The first evening passed quickly. We wandered into the dunes to watch the sunset, returned for much needed (hot!) showers, and put in our orders for dinner. Time didn't have much relevance once the sky became dark and the winds died down. Everything was so peaceful and still. Spontaneously, the Labaraka clan and Ibrahim would pick up the tam tam drums and start jamming. It was 11:30pm by the time we ate; drumming and dancing made us forget our appetites.
Though not quite a full moon, there was enough moonlight to illuminate the dunes, giving them a fantastic, surreal quality. The sand was still warm beneath our feet. Ahead of us in the distance were large hunched over shadows, which in reality was desert brush a few feet away. Behind us trailed the holes we dug in the sand with our footsteps, or where the dune was firm, the subtle prints of our soles. It is like walking on a beach on a warm evening until you realize there is no water visible for miles. The dunes are another kind of ocean. Our hosts explained to us how easily one can get lost on a moonless night, having to wait until sunrise the next day before finding your way.
We were a caravan of 3 Berber, 3 French, 1 Swiss, and 2 Americans—all enjoying each others' company out on the dunes past midnight. As francophones prevailed, my job was to translate, as best I could, Berber jokes to Gregg without losing the humor. They joked about camels in airplanes, Moroccan ministers, and coming back from Algeria with your ears cut off—highly amusing because of the way they told them. Sometimes they were funny only in that they were even jokes at all (Q: 'How do you put a camel in a refridgerator in three moves?' A: 'Open the fridge door, put the camel in, and close the door.' Camels in the fridge became a running joke the rest of our stay).
Out in the desert in the company of these strangers, I had a moment of clarity as to exactly what it is that I love about travel. The desert, especially, simplified things. It makes you leave behind your pretensions and let down your guard around others. I liked the humbling feeling that my impact in the desert was insignificant; my traces temporal, erased with the next winds.
We ended the night with a few rounds of dune sledding, then camped out on the dunes with our cushions and blankets. It was around 3:30am. Everyone was tired and within minutes of lying down, all I could hear was the vast calm of the Sahara. Two hours later, Gregg and I were up to see the sunrise. We discovered all kinds of 'dune art' in the early morning hours. My favorite piece was a single weed, loosely rooted in the sand with a scraggly leaf bent over touching the sand. You could see how the wind blew during the night, evidenced by a perfectly arced line etched into the surface of the sand by the tip of the leaf—nature's compass.