Beyond streaks of blue snow running along Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, orange sand dunes ruffle the flat surface of the Sahara Desert once visited by my father.
Translating to “surreal marvel,” the Sahara is the largest desert in the world, dressing three-and-half million square miles of our planet. An army of Berber nomads, the desert’s oldest inhabitants, keep post day and night, protecting its precious resource—including sandy hills that stretch up to five hundred feet tall.
Incredibly pensive as a little child, my father dreamed of worldly natural wonders, until he was old enough to carry his own backpack and begin trekking the contours of the world. As a young man in the 1990s, he escaped to the Sahara and discovered its true blessings.
He repeatedly told me stories from that trip, only breeding my jealousy. He spoke of scattered roads teased with hardened orange-brown sand mixed with blackened rock minerals. From one town to the next, coconut-free palm trees bent over white buildings shaped like pyramids. Rocks, pyramids and palm trees flooded his vision, causing his confusion to grow slightly. To his dismay, such structures were absent from his book pages and film screens that reflected the orange wonder.
Almost two decades later, pursuing my own markings, I befriend a Berber guide and drive with him through sand burning in eighty-degrees Fahrenheit, reducing thirty degrees by night. Driving past pyramid homes and elderly women pointing north where the dunes widened the horizon, reminds me of my father’s journey.
After a short passing hour of silence, I hear a sudden ruckus. Motorbikes, dirt bikes, and jeeps drag race far off into the distance, interrupting the sleep cycles of Berber children resting inside tents pieced together with camel skin.
The sun sets, coloring the sky a fierce violet, and we arrive to our campsite sitting on powdered sand. Clusters of goats resting beside tents welcome us. Crawling in one of them, I compose myself to sleep in hopes of clearing my raging fever.
At four o’clock in the morning, banging tin pots and horrendous camel spitting, signal my alarm clock forcing me to crawl out of my warm tent. Reminding me of my mission to traverse a dune, the guide walks over to a camel whose munch of face rubs against the sand. “We must climb at once!” he yells.
Coloring the sky aquamarine blue, the early sunrise racses across the dunes, shading the bottoms of their loops. The immense color compliments the vast array of tiled mosaics plastered on Moroccan architecture, leaving me with a wonderful impression.
As I ascend the dune, I sink deeper in my own footsteps with sand weighing down my feet. Nearing the top, the landscape’s scale and silence is sun-stoked by paradise, endured by many travelers including my father.
Sitting down on its cap, I marvel at oceans of sand; over its cache of rippled contours children tumble in celebration of their climb. They laugh and chase each other with palm leaves. One of them claws to the top and sits on my lap to show me her fossils.
The Berbers, naturally nomadic, play to the warmth of sunrise without ever leaving their orange sandbox. They climb their dunes, lick the sand, and kiss the sun—a memory I share with my father.