My first time in the Sahara: Random thoughts and feelings
The Sahara has been on my list for as long as I can remember. As a child, the idea of a place that could be scolding hot during the day and freezing cold at night was fascinating. I couldn’t quite grasp its size (over 9 million square kilometers: that’s 8% of the world’s land mass)—I still can’t—nor did I fully understand its harshness—I still don’t. The 5 nights I recently spent in the northern part of the desert only allowed me to scratch the surface. One of the many perks of moving to Algiers is the proximity to the Sahara. And, I admit, I’ve become obsessed with the desert. Cities like Tlemcen and Ghardaia have made it to the top of my travel list because of their proximity to the desert. I’m longing to see the difference in terrain and vegetation. Seeing more of the Sahara is all I’ve been talking about for weeks now.
The giant sandbox
Some of you may recall seeing photos of me on a camel in what looked like the desert. While in Marrakesh, in 2019, we went to Les jardins de la Palmeraie where we dressed up and went on a 30-minute camel ride. Sure, there was sand, but I wasn’t in the Sahara. While a lot of tourists visit Marrakesh on their way to the desert, the city is over 300 km from the Sahara depending on the part of the desert one wants to visit— 360 km to Zagora; 550 km to Merzouga. So, that time in Marrakesh, I was in a giant sandbox.
This became even more apparent when I came upon stretches of sand and dunes, as far as my eyes could see. A breathtaking sight.
What I found surprising
It wasn’t long after I arrived in Algiers in September 2021 that I realized that I didn’t know much about the weather in Algeria. All the pre-travel reading hadn’t really prepared me for what I was about to experience. The “sepia days”—caused by sand—came as a surprise. I expected to fare better during the cool winter months. Folks, I’m wearing my winter attire (scarf and coat) and it’s only 9oC outside. My Canadian card is about to get revoked!
Everything I thought I knew about the weather in the Sahara was rather useless. The generic “hot during the day and cold at night” doesn’t apply to the northern part of the desert in the winter. It never really got hot. In the morning and evening, the temperature stayed at about 9oC. During the day, it didn’t go above 24oC. Not at all what I expected. I wished I had learned about how temperatures differ within this massive desert. Also, I realize how, growing up in Haiti, these temperatures wouldn’t really mean much to me.
The girls who get it, get it
It has now become a running joke that my trips are bringing Thierry Cham’s “Ocean” to life. If you grew up in Haiti in the late 1990s and early 2000s, you know the song. It only dawned on me when my friends mentioned it. And I find that hilarious.
A resort is a resort, is a resort
I spent 5 nights in a desert resort. I slept in a tent. The dunes were walking distance from my door. I went to the hammam, partook in a 4x4 caravan in the desert, welcomed the new year with a 4-course dinner hosted under a huge Bedouin tent. I had a gem of a time. (Let me know if you want a detailed post about my stay.) By day 4, I was itching to get out of the property. But I couldn't. I don't think I've mentioned this on the blog before: when we venture out of the Algiers Wilayah, Hubs and I have to provide an itinerary and are provided an escort. Visiting the local nearby city wasn't part of our itinerary.
Immersing myself in the culture as much as I can is one of my goals when I travel, that's why resorts aren't always the best options for me. While I may not a fan of resorts, I think they can be a good option for the less adventurous or less experienced traveller. I also find them ideal for the traveller who wants to take things easy.
Being in the Sahara brought me joy. I enjoyed the coolness of the sand on my feet. I marveled at the sunsets. And I also felt small. There's nothing more humbling than sitting on a dune and looking at miles on miles of sand, and realizing that you could easily get lost. The sand looked and felt familiar. But as my eyes expected to see the ocean and my ears anticipated the sound of waves. Silly, I know. But there was nothing but sand, some vegetation, and more sand. And I gave in to the Sahara's stillness.