Our recent trip to Morocco was actually the tail end, and culmination, of the month-long celebration of Eric's 50th birthday. I think we did it proud!
It was a our first visit to Morocco (and my first time to Africa). We landed in Marrakech, a city of disorderly chaos, "faux guides" (fake guides willing if not imposing help for money where the "help" is not always so helpful), souks (markets), old Riads, scooters and pollution. Don't ever make a sudden move left or right while walking on the street, or risk creating a multi-scooter collision!
In the hands of a personal travel guide and a Toyota 4X4, we headed south, crossing 2 mountain ranges along the way (the Atlas and a sub-range called the Anti-Atlas). It took two days to get to our destination in the Sahara desert, given our leisurely lunches, breakfasts, tea breaks, and stops for photos or tourist shops. It was on this part of the trip that we bought our six ceramic mini-tagines....which was almost immediately regrettable due to the obvious pampering they would then require....
Anyway, we got to the Sahara where, unbelievably, it was raining. It only rains there 3 days out of each year...and we couldn't believe our bad luck as we drove in it that day with no foreseeable break in the weather. Someone even suggested maybe we should stay in a hotel instead of camping. I wonder who would've suggested that. Then, at the end of the day, almost in a sudden gesture, the clouds broke free, and we saw a patch of blue sky and a ray of sunshine. Immediately the truck came to a halt and we experienced our first sunset in the desert. It even came with its very own rainbow. Suddenly, we felt extremely lucky. Isn't it often the case when something negative turns into something absolutely positive...
We arrived at camp and met the three guides who would be with us the next six nights of our excursion in the northern Sahara desert. Picture in your mind tents & sleeping bags & a roll of toilet paper! Actually, we camped a total of six nights, but at different locations each night...meaning we hiked distances of 9-12 miles, even 18 miles one day, to get from one site to the next. Here's where the dromadaires (camels) come into the picture! All five of them! This could not have been possible without these amazing animals. I've never seen a camel before, up close and personal....maybe at a zoo, but not so close I could look it straight in the eye, and pet it behind its ear and feed it some shrubs or arugula (yes, amazingly, we walked through a green patch of wild arugula plants...which tasted just like arugula, only kicked up into high gear!). Back to the camels - I didn't realize how amazingly beautiful their eyelashes are! Really long. We even had a younger, black camel, who seemed to be in his teen-age years if you know what I mean....sometimes a bit fiesty, not wanting to "do as he was told", and definitely wanting to be on his own! All in all, quite the possee.
Our camels were the one-hump kind (called dromadaire in french, or dromadary in english), as opposed to a two-hump camel (called chameau in french or bactrian in english). I had to look up the english names.....after being asked several times what's the name for a two-hump camel? I'm thinking to myself, isn't "two-hump camel" good enough? And, no, it wasn't quite satisfying enough to the french-speaking crowd. I couldn't exactly google it then & there....it would have to wait. But it certainly reminded me how very precise the french language is and how very precisely it is practiced!
It's pretty obvious by now that I enjoyed being with the camels. Ours were well-groomed even. I heard it from a very good source that sometimes they can be a bit smelly...and luckily ours were not! Did you see how they sit on their legs? Really incredible. I'll get back to that a bit later.
We were navigated through the desert by the expertise of our guides, but our guides did much more than simply navigate our group of four. Mohammid, Said and Zaid also unloaded camels, set up camp, and prepared each meal, got the campfire going, and shared their local music and culture with us. Always with enthusiasm and a genuine smile on their face...even after hiking all day (which left us wanting to recuperate just a little!).
Each day before leaving for our hike, we were fitted with white turbans to protect our faces from the sun. They worked like a charm. Also helped deal with the perpetual "bad hair day" problem. It was inevitable, you know. Bad hair. However, with these magic turbans, no problem! (They also work for unruly whiskers! j.k. !)
Each day we walked with the rhythm of the camels, a rather brisk pace at that, surprisingly. And if the pace got to be too fast or too much, the camels were there to offer a ride. My first time on one was a little frightening, I will admit. Anyone who has ever ridden a camel before knows how jolting it can be to get on or off....To get off a camel, for example, their big, long legs simply seem to collapse suddenly underneath them, front-end first and then back-end. Boom, boom. You feel like you're going to go flying over his head! Then you feel like you're going to be ejected out the back way. It makes for a somewhat rocky descent! All part of the adventure.
We had several memorable moments on this trip and I can't begin to describe them all. I will share this though, our last night at camp in the desert....it ended with a surprise dessert. A birthday cake! It was a huge surprise. The hearing-impaired brother of Said carried it from the nearest town, 1 hour away, by foot. Can you believe it? One hour away by foot. He also brought a few friends along. At first, we thought they were simply performing some sort of berbère (local) song and dance. In almost complete darkness, they approached the campfire in a single file line. The sheepskin drum, empty bidon (plastic container), and hand-clapping were making the rhythm, and loud but happy sounding guttural sounds were making the tribal songs. Then we saw someone carrying something with candles. It turned out to be a sheet cake!! They brought it over to the birthday boy and & birthday girl (Eric's sister also had a birthday recently). Their names were iced on the cake. It was deeply touching. Here's a video, although admittedly, it's not great quality but it's better than nothing, right?
The surprise birthday cake was actually a really great-tasting cake! After a week of local dessert, consisting exclusively of fresh mandarin oranges (at both lunch and dinner), this vanilla sponge cake tasted like heaven!! (as good as the mandarins were...). Who would ever have thought it could be possible to have a delicious western style cake in the desert....certainly not me. It was Eric's cousin, with several of these trips under her belt, who made the suggestion....and it was our new berbères friends who made it happen. Amazing, isn't it?
I'll leave you with a few other pictures of our trip.
Words that come to mind when I think of Morocco:
spirit, good will & natural beauty - mountains, palm trees, desert sand, herds of grazing goats and sheep, tagines, couscous...and so much more. It was a humbling experience, and an enriching one. And a great inspiration all around.
I don't think this trip would suit everyone, but if you're interested, I can share the details. And let me know if you'd like to join us on the next one we take!
p.s our six tagines made it home safe & sound. Couscous, anyone?