When my study abroad program told me in January that there would be an opportunity for students to go on an excursion to Morocco, I was quick to sign up, and I am glad that I did.
For the past five days, my life has revolved around the sun, rather than a clock or a set schedule.
From the moment my plane touched down in Fez, I knew that this experience would be a bizarre, yet worthwhile one. After clearing customs, I found my name on a sheet of crumpled white paper, and followed a man as he sped through the crowded parking lot and directed me to a dark van. I was relieved to find the rest of the Parisian students hidden behind the tinted windows.
The next morning, we explored the old medina of Fez, or the market, which was founded between 789 and 808 AD and is considered to be the largest car-free pedestrian area in the world.
Inside the medina, we visited carpet and spice stores before heading to a tannery, where we learned about the natural production of leather. We were all a little hesitant to walk through the front door, as we were being handed mint leaves and told to "use them like a gas mask." We quickly learned that the substance used to make white leather was none other than pigeon droppings, which, when baking under the Saharan sun, makes for one of the worst smells you could imagine.
We ended our day with a folklore show, where we were entranced by bellydancers, magicians and musicians, all while sipping more of the delicious Berber tea.
Now for the best part: the Sahara Desert.
We boarded a bus early Saturday morning and headed to Merzouga, a small town just on the edge of the Sahara, where we loaded into jeeps and dashed across the orange sand as the sun set behind the dunes. Unfortunately, recent sandstorms made for a mediocre sunset, but we were all very appreciative of the fact that we were watching the sunset in the desert.
We made it to our camp just before the last of the light disappeared from the sky and were greeted by dinner and live music.
After watching the sun rise, we all rushed across camp to find dozens of camels, ready to make their way into the sand dunes. We rode to the highest peak around and climbed to the top, which was no walk in the park, before rolling back down and taking our camels to an oasis where we all jumped into a freezing pool.
We made it back to the campsite before sunset, where we were greeted by local women who spread henna across our arms in intricate patterns and played the bongos with a few of the men who worked at the camp. After the sun set, they showed us one of the best places to stargaze.
Sitting in the sand, only 30km from Algeria, in the complete dark, the stars were breathtaking, even through the residual haze of the sand storms. At one point, someone actually waved their hand in front of my face because I was so fixated on the sky.
We headed back toward civilisation on Monday morning, stopping in the Atlas mountains to meet some of the monkeys that are notorious for playing with tourists. Not wanting to disturb the natural food chain, I instead offered a piece of yarn to one of the monkeys, which was obviously not okay, because the next thing I knew, he was swinging at me.
My time in Morocco will not soon be forgotten, and I hope to go back one day.