So here goes…this past weekend we went on a trip to the desert of Morocco. Just to give you a general idea of where we were geographically, we weren’t actually in the Sahara desert. We went to the Merzouga desert in the southeast of Morocco. This is actually a small desert amongst the Atlas mountains. But it was still a desert, and there were still camels.
So, the trip began on Friday afternoon. We left, as expected, about an hour late and drove…and drove…and drove and drove and drove. Honestly, most of this trip was spent in transit, but the parts that weren’t were so amazing. We arrived at our hotel on Friday night at about 8:30PM (an hour and half behind schedule) and this hotel was seriously one of the best I have ever stayed at. It was built in traditional “Arabian” style and decor. We were greeted by “authentic” Berber performers. I use quotation marks because these were clearly displays designed to appease tourists…and the worked. I was appeased. I was on a mission to have a good time; to observe and enjoy every single bus ride, every single grain of sand in my eyes and every drop of sweat on my forehead. We were treated to an amazing dinner (I had couscous with chicken and vegetables), then we went to bed for the night.
The next morning we woke up and (surprise) got back on the bus. We stopped along the way to see some wild monkeys. They were really cute. It was kinda funny because in some parts of the world you take stale bread down to the river to feed ducks or geese…in this town you take stale bread down to the forest to feed the wild monkeys. Go figure. After that we (everybody now) got back on the bus. We drove some more and stopped at one of the last large(ish) towns before the desert. Here we had lunch and bought (you guessed it) turbans!! Let me just explain turbans to you. I had this idea in my mind that turbans were some pre-constructed, hat-like apparatus that you placed on your head to make you look awesome while wandering in the desert. This is not the case. Turbans are actually long swatches of fabric that you must wrap on your own head in some arrangement that both covers you from the sun, protects you from blowing sand, all the while ventilating your head. Needless to say this is an art that needs to be practiced and so, naturally, I just had someone do it for me every time it needed to be redone. So, now that I’m not in the desert anymore, I’ll have to find a Youtube video or something to show me how to wrap my own turban.
Then, we got back on the bus, drove some more and ended up in one of the last small(ish) towns before the desert. Here we got OFF the bus (just to shake things up) and switched into 4×4 vehicles. Our driver’s name was Yousef and he drove some knock-off brand 4×4. Most of the others were in Land Cruisers…we had a make who’s logo I didn’t even recognize. Also, Yousef wasn’t to be bothered with speedometers…oh no…ours fluttered around 0 km/h the whole time. So we took off down the road and then we took off…off the road. The 4x4s split into some kind of synchronized, high-speed, motorized desert dance winding and weaving around each other at speeds that were probably not appropriate for the amount of obstacles in our paths. I had the distinct honor of sitting in the very back seat (which was not firmly attached to chassis of the car) and bounced my way to our final outpost where it was…camel time.
So we arrived at the last outpost and got out of our 4-wheeled (awesome) death machines. We went in and were given two bottles of luke-warm water and were escorted to our camels. Keep in your mind for the rest of this narration that the entire (obnoxious) group of American high-schoolers was on this trip…so we had a caravan of 55 camels. Yes, 55 camels. Here’s how riding a camel works. The camels are saddled with this cushion that goes around their hump. When you mount the camel, you straddle the cushion just behind the hump. Then you lean back and the camel guru coaxes the camel from its seated position. Now, camels stand up one half at a time, back first. This is why you lean back; suddenly the camel’s rump is in the air and your thrust forward until the other half catches up. Once the camel is standing you’re pretty much home free. My first camel was super nice. I named her Leila (which means ‘night’ in Arabic) until I found out that Leila was a boy and already had a name (which I never found out). So, our 55-camel group was split into about 8 groups each led by a guide on foot. Riding a camel is pretty comfortable, except that they’re so wide that your legs are pulled pretty far apart. And after an hour it feels like you’ve been doing the splits for days. But the experience of riding over beautiful sand dunes on a camel completely overrides any discomfort.
After a camel-packed our in the sand, we arrived at our campsite. It was a group of tents arranged in a rectangle around a courtyard of sorts covered by blankets. We were greeted with dinner (tagine with chicken) followed by dessert (the best honeydew melons you’ve ever had). Then were instructed to go to bed since we would be getting up at 5:00AM. I opted (along with most everyone else) to sleep outside. Sleep on the sand is pretty much as uncomfortable outside as it is in a tent but outside you have the benefit of a cooling breeze. And…you get stars. Oh my gosh it was the most beautiful array of celestial beauty that I’ve ever seen. I woke up at around 3:30 (I think) and looked up and I felt like I could see every star in the sky. The Milky Way was visible as a faint band and it was glorious. I wish I had a camera that let me lengthen the exposure so that I could have gotten a picture. It was so beautiful.
Then 5:00 rolled around and we mounted our camels again. My second camel was not as friendly as my first one and I felt like he just wanted to get back to the outpost. I bonded with my first camel…but not the grumpy morning camel. As it turns out we left at 5:00AM more to ensure that we got back to Rabat at a reasonable hour than to watch the sunrise. So we saw the sunrise from our camels (who were facing the opposite way from the sun). But it was still beautiful to be out in the desert in the early morning on a camel. Once we got back to the outpost, we brushed our teeth, had breakfast and took our 4x4s back to the bus. Then we were on the bus for about 1o hours. Groovy.
And in case you thought I forgot, I have a personal life lesson from this trip as well. This one I learned from the (obnoxious) American high school kids. On the bus on the way back I was listening to some of the conversations around me. Most of the students seemed to be pretty privileged kids who had been able to travel a lot and experience a lot. And all I heard was them complaining…a lot. “Oh, our bus on our last trip didn’t have air conditioning…it was miserable.” “Riding camels hurt so bad.” “Sleeping outside was the worst.” It went on like this for a long time and included other complaints about the lack of showers, the heat, having warm water to drink etc. As I was listening, I was looking out the window. Some of the towns we passed through had houses without windows or doors. Some towns had garbage littering every corner. Some towns weren’t even towns. Then we drove past several tents in the middle of nowhere with a pasture for sheep and an outhouse covered by makeshift walls and a tarp. Some of these families easily would have to walk a couple miles to get water, and who knows if it would be clean. So I began to think…yeah, we spent a night “roughing it” in the desert. One night…and we were treated to dinner and given bottled water for the journey. But the key was that we got to leave. We experienced “inconveniences” for 10 hours and then were back in our air-conditioned bus on the way back to our host families and apartments. Some people live in conditions like that (without the pre-made food and bottled water) all of the time. They never walk over the hill to their tents to find an air-conditioned bus waiting to whisk them off to a comfortable apartment with clean sheets and hot water. And yet, they make it somehow. Obviously, their lives are different than ours. They have to work incredibly hard to have a hot meal and some water. They live with no luxuries all of the time. And then I thought…they may live without luxuries, but they still live. They have spouses, they have children. I’m sure they experience joy and love and fun. Their means of existence may be different from ours, but they still exist. It’s a beautiful testament to the variety of humanity and a call to all of us to remember our humanity. Too easily we get caught up in things like making money, having things and being comfortable. As humans we’ve built these things to be important, but they’re not what make us human. The ability to love each other, to find beauty in our world and to appreciate and care for others who are different from us…that’s what makes us.
The stars in the sky, a sunrise over a sand dune, a warm breeze blowing your turban…these are things that we can all appreciate. Inconvenience, tiredness, heat, dust…they all fade and we’re just….us.
As always, I love and miss you all!
سلام اليكم Brad