Berbers and nomads and camels, oh my


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Africa » Morocco » Meknès-Tafilalet » Merzouga
March 25th 2012
Published: April 17th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

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I'm told this type of vehicle is found only in one area of Morocco, near Rissani
Sunday
Day 15

Wow, what a fantastic few days! I spent two nights in the Sahara; the first at a Bedouin camp and the second with a nomadic family 15km from the Algerian border! But, let's start with Friday morning. We broke camp around 8am and left with Rasheed who was organising the next few days for us. We followed him to M'hamid where we visited a 14th century Kasbah. Considering there are 200 families that have, on average, 10-12 people per household (children and extended family) inside the walls, it was eerily quiet - though it was during the day so I guess most are at work/school. We learnt a few interesting things: white paint around a doorway means a wedding is taking place and all are invited to help celebrate and yellow means they've been to Mecca. All kasbahs have a mosque with a school attached to learn the Koran and Arabic and a well, not for drinking water but for washing, etc (drinking water is outside the walls). Doors open after first prayers at around 5am and close after last prayers around 9pm. And if you don't make it home before then, hopefully you have friends to stay with!
Went to a fossil museum/shop then onto a shop run by a family from the Tuegher tribe. Long ago they were a caravanning community, going from tribe to tribe collecting items to sell to other tribes and are now the last of their kind in Morocco (there's more in Algeria but the border is closed). Prices were steep so although there were several beautiful items, little more than scarves were bought.

After picking up some Berber pizza from them, we made our way to the Sahara desert. It was a bit of a bumpy ride to the auberge where we sat and had our pizza and some Moroccan 'whiskey' (I'm loving this mint tea) and we were able to have a shower (I must admit I was quite excited by the prospect of washing my hair after 5 days without a shower!). Heavenly. A couple hours to relax and pack and we were off! Eight of us had decided to take the two night option and all were excited as we made for the dunes. It took about 2 hours in spitting rain. Rain! In the Sahara! We're considering it to be lucky. We plodded along
CelebrationCelebrationCelebration

The white paint signifies a wedding taking place and all are invited to celebrate
over the dunes in overcast skies, getting used to the rhythm of the camels. The Bedouin camp we were spending the night at was situated below a huge sand dune that was deceptive in both its size and incline and the tents were arranged around an outdoor communal area, the largest tent being the dining room where we relaxed with some tea and peanuts. With the rain on hold for the time being, some chose to climb the sand dune, taking a pair of skis with them while others sat and watched, myself included. Justice was first to reach the peak and vanished over the top. Both Jareb and Brittany had a go at skiing before they carried the skis to the top and handed them over to Rhys who had a spectacular run straight down the dune, gathering speed and cheers. Darkness arrived rather suddenly once the sun had disappeared behind the dunes and we wandered back into the camp and chilled until dinner was served. It was delicious: soup, chicken tagine and oranges - with Coke and Heineken brought in on a quad bike for us. Then we moved outside and sat around a huge fire, listening to
Traditional toolsTraditional toolsTraditional tools

such as a nail to chip away at fossils!
the three men play their drums; basking in the warmth and mesmerised by the dancing flames. And after we had a chance to make asses of ourselves attempting to play (it's much harder than it looks!), we amused ourselves with noughts and crosses in the sand and riddles, some of which were lost in translation but all in good fun. For those who attempted to sleep outside, it wasn't long before it began to rain steadily and heavily, though not everyone moved in as quick as you'd expect...

I had a wonderful night's sleep beneath four heavy blankets and slept through an uneventful sunrise to be met with a breakfast of bread, cheese and spreads and washed down with juice, tea and coffee. I haven't been able to avoid the wheat as I'd hoped to but do try to only eat it when I'm really hungry and there's no other option (I've started eating rice cakes I’ve bought in the marjanes and keep stored under my seat). The eight of us continuing on for the second night waved goodbye to the others who headed back to the truck for the night and half an hour later, the camels were
CrinoidesCrinoidesCrinoides

Fossilised plants
loaded and we were on our way further into the desert.

I'm sure if we'd have gone in the straight line, the walk wouldn't have been that long but because we had to follow the contours of the dunes, it was hard to keep track of just how far we had travelled – or in which direction. I was first in line with Zaid our guide leading us along at an easy pace. Each of us chose names for our camels and after deciding on Cream Puff (really not sure where that came from!), I settled in to enjoy the scenery.
While crossing a rather large dune, I noticed a man standing on the crest of another in the distance and soon enough, we came across a small camp with five tents. Two small boys were running around and Zaid called out in greeting. We were eager to stretch our legs and found a clearing to park our camels. I made a beeline for the youngest boy who was playing with a sand-covered balloon. Even the smallest grains of sand in my mouth bug me but he’d drop the balloon, pick it up and put it straight back
TechiniqueTechiniqueTechinique

They take their tea seriously and it's much appreciated
in his mouth. I guess that’s what happens when you live amongst so much of it! I built a sandcastle and dug a tunnel through it and loved the look on his face when he realised he could reach my fingers from the other side. We played for several minutes, me burying his hand or foot before he wiggled his way out and then he motioned for me to build a wall around the sandcastle which I happily did. In the near distance we saw two rally cars and Zaid told us that it’s a group of women who come out here every year to race so the boys stood and watched with their father, the cars appearing and disappearing over the dunes but the noise being somewhat intrusive. After sharing a cup of tea, I was back on Cream Puff towards the camp we were stopping at for lunch. Upon arrival, we removed all the blankets and food from the camels and proceeded to lounge under a large tent while Zaid untied them to let them roam and eat the tall grass that grew in sparse patches nearby. We drank tea, told stories and watched the rally cars until lunch arrived – a large dish with a variety of salads, another with sardines and a basket of bread, followed by sweet oranges. Maria and I went for a walk, through the camels and checking out the local well until it was time to go and collect our wandering camels. Once they were led back to camp, there were some very happy foreigners, having managed to get the camels to sit down! With a slap or two on their front upper leg and an ‘ooch’ sound, the camels settled into the sand and posed for photos. The man who had made our lunch was quietly laying out handmade camels in various colours on a small blanket and seemed quite self-conscious when he asked us to look. A few of us reasoned that by paying him directly, we knew where the money would go and how little he probably made otherwise. We all chipped in with a few dirham each and chose a simple black camel with a yellow bridle and reins and I hung him on my backpack with the intention of making him our truck mascot (which he is. He now hangs on a hook on the truck). Blankets
Looking localLooking localLooking local

Do I fit in?
were put back on, as were the sacks carrying our dinner, the camels were tied together and one by one we climbed on, starting with the last person in the train. I decided I’d prefer to walk and Zaid handed me the rope and pointed me in the right direction. His English is basic but much, much better than my Arabic or Berber (the local dialect he speaks) and we talked while we walked. He is 34 years old and not yet married and he said that in his culture, there is no dating. You meet someone and you get married. I’m not sure if that would be a Godsend or a nightmare! He took my little point and shoot camera and took a variety of shots; me walking the camels, camel poop (that is ridiculously abundant in the desert) and then tried to take self portraits of us which resulted in a lot of laughter. I learnt how to choose which dunes we should cross and how to soften the incline for the camels to climb in. It turns out camels don’t like standing on uneven ground so if I wanted to stop everyone, I had to make sure all were on a flat area. We walked in comfortable silence and after about two hours, the dunes became smaller and eventually gave way to a flatter, vegetated area. In the distance was a ridge which formed a natural border with Algeria which has been closed for some time and Zaid drew a diagram in the sand explaining where the different tribes were and how they wanted their own country.

It was probably another hour before we arrived at the nomadic family with whom we were spending the night with and the other seven camel riders were happy to get off and stretch. Again we took off the blankets (which we would use for the night) and Zaid tied one of each camels’ front legs so they could move, but not far. Cream Puff rolled in the sand (already having done it once and I’d left my bag attached to her; I was worried about my camera equipment but it seems fine) and others made their way over to the grass patch. We took in our surrounds: a large tent where we would sleep, a corral for the goats (herded in by the children in the evening) and maybe
Home away from homeHome away from homeHome away from home

our Bedouin tent for the night
four small rooms made from sand and hay, clustered together. Two seemed to be bedrooms, one a living room and the other a kitchen, containing a clay oven where they made fresh bread. They have no electricity and as far as I could tell, no nearby water source explaining why we were told if nothing else, bring enough water. They have sheep, goats and a few camels came in quite close as well, making me think they may also own them. Jareb had a shot at catching one of the kids much to our amusement (the slow, nonchalant walk and last minute sprint was never going to work) and lamented that it was impossible until Nico and Steph went out to try and within minutes, had one on their arms!

We watched as dusk arrived, bringing with it a darkness I'd rarely seen. There was a little light from the moon but we brought out our head lights and sat in the tent waiting for dinner. We were all well hungry when a huge communal bowl of cous cous, chicken and vegetables arrived and we squished around the small table and dug it. It was delicious but impossible to
Warming the drumsWarming the drumsWarming the drums

allows for better drumming I'm told!
finish, even for us! We still managed to eat the sweet oranges for dessert though...

Mustafa and his cousin are like any 12 year old boys in the world in many ways. When we first arrived they helped Zaid unload and tend to the camels but then lingered at a distance, watching us. As it grew darker, it didn't take too long for them to join us under the tent and they clowned around with Elmo (who Denise has brought on the trip) asking us to take photos of them. We were laughing so much and had a great time, everyone playing with the cameras and taking random photos. We managed to set up a timer shot and get everyone in, the boys sitting so still like we'd motioned them to, even after the photo was taken!

I slept little that night, being unused to sleeping on the hard ground on little more than a blanket but it was nice lying there thinking things over. Then long before the sun, the goats began calling out and the family stirred to life. We stumbled out of the tent and were handed tea and bread to keep us going until we reached the auberge, seeing that the camels were already tied up, waiting only for their blankets and passengers. I decided I would walk again and once we said our thanks and goodbyes, we took off for the dunes once more.

The return trip took us through different nomadic villages, some of which have more permanent buildings. A couple others jumped off their camels and completed the walk on foot, taking their camels themselves as we drew closer to the truck, eager to show off their skills. We sat them down before sitting ourselves down for a hearty breakfast that just kept on coming: pancakes (more of a dough-like consistency rather than batter and square shaped), eggs, yoghurt, cheese and tea, coffee and orange juice. It was definitely better than the corn flakes the rest of the gang had had before we arrived!

All in all, this entry doesn't do the trip justice. There was so much more that I could probably write about and I highly recommend doing at least two days in the Sahara should you ever find yourself in the area. Photos will be added once I get all the entries online!


Additional photos below
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Sand dune trekkingSand dune trekking
Sand dune trekking

Itsy bitsy people hiking to the top
Munch, munchMunch, munch
Munch, munch

Weird jaw action shot
Local water sourceLocal water source
Local water source

Maria and I taking a photo in the water's reflection
Fake looking, much?Fake looking, much?
Fake looking, much?

It's not a toy camel and it'a actually a really high sand dune!
Nomadic familyNomadic family
Nomadic family

Brothers watching the rally cars that passed throughout the day
Cream Puff and I!Cream Puff and I!
Cream Puff and I!

No, no idea why I named him Cream Puff


17th April 2012

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