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I’ve dreamed about the Sahara. About camels leisurely traipsing up golden sand dunes… About sleeping under a blanket of stars… About endless vistas of sand and blue sky… About sprinting barefoot down a mountain of sand and filling my lungs with pure, fresh air.

My romantic expectations were exceeded, to say the least. The eight of us, plus a few students from England and elsewhere in the U.S., crowded into a van for the 7 hour journey away from civilization. The farther we got, the better I felt. Reaching Hotel Xaluca in Erfound was rejuvenating. We were greeted by live music and platters of sweets and mint tea in a lavishly decorated lobby leading to amenities only five star hotels offer in the U.S. I won’t be experiencing such luxury anytime soon, so I seriously indulged. A quick swim (read: sprint back and forth between the outdoor pool and the fantastic indoor pool and hot tub) was followed by a delicious buffet dinner! We relaxed and swapped stories all night around the pool, trying to soak up every moment in this slice of paradise. 

In the morning: DESERT. HEAT. CAMELS. LUXURY HOTEL NUMBER TWO. I’ll let you vicariously experience our expedition through pictures instead of words :) So it wasn’t all peace and leisure and beauty. But—minus the camels’ ceaseless bowel movements and the extreme discomfort—it was pretty close! Two hours later, we reached our Berber campsite destination. Intricate Moroccan rugs layered the impossibly fine, orange-hued desert sand and led to inviting mattresses and thick wool blankets, as you can see in the photo.

After a dinner of kefta and egg tagine, rice, olives, salad, bread, and oranges, we gathered around the Berbers who led our caravans. Drumming, singing, dancing, and free styling ensued until about 11pm. We all piled onto a few blankets under the vast sea of stars above and told…ghost stories! And swapped riddles with one of the Berber men, also the chef, who has lived around this campsite for 10 years and though he has no education and was born in the Sahara, he can speak Italian, German, French, English, MSA, Moroccan, and Berber Arabic.

I was determined to spend all night under the stars (the weather was absolutely perfect) but sand is only so comfy and I retreated to my mattress for a few hours of peaceful slumber. We (very painfully) further experienced the rhythm of Berber camels on our ride back to Hotel Tomboctou as the sun rose in the morning. After showering, relaxing, and eating breakfast we reluctantly piled on the bus for the 9 hour journey back to Fes punctuated only by a fancy lunch and magnificent landscape.