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  • Writer's pictureMaria Vandenburg

Lessons from the Sahara

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

I am just wrapping up a month of travel. Having just finished my first year of a two year MBA program, I knew I needed to give myself some time to breathe before diving back into full-time job and the final year of my MBA.

For the month of August, I traveled to Portugal, Spain and finished the trip with the calling of the Desert.

During my final three days of travel I was forced to disconnect, stop worrying and really just slow down and be present.  I was so grateful for my time in the desert because it connected all of the dots for me in this particular journey.

Not being able to get online, not being able to connect to the rest of the world, hours of silence in transit, culminated in

6 Things I learned about myself from the Sahara Desert

In no particular order they are


Right before I left, I had a few things that I was worrying about:

  • I have just moved into my very own flat, but at the time I went off to the desert (two days before my official move in date) I was still waiting on the final paperwork/ tenancy agreement

  • I had a money bag/coin purse that I put my credit card in that "disappeared" right as the driver came to pick me up

There is no WIFI in the desert. I had no way to check and see if my contract to move into my new flat had come in. I also didn't have the ability to cancel my credit card, or see if someone was spending thousands of dollars on it. Not ideal for the planning nature/existance of Maria (yes, I am currently referring to myself in third person). But there was literally nothing I could do about either of these things other than release my fears and worries for the time being and trust that I would be able to sort it all out when I got back (which btw has all been sorted. New Credit Card is on the way (with no charges other than my own) and I am currently writing to you while looking out the window of my very own space in London).

2. I am at Home with my Feet in the Sand

The minute we got to the Sahara, I immediately wanted to take my shoes off and walk in the sand. That's actually happened quite a bit recently - where I have wanted to walk bare foot. There was such a sense of peace when I was finally able to do it - take my shoes off, ground my energy, and be.

3. Disconnecting is necessary and needed

I am the type of person who tends to feel naked when I leave my phone at home. I get super frustrated when my internet connection is slow or cuts out. I think the Sahara was the first time in MONTHS - that I actually really went offline. At first I was anxious, then I was worried about getting bored, but eventually I just let it all go. And I realised such power comes from that release, from really just being in the present moment with no distractions.

4. The value of the hand written word

I write all of the time, but most of it is on a keyboard behind a computer. Aside from my gratitude journal, I haven't really written anything on paper recently. The Sahara reconnected me to that. I loved being able to put pen to paper, to shift between papers, thoughts and projects, interweaving and connecting them all in a way that to me just seems so much more magical at the moment than typing (which of course I know will eventually come - as I'm currently translating one of those works of writing).

5. Letting go of my need to plan/control everything

While I loved my trip to desert and the group I traveled with, the Project Manager in me was initially annoyed by what I viewed as the disorganization of the trip. We would be dropped off somewhere for an unspecified amount of time, and then picked up and taken somewhere else. What I realised though - was that I was the one responsible for my mood and my annoyance. At some point I needed to let go of my need to always want to know everything that is going on and what's next. I had to make peace with just enjoying exactly where I was - even if it was looking at fossils in million degree weather ;)

6. That everything can be a lesson.

We experienced thunder and lighting, a rock slide and a flash flood in the desert. During the flash flood I was amazed by how it brought everyone together.  There was literally all walks of life (old, rich, young, poor, Morrocan, Tourist, etc...) coming together to stand by the "river" and watch it flow by. One man (who I called Moses) walked across the water. Then one car drove by cheered on by us all - followed by a semi-truck who paved the way for the rest of us. I loved the community spirit of it all, I loved the sense that it didn't matter where we were from, or where we were all going, we were all just there together, celebrating the fact that we could finally cross the waters.  I bumped into my roommate from the hostel Yolanda while observing this and she responded with the fact that "everything can be a lesson" to which I agreed.

I was asked to go pennyless (literally - money and credit card went missing right before I left) into the desert, still waiting on final details of my home, a bit restless and worried about disconnecting from the world, and I emerged three days later with enough lessons to fill me up for the whole year.

Very grateful for the time and to have the Sahara be the conclusion of this particular journey, and also the fuel to start many more.

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I'll love you forever... well I will probably do that anyway but still <3


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