MOROCCO

Sand and stars – a quest into the Sahara.

By Chad Gerber

Sand and stars – a quest into the Sahara.

I've long dreamed of being but a speck in the desert, a grain in the infinite swells of red sand, and for in the night to look up and see the true infinity, the glimmering slash of the Milky Way, burning past. I've longed for a chance to know just how small I am, we are. And in this place, in primal, red-dirt Morocco, I think I was given just that.

We flew into and spent a night in Casablanca, and in the early parts of the next morning made way to the coast and the grounds of the Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in all Africa, and the fifth-largest in the world. Among zellige-tiled columns and arching doors, we walked, marvelling at the craftsmanship – the extravagant combinations of granite, marble, timber, and plaster – pausing every few steps to behold the towering structures in front of us.

We took a bus from Casablanca to Marrakesh, where we spent a few nights organising our quest into the Sahara. When the day arrived, we loaded our bags into a rattling van, having filled them with water and snacks to combat our fiercest enemies in the nine-hour journey ahead – the roasting heat and Ramadan. Before resting in a small hotel next to the Dadès Gorges, we stopped at Ouarzazate; due south of the High Atlas mountains, the city is famous for the fortified nineteenth-century red-dirt palace Taourirt Kasbah, the gateway of the Sahara Desert. In Ouarzazate, we picked at traditional cuisines, admired structures born of little more than red mud and sticks, and listened to the ancient tales of the local Berber people, who have sewn and dyed carpets there for centuries.

From sealed to dirt roads we bumped along in our van, making it to a traditional Berber camp, where we abandoned our trusty metal steed for a pair of healthy camels, whose owners tended to them better than they tended to themselves. Between the humps of these wonderful beasts, we rode the crests of dunes and lost our minds staring into the vastness of the desert. Reaching a good spot to dismount the camels, we climbed some larger dunes and shot the setting sun.

We then returned to our camp, and after a hearty tajine, I threw on some warm clothes and went out hunting for a silent place among the dunes, where I caught the light of distant stars. With astrophotography, patience is paramount, though when you're in the middle of the desert, with nothing but sand and stars, patience isn't hard to find. When I'd taken the photos I needed, the cosmos weighed down upon me, and I found myself on my back, with sand through my hair and nothing on my mind but infinity. I'd become that speck, a grain in the crimson sea.

Visiting Hassan II Mosque, Marrakesh, and Ouarzazate alone made this a worthy quest, but our night under our galaxy and the shooting stars etched Morocco forever into my mind. We're tiny, a drop in the ocean, but adventure is built into our genes, and I'm so grateful to be exploring our humble little drop.

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Written by Chad Gerber, Edited by Nick Petrou