level of exhaustion I had never imagined. Knowing that I wanted to spend the last leg of Semester at Sea with my closest girlfriends, but being far too tired to think about any of the planning, I agreed to go along with whatever plans my friends envisioned. With this mindset, I was up for anything as long as I wasn’t the one organizing. What’s the worst that could happen, right? As our ship approached the Moroccan coastline, I jumped on board with the makeshift plans of my friends. All I knew was that camel riding was involved and that an adventure was in store for all of us.
Porting in Morocco, our ship arrived to Casablanca, a colorful and bustling city that hosts the second largest Mosque in the world, the Hassan II Mosque. I let my friends take the lead as we tracked down a tour coordinator that intended to take us on a camel trek. Jumping in the van, ready to set out on our journey, the tour coordinator welcomed us saying “Alright, only a 9 hour drive to the Sahara Desert!” To say we were a little shocked to hear that we had a 9-hour car ride in store for us would be an understatement. Another attention grabber was that our expected time arrival to the Sahara Desert was approximately 2:00 am. Midnight camel ride anyone?
Despite the subtle setbacks, we knew that this was a special opportunity to celebrate the end of an amazing journey together. We shrugged off any doubts and embraced the adventure with a “winging it” state of mind.
Shortly into the 9 hour van ride, we found ourselves hurtling along the highways of the Atlas mountains. The Atlas mountain range hosts one of the curviest, cliff-side roads I have ever been on. Although strikingly beautiful with dramatic views of sheer drop offs, the road is equally terrifying. As my roadside anxiety increased I began to dread the long journey ahead. Lucky for me, surrounding myself with fun loving friends that know how to make the best of any situation, paid off in this moment.
With the help of a couple of bottles of wine we managed to transform the dreaded car ride into one of the most fun and bizarre road trips I have ever taken. We somehow convinced our driver to make a pit stop in a small village where we purchased a few bottles of wine for the road. Alcohol is legal in Morocco, however, very rarely consumed by the general population due to cultural and religious norms. As a traveler, I generally try to follow a country’s cultural customs, however due to our unfavorable travel circumstances, this case proved to be an expectation.
You can always trust a group of college aged women to develop a creative way in opening a wine bottle without a wine-opener. The car ride that began as a boring and lengthy chore erupted into a non-stop dance party as the Moroccan sun faded into the mountainous landscape. We passed around the bottles of wine and spent the next few hours singing and dancing in the van. For the first hour or so our tour guide looked at us with utter disbelief and confusion. Somehow, eventually he found himself joining in on our dance party fun (I’m sure this is a memory he has not soon forgotten).
Miracle of all miracles, we managed to arrive to our desert destination in the middle of a starry Saharan night to ride our camels. Some might say that camel riding after drinking is not the safest…. I would have to agree, but that’s not to say it isn’t fun! The scene seemed straight from a movie as my closest friends and I trekking through the Saharan Desert in complete isolation. The night was illuminated with more stars than I will likely ever witness again in my life. The peaceful silence of the Sahara Desert at night inspires a feeling of awe unlike anything I have felt before. We managed to fill the silence with giggles and shrieks as we tried to stay on our camels all the way to our nomad tent.
A very special feeling accompanies the sensation of being entirely removed from the world you are accustomed to. Great beauty lies in experiencing something for the very first time. Although “winging it” can sometimes be intimidating or risky, I hope that I continue to find myself doing it from time to time. If it weren’t for “winging it” in Morocco, I never would have found myself in the middle of the Saharan Desert laughing with a group of friends that continually teach me how beautiful life can be.
P.S. The best advice I can give to anyone headed to the Saharan Desert; choose water before wine. We learned this lesson the hard way in the morning.