Oceans of Dunes: The Romance of the Desert

Like Lawrence of Arabia, some mad men are drawn to the desert. Its unforgiving challenges, ability to both fry and chill, and yet breathtakingly sensuous dune lines are often compared, by the poetically inclined, to a lover, usually female, and usually difficult. The endless, shapely and ever changing sand dunes radiate the romance of adventure and the sun beating against them creates enigmatic and confusing shapes to beguile those who dream of conquering her. I wish I was like the desert.

Technology has got us to places once off limits, but technology still hasn’t totally beaten the desert, which makes it one of the few adventures we can embark on with the same gung ho attitude as old explorer heros like Lawrence. The desert bogs cars and trucks down in its unpredictable sands and you can easily become lost and run out of supplies, so the best way to traverse these great empty expanses is still by the ships of the desert, camels, and with a guide who has the directions from their GPS augmented by the stars.

Some desert journeys are quests, Wadi Rum and Petra make their guests work for the pleasure. Your saddled camel could take you to Ksar Ghilane, every desert wanderers ideal oasis, a cluster of green palms surrounding a still pool. Or to the Oases of Zagora, travelling between deep rocky gorges and the huge dunes, Cheggaga and Djebel Saghro; the settlements you pass between here are like ornate red boxes and lives tick by as they have done for thousands of years.

The old ways of life and ancient cultures are another of the deserts temptations. The desert festivals and historic journeys of the Tuareg Salt Caravans promise quiet evenings of ancient stories told under the stars sipping mint tea, and days traveling the same un-marked routes as a thousand years worth of forebears.

Camels can be an acquired taste as I discovered on a trip into Australia’s red centre; they have a reputation for being docile work horses, but their gait rolls like the ocean, which may be how they got their nautical moniker, and if they don’t like you or another camel they’re not beyond biting. Some guides will lead you in on foot, where you’ll have the feeling of wandering aimlessly into oblivion, your feet crushing nothing but sand and your vista predictable. A trek through the Moroccan Sahara is a very different walk from one up a mountain, you have to be open to some serious self reflection, the vistas stimulus is unchanging but relentless.

To capture all the sensuous majesty of the desert you need to see it from above, preferably from the cane basket of a balloon coasting silently above it. Easily the most romantic journey around.

More Beguiling Deserts

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