Published: May 13th 2010May 13th 2010
Most of the next day was spent on the bus, in various stages of sleeping or reading. We had a rest stop at a very nice hotel where they offered us tea and pastries, and we found out we would have lunch there on the way back from the desert!
Lunch wasn’t until four PM, but we didn’t exactly exert a lot of energy sitting on the bus anyway, and it was well worth the wait! We ate at Ziz Oasis, where the food was absolutely amazing, and little Moroccan children tried to sell us camels (chameaux) woven from grass.
After the rest of the afternoon on the bus, we switched to 4x4s to cross the desert to our campsite. Some areas were not how I imagined, rocky rather than sandy, and black. We saw a beautiful sunset, but unfortunately my camera was in the back in my backpack. I was surprised by the number of hotels we passed - I don’t know how the average person would begin to find the place they are supposed to stay; there weren’t any roads. It was much like when we went to the green sand beach in Hawaii. After about an hour or so, we arrived at our haimas (tents).
The wind was blowing sand into our faces, and I was glad for my scarf, though it didn’t manage to keep all the sand out. There were real toilets in little tents, which seemed out of place, and I had no idea to where they flushed. I was expecting something like outhouses, though in retrospect I suppose it makes sense for a tourist operation.
We were offered more tea in the pretty dinner tent and met the owner of the site, Ibrahim. He was to be our guide on the camels the next day. We would get to visit a desert village, have the opportunity to sand-board, and get henna. I was so excited! I thought it would be worth getting all of my belongings covered in sand.
The amount of stars we could see was absolutely amazing. I had certainly never been able to see so many in my life. It was a beautiful sight, but I could not manage to capture it in a photograph.
The tents were all connected so that it was essentially one big tent. They consisted of blankets strung on wooden poles and rope anchoring everything into the sand, somehow. There were some rugs on the ground, with mattresses for sleeping. The sheet was a sort of sleeping bag, to help keep some of the sand out, I suppose, and there were heavy blankets to fight off the cold at night.
Dinner was soup with vegetables and noodles, bread that resembled a thick pita, and a huge tagine of chicken, olives, and pasta! It was a long meal, as we had to wait for all the food to be brought up from the village where it was prepared. It was all amazing, except for the birthday cake for Gabi, which was like eating a sponge with frosting.
After dinner, we got ready for bed. When the lights were turned off, Judy and I went out to see the stars. No picture could ever capture what we experienced. The sky was a dome - not appearing two dimensional as it often dows at home. You could see zillions of stars; it was indescribable. One of the Berber nomads, Mohammed, who was guarding camp, showed us the Big Dipper; the North Star; and the planet Mars, which twinkled! He told us he navigates by the stars and knowing the dunes, which completely baffled me because they change with the wind. If I had lost sight of the camp, I am sure I would have become hopelessly lost in the desert and die. I have an immense respect for the people who call it home.
The next morning we were to be woken quite early to watch the sunrise from the dunes, so I headed to bed. It was hard to accept where I was, it was so unbelievable to be in the Sahara desert!
I didn’t fall asleep for a while, partly due to people in another tent being drunk and talking about inane things for hours. When they were quiet, the absolute silence of the desert was amazing. I could only hear the wind blowing the sand across the dunes, and when that stopped, it was more silence than I have ever experienced. We become to accustomed to little background noises like cars passing or electronics running that we don’t even realize how noisy our lives really are. It was so peaceful. I was quite comfortable on my mattress, and it was restful, even when I was not sleeping.
I eventually did fall asleep, and it may have been some of the best sleep of my life. At 5 AM, a few drum beats woke us up to see the sunrise. We climbed one dune, but then were told to follow some guides farther. Judy and I somehow became separated from the rest, and followed Sayid to an incredible view. He tried to show us how to properly walk in the sand, but I was not having an easy time. My shoes that are wonderful for getting me around Paris were certainly not designed for desert walking. They kept filling with sand to the point it was forcing my feet out, and I had to stop to dump them out. Sayid walked effortlessly on top of the dunes, as I sank halfway to my knees. The wind was chilly, and at first I was shivering in my out of place fleece polar bear pajamas. However, I quickly became accustomed to it and just enjoyed the view. the pictures are not wonderful since I refused to remove my camera from its plastic bag protection, but it was truly a wonderful sight to see.
Photo courtesy of Judy Gregory
About an hour after our early wakeup, we headed back, stopping to admire the scarab beetles and a camel who had climbed up onto one of the dunes to admire the sunrise himself. The look on his face was that of an animal who really knows how to enjoy what is good in life. Near camp, Sayid sat us down (and he plopped down like a camel, haha) to peddle the polished fossils that are a common Berber trade. I wanted to see all that was in the village before buying, but it was very hard to say no. Judy and I walked back to camp with heavy hearts, but at least he had left us where we could see our way back.
Photo courtesy of Judy Gregory
After getting dressed, I sat on a dune for a while, writing and enjoying the warmth and the view while I waited for breakfast to be served. The wind was less intense in the daytime, which was nice. I got hit by two more fossil vendors, but I told them I wasn’t interested. One asked, “Demain?” (Tomorrow?) and I said “Peut-être” (Maybe). He responded “Inchallah!” (G-d Willing).
After breakfast, which was similar to that of the hotel in Fès, we bought our turbans! I got a pretty blue one. They tied them on us, and I watched several to learn how, though there are several ways, and the “right” way seems to be to do it however you like. I now know a way that covers both the head, nose, and mouth (for when the wind blows the sand into youf face), a way that covers the head and the neck, a way to twist around the head, a way to wear it as a sarong, shawl, etc. It is quite versatile.
Turbaned up, we headed to the camels. I rode behind Judy. We were very high up, but our camel was gentle and nice. It was a bumpy ride, and my stomach was not very happy, from that, or perhaps the heat, or dehydration, or not agreeing with something from breakfast, so I was glad when we arrived at the village of Merzouga. We stopped at a grocery store and then another carpet store. The rugs were awesome, and cheaper than those in the medina. I talked down the price of one by 250 dirhams (approximately 25€), though the bargaining was odd; writing numbers on paper and passing it back and forth. I am excited to have it in my dorm next year.
Photo courtesy of Judy Gregory
Photo courtesy of Judy Gregory
The village-wide oven
The village garden. Each family has a plot.
After the shop, I got sick. I had some water and felt slightly better. Luckily the camel ride back was shorter, since we seemed to have taken a scenic route to the village. There was cold water with lunch, but I wasn’t up to eating anything. After lunch, I hung out in the shade in front of the tents (inside was boiling hot - the tents were black) and cooled off by wetting my turban and covering myself with it, which worked well, but turned my hands completely blue. Guess it will be hand-wash only! Several people donned bathing suits and laid out to tan on the dunes.
My repose made me feel much better, and I was excited to get henna. I was not early in the line, and by the time it was my turn, the lady’s kids were getting impatient and crawling on her and me, so it was not the most perfect henna ever, but it was pretty!
I looked at the jewelry for sale, but didn’t feel like buying any. I went back to the shade and somehow missed the call to go sandboarding, but one of the Moroccan guys caught me up to the others. It was a very long walk, and I was starting to question my decision to come as I huffed and puffed behind my guide who crossed the sand effortlessly. But then I reminded myself chances are slim I will get another opportunity to sandboard in the Sahara desert, so I pressed on. When I saw the size of the dune we had to climb, I was in shock. It was enormous! I thought I would never make it up. It took several rest stops along the way, but I did make it, huffing and puffing completely by the end. The thing about climbing sand is that it is in no way solid. Everytime you climb up, you sink back down. It truly is a workout.
There is a 6 day marathon in the sand, the longest day consisting of 76 km. I believe that only superhumans must be able to do it, yet the little Moroccan children scuttle effortlessly across the sand and the adults walk almost like the camels, barely disturbing the sand. I watched the others go down, mostly sitting on the board as a sled, sliding to a smooth finish at the bottom. When it was my turn, a little Moroccan boy rode on the back to help bring it back up. I could tell the board wasn’t quite straight, and I tried to tell the boy about to push us off to wait, but it didn’t work.We started off slowly, so I thought it would be okay. We soon picked up speed and it was very thrilling. Then we started to veer, and i prepared to be thrown off by keeping my mouth shut and bracing myself. I hit the ground hard and rolled down a bit. The wind was knocked out of me, and I couldn’t get up right away. I could hear people shouting down from the top of the dune to see if I was alright, but for a moment, I couldn’t call back. I found out later people had started running down the dune to my aid, but I soon got up and gave everyone a thumbs up. I felt okay except for a bit of a headache.
Luckily, I didn’t have to climb back up the colossal dune since we were finishing up. We made it back to camp just before dark. I took some ibuprofen and decided to take a shower. We were told there were places to put things while showering, but all I could see was the sand around the wooden platform and string loops on the walls which weren’t very useful for anything without a hook. I had thought to bring a plastic bag, so everything went in there on a dry spot of sand.
There were two knobs for hot and cold water, but the only actual option turned out to be cold. The water was sitting in a huge tank uphill, so I thought it would have gotten warm in the sun all day, but it must have already cooled off. We dealt with it and got mostly clean when the lights went out - they had already diverted the electricity to the main tent for our dinner entertainment. I tried to make my flashlight stay in a loop without a lot of success, but eventually got it to stay between the door and ceiling. The next challenge was getting dressed. I had to make sure to be completely dry so I couldn’t become caked with wet sand. I also had nothing to hold on to. It was an adventure.
Dinner was a tagine comme d’hab (like usual) and there was live music. We had fun dancing under the stars for a while, and then I went to bed, hoping to get less sand covered that night.
Erfoud -> Meknès
I woke up the next morning more sore than I had ever been in my entire life. From the camel riding, lots of sand walking and climbing, and wiping out, probably. I limped out to breakfast and took some ibuprofen. I packed all my sand-covered things and filled a water bottle with sand to distribute to those who would like some when I get back home. After an hour in the 4x4s, it was back on to the bus for another long drive. I had to find a comfortable position and sit still. We watched Avatar in French, though I slept through a lot of it.
Our lunch stop was at the hotel where he had had tea on Saturday. It was a salad, french fries, a lemon chicken with olives tagine, and of course, more tea.
Back on the bus, we stopped to see monkeys! I’m not actually sure if they technically count as monkeys since they didn’t have tails, but I couldn’t find anyone to tell me what the name of the species was. Maybe someone will read this and know! They were very cute and came close because we gave them bits of bread. Two even had a tiny baby! I took a bunch of pictures.
Back on the bus, I mostly slept until we got to the hotel. There was still no news about the status of our flight. At the hotel, I thought I would try swimming to relax my muscles a bit, but the water was so cold I changed my mind to a hot shower, which definitely felt good. It was nice to get the sand out of my hair.
At dinner, we had an awesome carrot and potato soup followed by a tagine with sausage of which I can’t remember the name, and a chocolate cake with strawberry sauce. We sat with people from ISA Meknès, and it was intriguing to talk to them about living and studying there. Some people went out with them after dinner, but I was still so sore i just went up to bed. My roomie told me they had gone to a hookah and piano bar, then the hotel bar.
Meknès -> Casablanca
When I woke up, I was still sore, but again it was just a bus day. Breakfast had some interesting things, like a rice pudding and some hot dog looking things. I wasn’t all that hungry, in fact had starting getting some wonderful traveler’s diarrhea, I must have ingested a bit too much water in the shower, or eaten something that wasn’t properly washed. Thankfully the Immodium was helpful, though I still didn’t feel like eating much lunch. I ended up having an avocado salad and and used up my other dirhams for a couple souvenirs and snacks for the bus/plane. I had to use a “turkish toilet” for the first time. We in the US are definitely spoiled with our bathrooms!
We had a lot of time to wait at the airport, but our flight home was still on! Security was strange, it turned out I didn’t need to worry about liquids to leave Morocco, yet they checked our passports multiple times. It appears you cannot have a swiss army knife at all, even in checked baggage, so I was glad I left it at home. Our flight was delayed, but not too much, and it was uneventful back to Charles de Gaulle. I was extremely glad for the shuttle ride home, and went straight to bed.
Photo courtesy of Judy Gregory