Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Backpacking through Morocco Part 4: The Sahara

[This post is part of a series.  You will find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here]

March 31, 2010
Mike, Iz, Mara, and I all woke up at 6am, and leaving all our backpacks at the hostel (except for one duffel bag between the four of us), we walked about 40 minutes to the meeting place of our desert trip.  Jimmy had a flight back to Madrid later that morning, as he was headed to Amsterdam for the rest of break.  We saw a few other people with backpacks waiting on the steps of the designated meeting location, so we took a seat and waited.  Since we hadn´t eaten anything that morning, the not-yet-open McDonalds across the street toyed with our emotions.

Waiting for the van

Soon a man arrived to collect our money.  Then came the van that would take us to the desert.  The man who had collected the money led us to the van, but did not come with - that was the end of his involvement.  Never being introduced to the driver, we climbed in, buckled up, and headed out for a drive longer than we had imagined.  Although there was no mention of breakfast in the trip summary, we briefly stopped two hours in at a little place where I got some mint tea and a pastry.  It was freezing when we stopped, and I was worried I'd be cold the rest of the day, since I hadn't really brought anything warm, but I think it's just because we were so high up in the mountains at that point.  It warmed up a ton as we continued our drive.

The roads through the mountains (the whole day's drive) were all very curvy and on the edges of huge cliffs.  I luckily had brought my wristbands with me for motion sickness, which definitely helped.  A woman puked in the back of the van later in the afternoon, so we pulled over for a few minutes to, er, clean up.  A couple more people used that stop to puke as well, but outside of the van.  Luckily, I held it in, but if I wouldn't have had those bands I definitely would have been sick in the van.

The small, curvy roads on the edges of huge drop-offs coupled with some crazy n' fast driving led to many almost-accidents.  On curves to the right, our driver would end up driving in the left lane, making the curve less sharp so he wouldn't have to slow down as much.  However, he would do this on curves where you absolutely could not see ahead of you.  Thus, a number of times we'd be driving on the left side going around a curve when all of a sudden we were head-on with another car and quickly had to swerve back into our lane, inches from collision.  Sometimes I just couldn't watch.

Other times the roads would be too skinny to fit two cars.  As we continued driving after lunch, while on a straight road in a flat area, a car driving in the opposite direction didn't slow down and hit our side mirror as they went past:

Shattered side-view mirror

Around 6.30 I believe, we arrived at our destination, greeted by camels.  We all hopped on a camel and headed to the campsite as the sun set.

Iz and Mike on "Violating Viktor"

I don't think it took more than 30-45 minutes to get there, but by the time we arrived at the camp site, the sun had set.
Izzy and Mara, and Sally's head (my camel... Sally the Camel)

The person who had led the camels showed us where our group's tent was.  And then he disappeared, presumably with the camels.  There were a couple other tents in the area, with groups from different "desert trip" companies.  We grabbed a couple blankets from the tent and lied down outside, to star gaze.  

Now I'm not one to use the word "beautiful", but the sky that night was unlike any I'd ever seen.  At this point it was around 7.30pm and the moon was nowhere in site.  With complete darkness, the stars were so bright, and appeared to be right in front of our faces.  We stared at the night sky, we pondered the meaning of life.

And then we noticed two Moroccan men at the door of our tent, asking what group we were with.  Nobody knew the name of the company.  Then they asked us who our driver was.  Nobody knew his name either, as we had never been told.  I think they even tried to tell us we were supposed to be in a different tent.  So the men didn't know who we "belonged to", and we just wanted to be fed. (I had only munched on some bread for lunch since my stomach was upset from all the curves, so I was, erm, just a bit hungry).  There was a man in our group with his pregnant wife, and he was understandably concerned that nobody knew what was going on.  He was upset that there was no water there for us (after all, we had spent the entire day in the desert...and his wife is pregnant).

Mike fell asleep while we were waiting inside the tent.  Iz, Mara, and I played some old school MASH.  By 9.30 I was convinced we'd go to bed without eating.  

At 10.30, at last we were fed!  It was a miracle!  Corn-based soup, cous-cous with chicken, amazing moroccan bread, veggies, fruit, and they brought us bottles of water.  The potatoes were sooooo delicious.  It was all really yummy.

The carrots all week had been bigger than carrots I normally see in the US, but check out the size of this one from Mara's plate:
 Big carrot: zanahoriazo?

THE carrot: a close-up

After dinner there was a drum circle around a fire, accompanied with dancing.  I watched for a little bit, but was hecho polvo and soon went to bed.  Also: Unlike the description on the website, there were absolutely no facilities where we were. So, you know, you just have to walk out into the sand, find a spot, make sure no one can see you... and you're set.  (This was obviously harder the next morning, without the night's darkness)

April 1, 2010 

Light breakfast of bread, jam, butter, coffee, tea.  Rather than heading straight back to where we had came from on our camels, we rode through a nearby "village":

We arrived to the van pick-up spot around 9.30, and snapped a group photo while waiting.
Me, Mike, Izzy, and Mara

On the drive back, while talking to a young Spanish couple from Mallorca that were in our van, Elena y Jordi, we found out they were headed to Essaouira the next day as well.  Essaouira is on the coast, about two and a half hours west of Marrakech.  They suggested the possibility of sharing a cab, so we made plans to meet them at the bus station the next morning, bright and early.  If it was cheaper to split a cab between six people, then we'd do that.

When we got back to Marrakech that evening, we picked up our bags from our first hostel, then headed to the medina to find our new hostel for the night.  After checking in, we all took showers, then went out to find something to eat.  We actually ran into Elena and Jordi that night, and re-confirmed our plans for tomorrow.

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