Visiting the Sahara*

Last weekend we all packed a bag, piled into the bus and drove 4.5 hours to the desert (plus a couple of pit stops for juice and a bathroom). At a gas station just on the edge of where the desert began we switched into four-wheeled vehicles and went off through the dunes, past some wild camels and up to a circle of square cube huts and rugs in the sand. Truly a retreat and my mind was ready for it because of all the Arabic letters and words swarming loudly inside it. We arrived just before sunset and after we grabbed our keys and dropped our bags on our beds, we booked it up a giant dune to watch the sunset.

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Many of us heaved and breathed deeply when we reached the top of the red sand mountain. On the other side was nothing but cream pie meringue waves of sand. The wind whipped across my cheeks carrying grains of sugar sand across my cheeks and nose. Directly west the sun had left winking behind rocky mountains and to the east the moon was confident on the dusk screen of sky. It was a full moon feature night.

I posed for pictures then pocketed my phone and ran my palms against the sand. There was not a sound other than the pull of the wind through my ears. Eerie because not much lives in the desert (although, we were warned of snakes and scorpions before coming). The only movement were the streams of sand winding around my ankles. My friend Ben posted on his Instagram the other day that the experience of the desert helped him understand why Jesus would retreat to the wilderness to spend time with the father. I cannot agree more.

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Jessica and I rolled down a hill on our sides and made sand angels that didn’t last more than two minutes before the next wave of sand rolled over them. Truly the dunes looked like waves yet felt like heavy dust. Sand weighed down the bottoms of my pants and spilled out of my pockets. That night, I emptied my boots into two large anthills outside of my concrete room. Every freckle on my face had doubled by sticky sand powder. The desert wasn’t going to let me leave without a piece of her with me. I keep finding twinkly red sand stuck to my clothes.

Later that night after a full meal of camel kabobs, lentils, rice and chicken, and fruit and Karak tea for dessert, we all gathered around a bonfire. Hefty jeeps charged up the side of the dunes and raced down noisily next to our camp. I imagined they were caravans of camels instead, carrying silk and spices and silver to the next city. We chattered on and on, and I stayed up way too late because of it. But, when I got back to my room, I smelled like earth and still felt windy ghosts in my hair and through my fingertips. I went straight to bed happy. So, so happy to be there.

*Sahara is Arabic for desert

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Wonderful Limits

How do you find words to describe the Infinite? When I try to explain the beauty and majesty I saw this weekend, especially in Spanish, simplemente no hay palabras. I find myself struggling against my limits. And then the Voice inside me tells me to relax.

Tranquila,” it says. “We will have all eternity to discover that.” My mind is blown again.

I don’t understand the concept of eternity. But in my limits, I can wonder.

What I learned this weekend is that that’s enough.

Being in the most beautiful place we’d ever seen brought so much wonder to myself and my friends. The trip was filled with exclamations of “¡Guauu!“, “¡Mira!“, “¡Qué hermoso!“, “¡Es maravilloso!” and “¡No lo puedo creer!” We could only marvel at the beauty of the Atacama desert.

Take a look at my slideshow and marvel along with us! Fun fact: it’s the driest desert on earth.

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Being somewhere like this also makes you ponder deep questions like why we experience the sensation of beauty. My friend Erin had a very wise and interesting response.

“It’s the size of this place that makes us reflect on our own smallness and insignificance.” And that’s what wonder is.  It’s being surrounded by something that’s too big to understand. It’s recognizing our limits of size and understanding.

If we knew everything, nothing would amaze us. If we were bigger or stronger we might not be dwarfed by the majesty of mountains.

Riding around the valle on bikes made me realize how big that corner of the desert was. By the end of the day our butts were sore and legs were tired. I had pushed myself to the limit, for sure. But there was a lot of joy in recognizing my limit; it made room for appreciation of God’s creation.

I think often times we try to push our limits, or forget them. In the process, we lose sight of our place in the world. Truly, we are just one second in the span of history, smaller than one grain of sand in a desert.

We have a choice to recognize that insignificance, or not. Either we accept our place in the world or create a worldview that puts us in the very center. Though it takes a lot of humility to wonder, I can’t help but think it’s worth it.

I met two slightly unpleasant people on this trip. And I feel bad judging them on some short conversations, but I wanted to share what left a bad taste in my mouth– their lack of wonder. A Finnish boy and Australian girl were in one of the hostels I stayed at, and what both of them said was: “I’ve already seen something like that.  I didn’t think it was that cool.”

To me, who felt awestruck at the sights I saw this weekend, this attitude surprised me. Maybe I’m just less cultured and important than (they think) they are. But if that’s the price to recognize beauty and value in a place, I’m willing to pay it.

I’d much rather be like our Brazilian roommate, Sabrina, who told me, “pienso que cada lugar que visito es lo máximo”, or “I think that every place I see is the coolest.” I want her sense of wonder to see lo máximo everywhere I go.

San Pedro de Atacama

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Sorry about the flood of blog posts, but I was on a vacation, so I didn’t get an opportunity to write earlier! I just got back from San Pedro de Atacama, which is a city in the desert of northern Chile, and wow, I had a blast. Initially I didn’t want to go because I didn’t think I had the money, but I’m so glad I went. There were eight of us, all from the same program. We went for four nights, and it was an adventure from the very start.

We had to go to Santiago at 5 am to catch a plane; that plane took us to Calama, and then we had to get a ride from Calama to San Pedro. Luckily it all ended up working out, but there were some stressful moments in there, especially with eight people. Everything ended up being okay; we all got along surprisingly well during the trip.

We found a tour guide company that would take us everywhere we wanted to go for 56.000 CLP (roughly 112 USD). That included breakfast or snacks on some tours, too, so we got a pretty good deal. We went to Puritama hot springs, which were a little cold because the snow is melting right now and flowing into the springs, but they were still nice. The next day we went to Lagos Altiplanicos, which are salt lakes up in the mountains, and then to Laguna Cejar, which is a lagoon so salty that you cannot sink in it, like the Dead Sea.

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The next day we went to see the geysers, which are the third largest in the world, after Yellowstone and some in Russia. Those were especially awesome to see because I’m a geology major, and geysers are a geological phenomenon. And that afternoon we went to Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte, which are just two tours you have to do if you’re there! There are incredibly popular attractions that are basically just valleys you can walk through. It was so hot, but even that couldn’t stop us!IMG_0466

We all got home sometime on Monday, some early and some late. It was such a good time, and I’m glad I went. If you’re going to study abroad, it’s important to take advantage of as many things as possible.IMG_0513