The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-Nine — Semester at Sea, The Sahara Desert

The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-Nine — Semester at Sea, The Sahara Desert

By John Cutshall
Update 3

We had to wake up before the sun had even peaked over the brim of the ocean. Half extremely tired, and half excited, I made my way off of the ship and to the entrance of the port with about 100 other students. There waiting for us were two large buses that were going to take us to our next destination: The Sahara Desert. Although the trip was pretty well explained to me before I purchased a ticket, I was not prepared for what was going to come. My trip to the Sahara Dessert is one of my fondest memories of my Semester at Sea.

After escaping the hot Moroccan air and settling into my seat, I was ready for my adventure into the middle of the desert. The bus jolted suddenly and we were on our way. Originally, I was told that the bus ride was going to take around 8 hours. I am not the kind of person that can sit down for long periods of time easily, so I wearily agreed to this condition. After a few hours on the bus we stopped in Marrakesh to get some food for lunch which was really awesome. Then it was onto the dessert. Along the way we passed over the Atlas mountains, which displayed some of the most unique desert landscape that I have ever seen. The bus ride seemed to go on forever and finally we were approaching the 12 hour mark on the bus. Everyone was starting to get a bit nervous, and there was even talk of calling the ship for help. I remained calm, along with those around me, and after another two hours we reached our destination. It was completely dark out and we were far away from the nearest city. Awaiting for me as I got off the bus was a tall four legged creature. Cautiously, I went up to the camel and pet him. All of the camels were laying down and we hopped on them. With a call from their master they all stood up suddenly. It was not a smooth transition, but instead, a rough, awkward one. Most of the girls were screaming in terror, as the guys looked on and had a laugh. We rode the camels for about an hour further into the desert where we saw our camp and stayed for the night. Right next to the camp stood a large sand dune which we all climbed. Most of us were strangers, but we were very good friends after only a week of knowing each other. We all laid on the sand dune, looking up at the most brilliant night sky that I have ever seen. There was no light anywhere within sight and the stars were amazingly bright and clear. It was here that we stayed for the night.

We awoke early the next morning and had a traditional Moroccan breakfast. We jumped back on our camels and headed back to where the buses were. There were small children there that had made animals out of some sort of plant and were trying to sell them to us. I bought one that was the shape of a camel. The interesting part about the children selling these was that the men who owned the camels didn’t like them very much. It was almost a game where they would run away whenever one of the men got too close to them. It was very interesting to watch. We headed back to Marrakesh and stayed there for the night. The hostel that we stayed in was not the nicest place that I have been. It was located in the back of a dark ally. That evening we went to the main square for dinner. There were thousands of people in the square. There were merchants, restaurants, and everything in-between. After spending the night, it was a short train ride back to the ship. Seeing the ship after traveling for awhile is one of the greatest experiences ever. The ship was quite literally my home for four months. My friends, room, and belongings were all on this ship and that is what made it home. It was the best sight in the world after being away for two nights.

The experience of Semester at Sea didn’t hit me right when I got on the ship. It wasn’t until I was lying beneath the stars in the middle of the Sahara dessert that I realized I was on this amazing life-changing trip. My experience in the Sahara was truly unique and I will never forget it. After Morocco we headed to Ghana where we explored jungles, swam under 200 foot waterfalls, and fed wild monkeys from our hands. I can’t wait to share my experience in Ghana with you next time.

Photo 1- Atlas Mountains
Photo 2- Marrakesh Square
Photo 3- With new friends on top of the sand dune
Photo 4- Right before hopping on my camel

For all of the North Star Project Summer Reports, see HERE

The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Summer Reports.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

This summer we will re-tool and re-design the collaborative program, drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This summer The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world.  We will post their brief dispatches here throughout the summer, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, June, 2013

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under Professor Hong-Ming Liang

18 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-Nine — Semester at Sea, The Sahara Desert

  1. Kirsten Olsen

    The author has a lot of truth to his comment about the experiences he’s had not actually sinking in until he actually sat down and took a breath. This is something that has taken me awhile to figure out. But similar to my experience in my first year of college I don’t think it hit me until my first semester was over, when i was done running around and I got time to let it all sink in, that I was in college and starting off my life as a young adult.

  2. Zhiyu Yang

    What an awesome trip! The descriptions are very absorbing. I can picture the view of Morocco. As vast as Sahara Desert, I always feel the human life becomes too tiny to consider in front of it. Also the square illustrates that the night life in Marrakesh is lively. Everyone just walk on the road and enjoy their street food. The still of the desert is quite a contrast to the ease atmosphere on the street.

  3. Sounds like such an amazing experience. I think one of my favorite parts of this article was reading about the camels. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to ride on one. This sounds like such an awesome new culture to experience.

  4. Miranda King

    Sounds like such an amazing experience. My favorite part was reading about the camels. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to ride on one. This sounds like such an awesome experience in a new culture.

  5. Maija

    This sounds like so much fun, and terrifying at the same time. I can only imagine what it would be like to see the stars so vividly. It sounds like there were a variety of feelings throughout this short trip, but it would be well worth it!

  6. Tommy Traaholt

    That was an incredible story, and it seemed like an incredible adventure! That is awesome that you got the opportunity to ride a camel, i probably wouldn’t have ridden one, i can barely trust a horse! It seems like you had a great experience learning about this new culture and lifestyle and i cannot wait until your Ghana story!

  7. Morgan Young

    It’s amazing to think that one of the driest places on earth was once completely submerged under water! It sounds like you had a very interesting trip to the Sahara, especially with riding the camels. Thank you so much for sharing both of your trips with us!

  8. Daniela Rojas

    Sounds like an incredible experience! I wish I could do something like this! It is really nice that you got the opportunity to study at sea and all of the things you did! really great story and the way you told it was even better.

  9. Samantha Roettger

    Sounds like a once in a lifetime trip. This is one, of many, places I would love to travel to and hopefully I get the chance.

  10. Eleni

    Sounds like an amazing experience! I’ve always wanted to visit the Sahara desert. I wonder why you bus trip took longer than expected? I once visited the dead sea in Israel and got a chance to ride a camel there. I completely understand the girl’s reactions, since the camels are so tall it is scary when they first get up from the ground.

  11. Matt Breeze

    What a cool experience! The Sahara is a whole different kind of desert than that of the ocean. What does a traditional Moroccan breakfast consist of? Were the stars any different than here? I know sometimes different parts of the world can see different sets of stars. Overall this just sounds like an amazing experience. Even if the bus ride was long and difficult the end result sounds well worth the sacrifice! Thank you for this article!

  12. Jimmy Lovrien

    Sounds like an awesome trip and adventure. I am used to camping and backpacking along the North Shore of Lake Superior here in Minnesota. It feels rugged and wild, but all of the sudden the trail will cross a busy road or pass through a city. Hikers are really never that far from Highway 61. It is almost like the feeling of being in the wilderness is fabricated sometimes. I’d imagine your location was far more remote since you had to take a 12 hour bus ride then another hour by camel to the camp. I’m curious how the camps and and guides continued traditional Saharan travel methods and adopted “modern” techniques to please/attract tourists.

  13. Thomas Landgren

    This sounds like a once in a lifetime experience and I am glad that you were able to share it with everyone. Your whole experience on your semester at sea is one that many people would be jealous of and from just reading this third update I can say that I am one of them. The whole idea of witnessing the stars in such a beautiful place must be a memory that you will never forget. Also riding a camel is just another interesting story to share. The picture of Marrakesh makes it seem so crowded just from your experience how many people would you say were there when you took the photo? Great Article!

  14. Ashley Kittelson

    This trip sounds like a wonderful experience. I have been camping several times in Minnesota woods, but camping in a desert sounds completely foreign. I wonder where people go to the bathroom when camping in a desert if there aren’t bushes to go behind. One aspect about travel I am also fascinated to hear about is food. I wonder what constitutes a “traditional Moroccan breakfast” and what the restaurants served.

  15. Kalley Friederichs

    John, what a great post! I have had some friends that go to different universities do a Semester at Sea and they all seem to have had the time of their lives. It sounds like you also had the time your life and learned a lot from this experience. I have never road a camel before, just seen camel rides being given at the zoo and the fair, which I’m sure does not compare at all to riding a camel in their natural environment. I hope someday I get the opportunity to travel somewhere like where you did and experience all of the cool things you mentioned.

  16. Nicholas Burski

    It sounds like you really enjoyed the whole experience. Personally, I was felt sick just from the mere mention of spending a semester at sea. Then when the eight hour bus ride was mentioned, I didn’t know if i wanted to continue. However, it sounds like that ride was well worth it from the rest of the article, and a good thing that you took the much shorter train ride back. The local market seems like it would have great local food as well! The Sahara Desert wouldn’t strike me as a huge attraction but the pictures along with the article make it seems quite beautiful! Thank you for the great article!

  17. Andrew Bailey

    Hello John, thank you for sharing your experience and it sounds like you enjoyed your time travelling the world! I cannot imagine how much sand you got in your bags and shoes while in the dessert! I also had the opportunity to once ride a camel when I was quite younger at the Zoo, very different from your experience, but none the less, they are an interesting animal to ride. Most recently, I have not had great luck riding animals, as I recently suffered a concussion when horseback riding out west this past spring break, so I have tried to stay away from riding large animals recently. I find your encounter with the children selling small, artificial animals intriguing and I wonder why the owners of the camels did not encourage or support their entrepreneurial endeavor.

  18. Joseph Ehrich

    Dear John,
    This article was so much fun to read and it really showed that you enjoyed your trip to the Sahara Desert. I have always wanted to visit the Sahara Desert and climb up a huge sand dune. The idea of riding a camel sounds like so much fun but it sure sounds like a bumpy ride. It’s amazing that the local inhabitants and camels can withstand the extreme heat of the Sahara Desert. One aspect of the article that was really interesting was how you laid on a sand dune and watched the night sky above. Overall, your adventures in the Sahara Desert have created fond memories that you will never forget.

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