Beads of sweat roll slowly down my forehead. Many are stopped, absorbed by the dry hairs of my eyebrow. Others slither down my face, a few gathering at the tip of my nose. The hot sun burns my exposed skin, a thick coat of sun screen my only defense. The rubber tips of my shoes are so hot they burn. Shade is a blessing in this desolate land.
The intense heat makes it hard for us to hike. During the hottest hours of the day we must stop and rest in the cool shade, dispersed bodies hugging slivers of space the sun cannot reach. Tired hikers drink, sleep, dream, and pray.
The water is hot enough to make a warm tea, and the putrid taste does not do justice to my palate. With each gulp I have to fight the instinctive reflex to spit it back out. That would be a mistake, for water is life.
My eyes move up the huge mountain I have yet to climb. The barren cliff stretches far above. My feet grow sore at the thought of what’s ahead. My soles are worn and I already know where the blisters will be and how big they will grow. Then my eyes move down the steep mountain to where we’d been this morning. Past the V-shaped cliffs, a picturesque scene reveals the vast desert landscape.
Rolling hills of red and black and tan and yellow stretch as far as the eye can see. A circle of intense green marks a distant desert oasis, and the clear blue sky is stretched before me. I look closely, searching for a single cloud. I haven’t seen one yet. I do not see one now.
I recall looking up at these peaks earlier this morning. They were so beautiful then, with the sun just lifting above the endless sea of sand. Now, half-way up, I look down at a breathtaking scene of where I’d been this morning.
My elementary school teacher once told me, in an attempt to in grain in my head the difference between desert and dessert, that desert has only one S, because you’d only want to have one. I recall these words with a grin now. I can almost see her simple logic, sitting in this desolate landscape with hot water and sore feet. But a few weeks later, after my sores had healed, and I was on the long flight back to America, I recalled those hot days in the desert. I ran the awe-inspiring landscape through my mind and smiled.