Morocco, Day 5

Posted by Ted on Oct 31, 2007 in Travel

We woke up, gathered the laundry that we’d done the night before, showered, packed, and headed into town. As we walked, we became increasingly surrounded by school children. We met Nezha at the cafe, and ate a simple breakfast of tea, bread, La Vache Qui Rit, jam, and hard boiled eggs. We chatted as we waited, purchased a case of water, and then after a bit we got driven to the outskirts of M’Hamid, where our camels and guide were waiting for us. Liz’ chameaux was L’Habir, a friendly white racing camel. Mine was L’Segal, bigger, brown, and the designated cargo camel, carrying our change of clothes, food, and water in two large straw baskets. The harnesses were very different than for horses; leather straps and saddles are replaced by ropes, rugs, and a simple metal T-shaped handle. Despite many warnings of ornery attitudes and a rough ride, they were actually quite comfortable. The worst part was after getting on and before getting off, when the camels would stand up or sit down, pitching us forward or backward.

We then began our desert trek, led by our guide Abrahim. The first part of the journey was through the lush palmerie, the area near the road and where the resorts were built. Next we passed into rolling dunes, scattered with desert shrubs and exposed rock. Abrahim pointed out many tracks in the sand, of people, camels, rodents, and birds. At one point he drew a picture in the sand, probably of a mouse, but it looked more like a kangaroo. We also saw evidence of lizards, which Abrahim informed us were called ‘Desert Fish’. It was so quiet that every sound was amplified by the silence of the desert. The soft plodding of the camels walking across the sand, flies buzzing, the creaking of the leather and wool of the saddles, the whistling of the wind that would sound at times like a busy road, and occasionally the idle singing of our guide. While I’m sure he sang more for his own benefit than ours, it was wonderful to hear, and made the trip all the more magical.

After a couple of hours, the shrubs ended, and there was an area of mostly loose rock where dozens of camps were set up. We went past the first set by another half hour to the edge of some bigger dunes where we stopped at another camp. We had some tea while we waited for lunch in a private tent of typical Berber design; square, divided into two or three rooms, with a larger living and eating room, a room for the preparation of food, and a storage room. Liz relaxed, and I went outside to explore and take photographs. I sat on the nearest dune and played in the sand. Mesmerized, I watched the fine sand flow like both smoke and water. Abrahim finally brought lunch, a simple meal of meat and couscous and fruit. Afterwards, Liz napped and I walked around some more, hiking farther into the dunes, away from the visibility of the tents. Surrounded by nothing but sand and sky was indescribably peaceful.

Finally it was time to return to camp, wake Liz up, and get on our way. The late afternoon sun caused our camels’ legs to grow longer and longer. Shortly before sunset, we arrived at the next camp, a more elaborate dining tent with several smaller sleeping tents. We watched the sun set over the dunes, and with no clouds to diffract the light, the sunset was quick and without fanfare. As night fell, candles and lanterns were lit, giving the sand a warm glow. Then we sat down to dinner with two couples from London and Switzerland, and we traded stories of shopping in Marrakech and camel riding. Apparently they had a much more difficult time of the latter than we did. After dinner, a campfire was lit, and everyone gathered around. The Moroccans sang and played drums with water barrels and clapped, and we joined them. There seemed to be “us”, the locals and ourselves, and “them”, the other European tourists. One by one, the other guests retired, and we stayed out by the dying fire, talking with the Moroccans about America, names, and the desert.

Finally the fire was nothing but embers, and we went to bed ourselves, and enjoyed each other in the pitch black of the tent, in the silence of the Sahara. At one point in the middle of the night, we got up and were rewarded by a moonlit desert, with Orion high in the sky. We saw many shooting stars, and even a satellite. It was so wonderfully magical.

What a great way to spend Halloween.

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An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through photography and writing, found at The Pocket Explorer. He is also managing editor for Rolf Potts' Vagabonding, where he curates a Case Study series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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