First, the thank yous. Our luxury tent, complete with bathroom, table and chairs, shelves, blankets, and of course, beds, is a lot nicer than we are used to. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for making our stay here today possible, Mom (Jodi), Lian, and his lovely partner, Brooke!
Here is a quick glimpse of what our tent in Hotel Pansea is like…
…compared to what we are used to.
When we originally decided to splurge on Hotel Pansea as a Christmas gift to each other, we calculated it would use all of our donations to do so. Since our reservation was re-booked at a lower price, we have a bit extra. And so, please accept our deepest appreciation for your constant support online (and now off), Karen Walker. Your kind gift went to a different good use; we went on a camel ride today and it was a (very sandy) blast!
We start the morning the same way we ended the evening last night, by marveling at how our modern amenities are coupled seamlessly with the rustic feeling of tent living. The way the sun filters through the canvas with a natural, pale yellow light and the desert breeze makes the walls ripple, instantly makes us feel right at home. As we putter around before heading to breakfast, we talk about finding some land back home, and what it might be like to live in a yurt or a tent like this one when we get there.
We crawl out of our cozy home and make our way towards the dining room. Breakfast is a smorgasbord of delicious food: cereals and cold milk, crepes cooked to order with accompanying chocolate sauce, rolls and croissants, freshly squeezed orange juice, yogurts and fruit salad. Since we didn't get full board (includes lunch) and because we are still having trouble letting go of survival mode, we eat way more than perhaps we should, and then fill our pockets surreptitiously with clementines and hard-boiled eggs. Sufficiently stuffed, we leave to explore.
Off we go, down the sandy path, past a campsite and a few souvenir shops all surrounding a hot spring. It looks inviting but we are more eager to see the desert. Finally we pass all the buildings and the path opens into vast rolling sand dunes.
Unlike the scrubby flat desert we passed to get here, this part, just past the oasis, is quintessential stereotypical Saharan sand, stretching for miles. We run, now barefoot, to play in the sand. Tara sinks her feet deeper and deeper into the cool yellow-orange substance, sending ripples resembling water down the side of the dune.
I am enraptured by how fine the sand is, and how it now looks like fire when I throw and kick it into the sunny blue sky.
A man on a quad soon notices our antics and drives up to invite us (read: tries to sell us) on an hour long extreme jaunt into the desert. We thank him but decline, saying we didn't come here to go dune hopping and that we prefer our calm playing in the sand. "Ah," he says, nodding his head and smiling. "You came for the quiet cry of the desert?" We laugh and agree.
"I am Bedouin; I understand" the man says, and introduces himself as Nazer. When we discover he does camel rides as well, we schedule an hour long trip at at what we now refer to as "picture time", the hour just before sunset when the light seems to be the best for snapping photos. Nazer agrees, and we return to our tent to relax until it's time to meet again.
We are halfway down the path leading out of the hotel for our camel ride when I presciently decide it would be wise to bring our camera case, so I run back to retrieve it. I'm certain the super-fine Saharan sand could easily destroy this valuable piece of gear.
Sure enough, when we arrive at the "station dromadaire" the wind has picked up and is blowing the sand into swirling clouds. We'll have to be very careful! Soon we are directed to the camels we will be riding. They have nice faces with long eyelashes and sweet-looking noses, but we soon discover that camels are not the loveliest creatures once you get to know them.
When camels yawn, they splay their mouths revealing an assortment of erratically spaced yellow teeth, filled with the greenish slime of food remains they haven't been able to swish out and swallow with their giant tongues. Their cheeks have hundreds of skin "flaps", draping down and wiggling away like engorged cilia.
The females who are in heat (this seems to be all of them) regularly gurgle at the males, lolling their bulbous tongues out of their mouths while making the weirdest blubbering noise I've ever heard. It looks like they're barfing up a stomach or lung, and sounds like a cross between a hookah and the final rotations of a plugged garbage disposal.
Tara and I spend our ride laughing and trying to mimic the hurgle-burble-gurgle noise, hoping to encourage more of the bizarre behavior. Instead they ignore us in favor of more appealing things: the tasty clumps of poop they munch off the ground, the tempting neighboring camel's butt to rub their face in, and the tantalizing stream of urine coming from the camel in front, begging to be licked. Gross!
As we mount our beasts, I quickly attach our camera case to the "horn" of my camel's saddle. While I am doing this, our guide is instructing them one by one to stand. When he gets to my camel, he tells me to hold on tight, and then with a sudden ungraceful lurch, the camel lifts its rear legs, sending me leaning forward at an angle usually reserved for roller coasters. The camel then abruptly pitches back as it lifts its front legs.
Suddenly we are several feet above the ground, sitting high atop our camels in the Sahara desert! Cool! After Tara's heaving ascent, she looks back at me, smiling, but unsure she likes the strange beast beneath her legs, or the one behind her whose smelly mouth is awfully close to her bare feet.
As we pad out into the dunes I regularly pull our camera from the case just long enough to snap a photo and quickly put it away again.
An unfortunate Japanese girl who is riding on the camel up front unknowingly keeps hers out, snapping photos blithely in a whirlwind of sand. Just seconds later her camera's zoom fails and she spends the rest of the ride smacking and blowing on it, trying in vain to get it to work again. Poor thing!
Out in the desert, all is quiet. Sand blows across the dunes like snow across tall drifts. Crows perch, surveying the landscape, while others swoop in the air, enjoying gliding in the breezy currents. It is lovely. We enjoy the "quiet cry of the desert" for an hour, making our way out into the dunes and back.
With another roller coaster descent we flop to the ground and hop off our "ships of the desert". We just rode camels in the Sahara! Cool! Thanks again, Karen!
When it is time to go to dinner, the sun has set and our desert oasis is dark but for the dozens of glowing tents, lit from within. Following hundreds of lanterns along the sandy path that guides our way, we arrive in the dining room. Like last night, dinner is a huge buffet of salads, meats, pastas, and many other dishes to which we help ourselves to liberally. It is amazing how much food there is! After giving it some thought, we realize these are the first buffets we've been to since we left the US nine months ago.
Though we are quickly slipping into this world of ease, comfort, and abundance, we haven't quite yet shaken our "survival" habits. We stuff our pockets full of rolls and fruit, laughing as we sneak out with a few "free" midnight snacks, dashing to the tent to watch X-Files before we go to bed.