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when stars were still just the holes to heaven

Caitríona likes to mention, at least once a day that "There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand in the world." Lying in the Sahara, and tracing the various constellations, I realized she might have been telling the truth all along.

After our trip to Marrakech, and Essouria, a few of my friends and I trekked over to Merzouga, where we were to meet Omar, our sage of the Sahara. By trek, I mean cramp into a grand taxi, which is legally allowed to transport seven people, including the driver. More often than not, it can only humanely fit five people. Seeing as we opted to take grand taxis for the duration trip in southern Morocco, our relationships have ascended to new levels.

Once in Merzouga, we rode our camels out into the desert just in time to scramble up the dunes to watch the sun set. Breathtaking.



As a side note, camel riding for over an hour is not the most comfortable activity. Kudos to the boys who survived. After enjoying a delicious tajine and some Berber whiskey, my friends and I gathered around the fire for a jam session. Somebody brought out a dhol-like instrument so I couldn’t help but introduce everyone to “bari barsi khat se gaya si... and of course, “dholi taro, dhol baje, dhol baje, …” In return, the Berbers taught us a few sick Gnawa tunes; “Sudani Allah Allah, Sudani…” and “ya baba, muslami ya baba”

All of a sudden, the singing and laughing ceased. We were told to direct our gazes towards the East to watch the moon rise above the snow-white sand dunes. It was as if an invisible hand was grabbing the moon out of the sand. I’ve never witnessed such a marvel before.

We spent the rest of the night, which grew increasingly colder, bundled up beneath the stars. Besides Orion’s Belt, Leo, and Venus, I think our favorite find was the tajine in the sky. That is always a good omen.

A few hours later, Youssef woke the group up with a loud “Americans!” around 5 AM in time to watch the sun rise. That morning camel ride was like being on shrooms. To my left, the moon was still visible resting in the intense hues of blues and purples. To my right, the sun was just breaking dawn, enough to blind me. I was trying my best to recall a saying by Hafiz, and it only came to me later, l'espirit d'escalier.

Even after all this time 
the sun never says to the earth, 
'You owe Me.' 

Look what happens with 
a love like that, 
it lights the whole Sky.

After scarfing down breakfast, we took a sketchy bus, with a goat in the backseat, to the next town where we hailed another grand taxi, crammed onto its musty leather seats and drove a hefty five hours to the Todra Gorge. I enjoy horizontal hikes more than vertical ones, so the Todra, which is on the east side of the High Atlas Mountains, was fantastic. At one point we were able to see the Sahara in the far distance (or so we assumed). Cat and I attempted to give the adhan and hear it echo through the gorges, which was followed by our version of “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. However, a lone Berber woman’s chants overpowered our horrific covers.

That night we opted to stay on the rooftop terrace of a hotel right next to the gorge. The moon provided just the right spotlight for the gorges so we could still watch the infinite stars in the sky. To keep with the theme of the day, we even found baby Simba within the contours of older Simba! It was a perfect night, up until 4 AM when it had to have hit below zero. My body had been in survivor mode for the past week, so I endured the pain.

My favorite part of the entire escapade, however, was coming home to find out that my friend Hyder was looking at Orion’s Belt from his window all the way in Boston that same night.



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