Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nomads of the Sahara

Our room of six in the hostel woke up very slow moving and quite hungover. We were up by 5:30 am to check out and meet our tour guides from Your Morocco Tour by 6:00 am. We walked out through the alleys to the streets, where twice as many buses were lined up as expected, and we approached another “half” of our group that we were not expecting. Apparently word got out about the trip that a girl named Kamrin scheduled, and the company allowed another 35 people to sign up without notifying Kamrin. This doubled our group size, making the amount of stops we made on the way to the Sahara much higher, and each stop took twice the time to allow everyone to use the restroom. Anyway, we piled into our 15-person buses, and I fell asleep quickly.
Next thing I know, our bus is being tossed back and forth around winding turns, everyone is on the edge of their seats with nail marks in their palms. Our driver was going at exceptionally high speeds around corners in the Atlas Mountains that were not guarded with rails. It was terrifying. We were whizzing through tiny mud-hut berber villages caked into the mountain sides, which was very cool, but hard to catch too much detail of as we passed them by so quickly. In one case, there was a group of about 7 children below the age of 10 and they stood and waved to us, and it melted my heart.
The villages were dilapidated and beautiful at the same time. Along the roads edge, every village included shops and attempts at making money off of tourists. We stopped at 8 am for Pringles and water, and other than bathroom stops, did not get off the bus to stretch or eat until 3 pm. Our guides kept telling us, “Just one more hour, just one more hour” when this was absolutely not the case and ultimately left many people feeling taken advantage of.
All of our tensions eased up quite a bit once we had food in our bellies. We were served a pre-paid meal of “Moroccan salad,” tajine chicken and some bizarre yellow melon fruit. A tajine is something of a small Moroccan stove (look it up on Google). After we left, the bus driver played wonderful Arabic music from CDs and the radio, and when that died down several people on the bus played music from their iPods with speakers they brought. It was good fun, and a great way to start bonding with new people on my trip.
We drove through the areas of Morocco where Babel was filmed, in addition to Prince of Persia and Gladiator, until we finally arrived in the Sahara. Many students had picked up wine on the way in, but I decided against it. We made our way through a resort after the sun had set, and out the back through some desert sand until we reached a large group of camels sitting down and several nomad guides. They took us in groups of 4 or 6 to their camels, and got us situated on them.
The camels stood up in a domino-like fashion, and you could hear one person yelp after the next as the alarming, jolting, swaying lift of the camel happened below them. We began on our way, and the desert sky opened up for us. It was painted with so many stars that we could see the Milky Way. I don’t think I’d seen that many stars since my dad and I went to Idyllwild with my Indian Princesses group when I was small(er). There was a shooting star every few minutes, and Stephanie in front of me told me about her new life philosophy: that even if everything seems hectic, sad, problematic, or anything of the negative sort – the best approach is to spin it to the grand perspective of life and take in every moment of it. Everything contributes to life one way or another, but if you can shine a light on it, life gets to be quite a bit easier. I think this is something I am going to try to adopt more and more as my journey continues.
After 2 hours, we finally arrived at Mezouga, the name of the nomad camp where we would stay in the desert. Our legs wobbled upon our descent from the camels as the trek was incredibly destructive to the inner thigh area. The guide of my camel train, Muhammad, told me that I would accompany him into the dunes after dinner. I politely said no, and went to find my friends. We walked through an arch into the lantern-lit camp, to find an area encircled by tents made from branches and blankets. The center of the camp was open, and had blankets all along the floor to keep sand from getting on everything (though of course, this is unavoidable in the desert). My 3 friends from my camel train and I claimed a tent, and went to join the rest of our group at the long and low tables that had been set up in the camp’s center. The chairs were low to the ground, and surprisingly we were sitting at tables adorned with silverware, plates and glasses. We were all served Morocco’s signature mint-sugar tea, and dinner came soon thereafter. First it was another Moroccan salad. Then, a tajine that carried something like a stew made of “Fox of the Desert” (?) and vegetables. The desert meat was gamey and chewey, and I’m not really sure what it was. We happily ate, and my new friends drank up their wine.
After dinner, the tables were cleared and the nomad men of the camp sat down in a circle. They each had African drums, and began to play some beats for us as we all sat down before them in awe. Soon enough, our group started to hop up and dance, and the nomad men jumped in as the drumming continued. It was so much fun, and nothing like I’ve ever experienced. Through the language barriers between our English and their Arabic-Berber dialects, this music brought everyone together, laughing and dancing under the stars in the Sahara. It was an incredible feeling.
It was my mom’s birthday, so my friend Erin and I stepped out into the sand away from the camp and said a prayer. We talked a bit about her and it was good to have memories in what Erin referred to as “the biggest beach in the world.” Erin goes to Ohio State, and I’m lucky that I get to take such a loving person home with me.
The evening ended soon after this, and I made some new friends who stayed up and chatted with me for about another hour. We spotted some ungodly large bugs scampering through the camp’s center, which drove me to sleep in my very hot sleeping bag even in the heat of the desert just to make sure they wouldn’t crawl between my toes.
All in all, even though 12 hours were spent in the bus, the camels were so cute and ugly at the same time and very fun to ride, the sky was brilliant, the nomad camp friendly and inviting and the entire experience worthwhile. Some interesting points to make are the lack of women we saw in the camps or among our guides, and the sad aspect of us not getting to interact with the people of the villages we drove through. All in all though, Morocco is a beautiful place full of desert and personality, and this day was definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far.

1 comment:

  1. Amanda,
    Loving the blog!! Sounds like you're having a blast. Riding camels?! I love it!!

    We miss you!!