Maria’s birthday started this morning at 6:00am when we got up to see the sunrise. Several other intrepid travelers were also up to see a somewhat uneventful appearance of Sol which rose quickly over Algeria on the eastern horizon. It was cool in the early morning light. A couple of friendly dogs trotted past.

After breakfast, the jeeps collected us and we drove to the edge of the dunes where there were 4 strings of 4 camels each. The camel drivers fixed us up with turbans, good protection from sun and wind. We got organized, mounted and we were off into the dunes.

The camels took us high on a gigantic dune. The morning was beautiful, clear blue sky and not too hot. We rode for an hour or more, winding up at a hotel where we had coffee.

Our jeeps picked us up at the hotel and drove us about a half hour to visit Gnaoua musicians. On the way, young boys were holding up Fennec fox pups for people to cuddle in exchange for a little tip. Zak had the driver stop so Maria could ooh and ahh. This was the highlight of her day. The boys take the pups from their den, care for them until they get big, then release then back to the wild.

The Gnaoua trace their ancestry back to the old Ghana empire that stretched way up the West African coast. They are black people whose music sounds like it comes from sub Saharan Africa, with a small Moroccan influence. Could be from Mali from the sound.

They played a happy birthday song for Maria, and gave her a Moroccan castanet.

Next, off road to visit a nomad family. We stopped at one tent and the woman didn’t want to talk to us but at the next, the woman invited us for tea. We sat on rugs and cushions under a tent and as she served us, we asked questions. She is 37 years old, recently married and has a month old baby that was sleeping in another tent. Her husband showed up, and she left to tend the baby. He watches a cell tower part time and is 55 years old. He has a wife and grown children in a town some distance away. His grown sons take care of their mother and likely help support him as his income from guarding a cell tower is paltry. Zak calls this “one pocket” for the family.

Their dwelling was several cloth tents on frames made of sticks. They live a simple life, but their new daughter, delivered by a local midwife in a tent on the Sahara, is up to date on her shots (no stupid antivaxers here), and will go to school when she gets old enough. The visit gave us the opportunity to stare our privilege in the face and realize how much we don’t have.

All this was before lunch! Back at camp, we had lunch and a nap. In the late afternoon, Zak took some of us out to a dry riverbed for fossil hunting. The wind was kicking up some sand, and we could see clouds dropping sheets of rain not so far away. On the drive back, we saw lightning, but only received a few drops on the windshield. People who stayed in the camp told us they had a short, heavy rain. The sand was wet, no dust and the air was very cool.

We had a nice dinner, Berber pizza, really more like a calzone, then the camp staff appeared with a birthday cake for Maria. The clouds started to break up, so we were able to see a nice sunset.

Zak gathered us into the dining tent where he delivered a very interesting talk on Islam. It really helped us understand a lot about the faithful.

The stars were out on our walk back to the tent, so we stopped in the cool air to see stars like we haven’t seen in years. A nice end to Maria’s special birthday.