Leaving Marrakech is quick. As if the city were contained within an invisible wall, buildings suddenly give way to clay huts and large fanning palms. Mountains spring like over-sized ant mounts on the horizon, all soil and rocks and earthy bluntness. The road ribbons into the distance; the only curve among angular peaks and graveled slopes.
Every few corners the soil flashes a hint of purple and blue before resuming its hard bleak face. Tufts of burnt grass polka-dot distant slopes. Sometimes a glimpse of olive groves and cereal fields flicks between ridges. Black goats shelter under rocky edges in the midday heat while white goats bask like beach-goers.
Hairpin turns and steep road-side drops have the bus of tourists gripping handles and belts. Along the road I see Berber women bent forward, baring stacks of grass on their backs, slowly treading along the near-molten bitumen. Despite sitting in a pool of perspiration from the 40+ degree heat, my comfort far exceeds theirs.
The villages are welcome hives of activity, providing more visual reassurance that we are not the only people who dare to venture into this vast, hot place. Through the window I see hot plates smoking with tagines on the coals, bartering exchanges punctuated with hand gestures and sealed with a shake. The streets are scattered with hoof-heavy cattle, rickety carts and brightly dressed celebrations.
After a few hours of driving, we have climbed into the tablelands and reached the world where brick villages blend with the sand and palms dominate the horizon. The communities look crispy, baked by the sun, and soothed with the odd palm that grants a spot of shade. Grand kazbahs pop up along distant ridges and disappear as quick as a desert mirage. Somewhere out there is a river, although shallow and still, its blue-green tone is like a drink for the eyes.
The sweltering eight hour drive ends at the edge of the Sahara Desert, where deep tan sands stretch as far as I can see. A train of spitting, groaning camels takes our group into the heat, where the air strips all remaining moisture from our skin.
It is a stunning world out there. Fluffy clouds dance in a wide blue sky, wind-shaped ripples sit still in the sand and a comforting quiet descends upon us. At the camp we are greeted with tea poured by Berbers wearing bright blue scarves. A deluxe dinner of lamb and vegetable tagine is served with fresh salad and fruit before we all retire to a single campfire that sits within a the long darkness.
Our Berber hosts are inspiring people, speaking in three or four tongues to explain their love of the desert. Their heat-hardened hands beat their drums with confidence and their honest voices sing Berber lyrics and love and life.
As I lay on the still-warm sand, looking up to the stars and listening to the Berber songs, I am filled with pure relaxation; a sense of something special and a knowledge this is a moment that I will draw on for years to come.