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Published: December 30th 2017
Another nice night of sleep gives way to another nice breakfast. Driss is our guide and he arrives right on time. He’s 32 (and actually looks about 32!), and Berber. He’s also amiable and accommodating. We will learn that he is a total pro, who, while from a world all but entirely dissimilar to his guests, has been at this for a long time – seven years – and knows the ropes.
We are now entering the touristy part of this trip. It will mercifully short at four days three nights and will run us past just about all of the most touristy-but-necessary-to-see shit in the country. Driss picks us up after breakfast and we begin driving. The car is a perfectly comfortable, if not new, SUV and Driss is a safe, unhurried driver. Overall, the people of Morocco neither behave nor drive like dicks. Fes is famously dangerous at night and we could easily have been stabbed and robbed had we taken to its dark alleys in the evening, but even then one would have to assume the stabber would “Shokran” appreciatively and pat their chest with their right palm as they left us to bleed out. We will
be spending a lot of time traveling by car on this little tour, so praise to Allah for our wonderfully informative, sober and cautious driver.
Our first brief stop comes a couple of hours later in Ifrane, which is at a higher elevation of the Mid-Atlas Mountains. Because the area gets snow, the structures require peaked roofs. The idea to make it look like the Swiss Alps was a clever one. We slip into our lederhosen and drirdle respectively, then chug large steins of beer and slap dance one another until our facial bruises are the color of ripe peaches, amusing all but the most hard-traveled of the other tourists. Okay, we get out of the car and use the bathroom. Sometimes the truth barely merits writing.
Next stop, a filthy vacant lot where tourists and touts intermingle with families of Barbary macaque monkeys, which, as far as we can tell, are common macaques. We buy some nuts and hand a few to some monkeys, one of whom is either prescient or we had met previously, as his fingers grip the nut and he says, “Thanks, Steve.” We don’t hang around long as this is little more than
a depressing display of upper primates gaping stupidly at one another. We do get to see a baby and a couple of adolescents monkeying around (for lack of a more appropriate term), which is pretty damn cute.
Next we drive to the Ziz Valley. This is a long expanse that runs along a river where dates grow. Basically, it’s a ravine with higher rises on the sides, one of which hosts the road we’re traveling on. Many people live along this date grove? orchard? shit; should have asked. The locals are Berbers like Driss, in fact, they are so much like Driss… Driss lives here! Because he’s a tour guide he’s away from his family for days and even weeks at a time. He also has a baby daughter less than a year old. In Muslim marriages, the wife comes to live with the husband’s family, so Driss’ wife and daughter live with his mother (his father has passed). We insist that he stop and kiss his baby and wife! This takes us into a functioning Berber village, which is an extremely simple environment. This is still a world where donkeys are used for transportation and labor (we’ve been
seeing this everywhere but somehow neglected to share it). We pull up on a dirt road next to his mudbrick structure. We enter and are led to the main family room, which has a TV on. The cushions on benches that we’re invited to sit on are also the beds. We will later learn that Driss’ childhood home, which housed his parents, his seven sisters and him, didn’t have luxuries like cushions. Driss’ wife greets us. There is something mischievous and cute glimmering in his young wife’s eyes (forgive us for not having her name). She is dressed traditionally in a headscarf and sort of a housecoat. His mother, who has been ill, shakes our hands (oops!) and they’re rough like a worker’s hands. She joins us as well. She looks like she has led the life she has led, but we learn that she still “works” both as a teacher in a local school for other women and with her livestock. Somewhere, in a room under this roof, she has a pair of sheep. We don’t see, hear or smell them. Driss’ wife has made awesome cookies, so we share some of those and some mint tea. There is
a balancing act you have to do when visiting a home like this one. When you’re offered things like cookies, you have to accept them, but take only enough to leave your hosts with plenty. But they push them on you! So, you totally have some and totally forget to leave with any. We’re not there very long, but, as we’d hoped, Driss spends most of the time cradling his daughter and making her smile. Driss put himself through school picking fruit on a farm. During that time he tested his devotion to his religion by drinking and taking drugs. Much like the Amish who take their Rumspringa to sin and figure out if they’d like to keep sinning or return to Amish life (the vast majority return to the family), Driss has returned to his roots. But now, with his education, he is able to earn a living. However, his version of “earn a living” has so little in common with ours, it’s hard to fathom. He is poor. His world is poor. Most of the world is poor. And they are poor in ways we simply don’t comprehend in our fatted western world. It should be absolutely mandatory
that every single human being who wishes to dare utter an opinion about any aspect of the state of the world, visit locations like this one and people like these. We do it pretty much annually and we can’t live a single minute of a single day of our lives without being abundantly aware of the good fortune we have been born into. To take it for granted is to forfeit grace.
Another couple of hours of driving (oh, have we not mentioned that we are driving for hours and hours?) delivers us to a kasbah in Merzouga at the edge of the Sahara Desert. We have seen some indications of desertness, but not, like, berms or anything. Now it’s really dark out – tomorrow will be the new moon, which we kind of lucked into nailing for our night in the desert – so we can’t even see the hotel we’re about to be checked into. Our host is Akmed, who we’re not sure we like. We’re not sure we like the place, either. Said, is his young, unusually tall for a Moroccan, assistant, and we’re not entirely sure if we like him, either. But after we work
out some heating issues with our room (it’s now respectably cold in our world!) and sit to dine in the hotel, we find we like all of the above very much. Akmed is warm and sincere, as is the room. He looks more Egyptian than Moroccan with lighter skin and wide eyes but he shares the ultimate decency of everyone we have met thus far. His previous business was in the mining and polishing of fossils, which are beyond plentiful in this region as it was once a great sea. All of the counters and surfaces in the hotel are crafted from honed and polished chunks of rock with giant crustaceans protruding from them in relief. It’s pretty cool!
After dinner we head up the rooftop terrace (a staple of buildings in this country), with Said, to see the stars. Said is, as we mentioned, young and enjoys four-wheeling and dune surfing. He’s like an American teen, but our culture would be far too jaded and materialistic for him to function based on the way he was raised. The level of honesty in this country is insane! They’re actually devout, not just making religious noise.
We finish the
climb to the terrace and WOW! We thought we would need to trek further into the lightless expanse of the desert to see the Milky Way, but there it is! We are literally knocking an item off our bucket list right here and now. It’s amazing. We expect it will be even more amazing once our camel-bruised asses land in the desert proper, but if this was as good as it gets, it’s truly fine! It’s hard to comprehend that what we are seeing, in all of its impossible vastness, is just a sliver of a single galaxy in a universe that houses a countless number of them. The universe makes us feel small and Said makes us feel short, but it’s no biggie.
We sleep in yet another bed in a town that was so dark when we pulled up we wouldn’t recognize it if we saw it. Tomorrow… it’s Lawrence of Arabia time.
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