It was around 4 AM when I woke up in that modest but properly decorated tent. We were in the middle of a desert, kilometres away from the next nearest accommodation.
By “we,” I mean myself and the landlord’s sibling – just the two of us amid that vast nothingness. He was supposed to be sleeping in one of the other tents, although I wasn’t sure if he was really there, or which tent exactly, in case I needed help with something. All I felt was aloneness.
How could I not? There were zero signals on my phone, whether for regular calls or the internet. I started regretting having paid a ton of money for the SIM card, since for the next couple of days, I wouldn’t be able to use it anyway. With no handy source of entertainment available and the disconnect from the outside world, it felt like the world was on pause. The quietness was particularly the most deafening.
Yes, in that desert, each of the accommodations was spaced out pretty far from each other that you probably won’t be able to spot your neighbouring hostels from where you are staying. My mother would’ve freaked out hearing that I slept in the middle of nowhere all by myself, and having a foreign man nearby that did not even speak any of my languages wouldn’t have helped my case. It’s a good thing I spared these details from her.
At four in the morning, everything was still pitch black. Our tents were also surrounded by cliffs of weathered red sandstone outcrops, and sometimes it was even difficult to spot the boundary between the cliff and the night sky because it was all just completely sable.
I remember opening my tent’s door at that hour for the first time. There was nothing but literal darkness in front of me. It was as if I still had my eyes closed all the time, tightly.
I was initially terrified. If a lion desert were to jump from the darkness towards me, I wouldn’t even have been able to notice them until it was too late. So I looked up to the sky instead, trying to find a little source of light from the hanging celestial objects, trillion kilometres above us.
And I did not know if my eyes played tricks on me – like it was one of those illusions where after you look at the darkness for too long and you start seeing the first lights they will look funny – or are they real, but I swore I probably saw shooting stars. In plural. Maybe two or three, but definitely not singular.
And after that split second where I held my breath and gasped, I realized that the black canvas above me was completely sprinkled with white blinking dots, in different lumens. Sometimes they gleamed red or blue. The sky was flooded by armies of stars. All the beauties you could spot with your naked eyes.
The hostel’s owner had set up a few solar-powered night lamps next to my tent, all the way to the dining “hall” – which was another open-concept tent where visitors dine and hang out. After securing my jacket, my camera, my phone, and my room key, I followed the lights – which truthfully weren’t even that helpful, considering how dark the night was – and then walked some more towards the dining tent using the help of my cellphone’s light. I tried to find the switch on the balcony.
Even with that one lamp on, everything was still a blur. But across the balcony, I could see the open pit for the fireplace we had earlier. A few rugs were still there from our supper last night. I sat on one of them and started playing with my camera.
I had forgotten to google the tutorial, so I was just trying to dig the salvageable knowledge I had from shooting my first night sky scene in Banff, about six years back. I didn’t even have my tripod, which was painful, but I managed to get a few crappy shots nevertheless:
And then there were the moving satellites. A lot of them. Moved at a constant speed, but did not change colours, unlike the airplanes which sometimes blinked a few different hues. Wherever my eyes went, there were always a couple of them. Crossing outer space in no rush – just with their uninterrupted, unbothered steady motion.
The desert was magnificent. The experience was surreal. To be awake and sit by yourself, in the middle of nowhere, where everything and everyone else was still deep in their dreams and you could not notice anything or anybody else – was such an oddly idyllic feeling.
It was the calmest, most quiet I had felt, ever. There weren’t even any tiny faunas around, like lizards or even ants. At first, I was concerned about desert creatures such as snakes or wolves – but such feelings shifted into a curiousness and thrill very quickly.
At around 6 AM, my surroundings began to show a hint of colour. I had sat outside for two hours doing nothing but staring at the skies, counting how many satellites had passed me by, but not a second did I feel bored.
Fifteen minutes later, just when the desert started to reveal itself a little more clearly, I decided to take a walk. I did ask the tent’s owner if it was possible to spot a sunrise from there, and he said it probably wasn’t, but I insisted on having that “sunrise” walk anyway.
And it was indeed the best decision. After a certain distance, I spotted another accommodation alike, which stood in front of a small cliff. Behind that cliff was a vast land of nothing but red sand dunes – wide and open.
By then, the sky had slowly transitioned into a tinge of blush pink, with a slight tangerine, and a whole lot of yellow, all spread like an exquisite watercolour paints across the light blue canvas. Miles down there towards that wide empty land, I spotted an even brighter remark on the sky, signalling that that is where the Sun is supposed to rise.
So, in that direction I marched forward. Blasting my favourite playlist, dancing to it, spinning around like no one watching because indeed, nobody was. Enjoying life as I should. Absorbing every essence of that very moment mindfully, when every tune of those songs matters, and every movement in my body was unbounded and unguarded.
After more than an hour of walking, running, smiling, singing, humming, spinning around, and dancing, I saw it. The magnificent Sun, rising behind the twin peaks in the distance – almost like how they’ll look in every child’s drawings. Afar but felt so near.
The tangerine glows landed gracefully and evenly on top of the Earth’s surface. Everything was covered in soft orange as far as I could see.
The following morning, with a few newcomers who arrived on my second night at the tent, we walked together to see the sunrise again. It was unfortunately quite cloudy, unlike my first day which couldn’t have been any clearer. But I insisted on climbing the tallest side of the outcrop across that hill where the Sun would rise, believing that there was still a chance.
There I was, starting my morning by climbing rocks that rose around five meters tall. In my basic Nike running shoes and pyjamas from last night. Another good thing that I did not tell my mother about this bit.
And I was quite glad that I did wait when everyone else was already heading back to the tent.
The tangerine glimmer was seeping through the edges of the clouds, like overflowing lavas between the cracked crusts of the Earth. It was quite a magical few seconds. I was the only person around who was observing the Sun climbing slowly into the sky – as if all those majestic views were reserved for me, for the only person who waited patiently. As the Sun ascends higher and higher, the ground was bathed in brighter colours.
I’ve loved my sunrises all over the world – from the backyard of my home, the window of my bedroom in my parents’ house, the window of a rented room in the city I try to belong in, the mountain’s peak behind a sea of clouds, and everywhere else – but this one was quite an addition that I will never take for granted.
Solitude is bliss, and in that very moment, I felt that no one can ever come close to how I felt.