At night in the desert, the shadows lengthen and broaden until every mountain is cloaked in the quiet velvet of night. That’s when the stars appear – at first flickering on one by one, but then spanning the heavens as a singular, three-dimensional canvas of dark traversed by causeways of galaxies and constellations.
The only sound to be heard is us – we are loud in this sacred silence with the hooves and grunts of our camels, the shouted conversations among us, and the songs of our guide. But the desert refuses to give these sounds back to us; with nothing to bounce against they are simply absorbed into the sand, heard among us us, but failing to disturb neighbouring camps with our lack of self-restraint.
Ahmad, our guide, knows everything about the camels. Indeed he himself has grown up with them, as they have with him. The first, Soghan, is the natural leader , and Ahmad tells us that he can lead a pack of campels across the desert to the village on his own, returning to their masters with none getting lost or being left behind.
The second is Samhan, whose name means “forgiving”. Every ancestor of his shares the same name. With his placid nature, he is the most responsive to children and tourists, and will even listen to a woman’s voice. But in his heart he prefers to travel alone rather than with a pack, and will choose any moment to stray towards a different point on the horizon than those pursued by his companions.
The third was given the unfortunate name Michael Jackson by a tourist, and the name was preserved. He is the youngest and the slowest of the herd, Ahmad tells us, but he is strong.
We arrive at our campsite and stiffly dismount. We carry our things to the tents. Our dinner has been waiting for us under the sand, where coals buried deep in the ground make a makeshift oven that makes the vegetables and meat moist and fragrant. Our delicious meal is enjoyed with tiny cups of sage tea, scalding and sweet.
We unroll our mattresses outside and sleep under the nearly-full moon, so bright as to eliminate the need for flashlights. It is quiet and sleep comes quickly, exhausted as we are into our trip into the desert. I wake a few times to find the moon moved to a different position in the arc it travels above us.
I wake and breathe the dry, cool air, which will regain the heat of the day in an hour or two. It fills my lungs, clearing them of sleep and night. Morning light has painted everything golden, and I rise to catch the view quickly, before it disappears a few minutes later. My companions are still asleep, and I hold on to the private joy of the moment that is far from my daily reality, knowing that soon it will be stirred with company. Knowing that in but a few moments the sun will rise higher, chase us out of the desert and back to the village for water and shade. The night has ended and the desert day has begun.