Sahara, the desert with beautiful orange sand has always been a fascinating place for people all around the world. I always wanted to go there, but never had a plan or idea on when I was going and what I wanted to do there. It all happened totally by chance, when I decided to spend the New Year’s eve of 2015 somewhere warm than where I was in, Novi Sad, Serbia where the temperature was foretasted to be around -15C during the New Year’s eve. I went to Barcelona, Spain for the new years and had a wonderful time and met many amazing people from Spain and around the world. As I was in Spain anyway, I wanted to see a few other cities before I head back to Balkans to continue my lost travels.When I was in Valencia, I got this idea of going to Morocco which was so closeby as I could easily take a boat from Spain. Then I was a little hesitant to go to Africa as I didn’t think I was ready to explore that continent yet as I wanted to completely absorb and understand Europe before I moved on somewhere else. As I started doing some random Google searches on retreats in Morocco, I came across this amazing website Road Junky Retreat in Morocco. At first, the name threw me off a little bit. As I browsed the website a bit more, and understood their philosophy of how the group spent time in the desert, I fell in love instantly. I booked my flight to Marrakech, Morocco from Madrid, Spain after three days and flew to Morocco. When I reached Morocco, I felt like I arrived home, and it had a very unique but familiar vibe that made me feel like I know this country and have lived here for ever. I have so much to say about Morocco but I will write about Morocco in a separate blogpost.
The retreat I signed up for is a Meditation Retreat in Sahara from Jan 11 – 17, 2015. Other than that it was a meditation retreat, I had no idea what to expect from each day in the Sahara desert. I learned from the organizer, Tom Thumb, that there will be around 35 people in the retreat from all over the world and we will have a great time. Also the note from Tom that was a little comforting was that each year there is someone who signs-up late to the event, and this year it happened to be me. Only later I realized that some people have been waiting years to attend this retreat but could make time only this year, and some reserved their spot almost a year ago, and I happened to be very lucky that Tom accommodated me as I booked less than a week before the event start.
First meeting and Bus Ride:
The first meeting was with a few people from the group on the 10th in Marrakech. We met in front of Cafe de France in Marrakech and found a nearby place to eat dinner. The people I met were lovely, and meeting them really energized me to look forward to the retreat. Next morning, we all met up at the market square and took a taxi to the main bus station. From there we took an almost 12 hour long bus ride to a small village close to the desert. The plan was to stay in the village for the night and walk to the desert retreat camp the next morning.
The bus ride was the first exposure for me to the sense of the common love and positivity that we were to share for the next week with all these amazing people. There has never been a time in my life where I was with this big group of people from all around the world with common sense of love and peace towards life and towards each other. The long bus ride gave us all an opportunity to bond with the people who are sitting close by and also talk to others during restroom and lunch breaks. The scenery of valleys, mountains, snow, dry lands, villages, and movie sets that we passed during the bus ride were simply amazing. By end of the bus ride. most of us were tired but also interestingly there was no sign of anxiety or negativity in any one of us during this time. I felt that the ride itself was the best way to start my retreat and ease into the group and the vibe.
First stop and the first night:
After the long ride we reached a small village, and was received by Tom and few others who reached the village before us either the previous day or earlier in the day. We gave hugs to each other and walked to the small hotel, where we stayed for the night. After relaxing for a few hours, we all had our authentic Berber dinner with bread and Tajine. We were also joined in the group by some amazing musicians and singers. Lawrence Glaister, who is a singer, busker, and plays Jaw Harp, played music for the group after dinner. It was my first night of serenity in a long time. With the music playing around me at a distance, I walked away from the group towards darkness and closer to where the moon was about to rise from behind the Sahara desert. Knowing that there is desert somewhere in that direction and not able to see it, with beautiful Jaw Harp playing in the backdrop, I saw the moon rising from behind dark clouds. All I can say is that I teared-up and I was extremely happy with where I was in life and literally where I was standing. A beautiful night.
The walk up to the camp site:
The next morning we all woke up early to go out to see where the desert was. There you go! We see large dunes of sand rising behind the date trees inviting us to get lost in them. We had our Berber breakfast at the hotel, spent some more time packing up our stuff and left the bags outside for the camels to carry them to the camp. After an hour or so after breakfast, we all grouped up, took a head count and left to the desert. We walked through small fields of flowing water, date and other trees that are green and serene. We knew passing by them that we are not going to see anything green for the next week. When I walked beside the water canal and crossed it’s last point to entry to the fields, I made a mental note where I was going to wash myself when I get back from the desert without shower for a long time.
I still remember the first sight of the orange sand far away with dunes so big that I had only imagined in dreams. To get to the soft orange sand, we had to walk past a small area of small sharp rocks and last few green grass and weeds. Once we passed it, we finally touched the sand and the desert we all have been waiting for a long time to touch and feel. The sand was warm, soft, slippery, strong, massive and looked never ending and infinite. We were guided by a local villager who was also going to be with us for the next week helping us with food and other things we might need. We followed him in two groups, one that wanted to walk fast and the other group that didn’t mind getting lost and be the last ones to reach the camp. We became kids, rolling over the sand dunes, walking over them with bare feet and sipping water from the bottles we carried. It is hard to explain this and other experiences in words, but hopefully the pictures below give you a sense of what we felt like during this walk.
Reaching the camp site:
After walking for a few hours, getting tanned in the intense sun, and after getting long orange sand massages to our feet, we reached the camp site. It was surrounded by small dunes to protect it from the wind. The tents were Berber tents, with a kitchen at the corner and place for at least 5-6 people to sleep inside each of them. It was our base camp, home, and re-connection hub for the next week. Once we reached the camp site, we all sat in a circle and shared why we were at the camp and what we were looking to get out of this experience. Everyone expressed their purpose of this visit and it was fascinating to listen to each one of them. Personally, I had no goals, no agenda, no purpose. I wanted to spend time in the desert and look back after a week and see how I felt, what I experienced, and the memories I created.
Our typical days during the retreat:
There was nothing typical about each day at the retreat but we had a few things that most of us religiously did during our stay there. It is not fair to give out all the details in detail here as it will spoil the experience for anyone who is planning to attend these retreats in future. But I will try to give as much information as possible so you can feel somewhat of how we felt during our time in the desert.
Desert gets warm if the sun is out but gets very cold in the night as there are no obstacles to the wind as it flows smoothly wherever it wants. Just an hour or so before the sunrise, the temperate fell to what it seemed like at least -10C. But most of us took the courage to wake up before the sunrise, walked up to a nearby dune, and waited for the sun to show up. I never saw sunrises this beautiful in my life. Each day, the majestic sun put on a show for us. Some days, the sky lit up into orange color, which quickly changed to pink, then all the clouds far far away lit up with golden border on top on them, and it all vanished for a minute. Then one or two rays of the sun peeked out from far above the clouds only for them to appear and disappear for a few times. The the sun made its big entrance with a small slice of it coming out of the clouds so bright and intense but at the same time calm enough for all of us to be able to see directly at it. During its entire rise from behind the clouds, the sun was pulsating in yellow and orange colors. Once the sun was out of the clouds, for a few minutes, it still had a ring of bright gold color with a pink tinge that was circling around it. It continued for a few minutes before the sun was too bright for us to look directly at. Each day, the show was different and this is something only an experience makes it worthy to understand. On some days, we all chanted and clapped to some mantras some of us learned from their travels, visits to India, and their learnings from other retreats.
Our sunrise show ended with a call from Durward, out meditation teacher – “Meditation in 15 mintues!!!.” To that announcement in the desert which traveled far far even to the people who slept far away from the camp, we all went to a quiet area between dunes where we setup our pillows and blankets to stay warm and meditated under the fresh sun. This meditation was meant for beginners as well as for people who have been meditating as a practice. These sessions progressively moved each day to a point where each one of us who did it everyday ware able to sit calm for an extended period of time and feel calm and emptiness in our minds.
After the meditation, some practiced Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation) and other practices they were familiar with.
It was the perfect way for all of us to start our day.
After the meditation, we all got back to our camp site and had a hearty Moroccan Berber breakfast and shared our feelings and stories of our lives with others.
Each of us did different things after the breakfast, some went to hike the dunes, some meditated, some read books, some stayed in the camp and played music, and others just wandered around the dunes alone with their thoughts.
Lunch was prepared by the local Berber people who lived in the desert. They prepared us healthy meal that had soup, nuts, fruits and tea. Before the lunch was served each day, we sat at the lunch camp, sang songs, gave massages to each other, hugged each other, and just enjoyed eachother’s company. The sun was bright and hot on some days, and on other days it was cloudy and cold. But the lunch time was another strong bonding time for all of us.
After lunch activities:
Immediately after lunch we had sessions on dance expression, Aikido, contact improvisation, opening voice, and a few other sessions relating to connecting to our deeper self.
Every day after the afternoon sessions, we ran back to the camp grabbed something warm and walked up to big dunes nearby to watch the sunsets. It was a long walk, but almost everyone wanted to do it everyday. We sat on top of the dunes and watched the sun pass the clouds near the horizon, and sink-in behind it to call it a day. Some travelers also come to the desert just for a night to watch the sunset and the sunrise next day and head back. Almost every day, we saw camels carrying those travelers and taking them to their camps. Similar to sunrise, sunsets were different and spectacular each day. The color of sky changed so dramatically and frequently during the entire sunset that it gave me a new appreciation for the sun and its importance to our existence.
After the sunset, the temperate in the desert fell dramatically and the extra clothing we carried helped us keep warm. We walked back to the camp for dinner to share stories about our day and had delicious Berber dinner over Moroccan tea.
After dinner, we walked to a camp fire place where we all sat around the fire cuddled up with each other under the sparkling stars and sometimes falling stars, and listening to beautiful music played for many hours. On some days, we became kids listening to stories around the camp fire and imagining about the characters in the stories coming to life that night.
Sleeping under the stars:
Even though we all had place to sleep in the Berber tents, most of us slept outside on the sand dunes under the stars. It was a beautiful experience, sleeping under the stars, and sometimes watching the moon hiding behind the clouds and peeking out often, and the falling stars from all sides. If you have never slept under the stars, I highly recommend you do that wherever you are.
Walking out of the Sahara desert:
On the last day, we watched the sunrise, did meditation, and had a special closing circle and a very special activity with everyone on the retreat. It was a lovely activity that summarized the entire retreat for us. In addition to this very special moment, a couple from the retreat got engaged and we all watched it with happy tears in our eyes. On our way back from the retreat, I remembered to stop by the water canal and take a quick wash after seven days, and it was heavenly, only an experience can make justice to this moment.
By the end of this retreat, I had the feeling that everyone was deeply connected with me. The amount of love and caring we shared for a week is something I never experienced before. I now consider the people from retreat as part of my family, and I am sure to reconnect and rekindle our love for each other when we meet next time somewhere on this planet.
The things I detailed above are is only a snippet out of many other things and experiences we had in the desert. I highly recommend this retreat to everyone, it will be a transformational experience for you, and you will see life from a totally different perspective.
If you have any questions or want to know more about my experience at this retreat, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org