Sunday, May 04, 2008
I keep referring to our trip as a trip to Marrakech, but in fact, we only were in Marrakech because of the airport the remainder our time was spent making our way to the desert and back. We were picked up by a 25 year old Berber named Hassan in a Toyota 4x4and we drove and drove and drove. 18 hours in 2 days to the Sahara desert. It was incredible. We went through the high Atlas Mountains, Tizi-n-Tichka, through Ouartzazate, El Kelaa M’Gouna, Gorges of the Dades Tinerhir, Gorges du Tondra, Erfound, Rissani and finally off-road to the edge of the Sahara. We got out of the 4x4 and on to the 8x8. It’s a Berber joke that was repeated by every Berber we met. The 8x8 is a camel. One would think that if you were about to get on a 1,500 lbs of exotic pot-roast you would be given a little instruction- not so. The information our guide gave was less than helpful for instance, I don’t know how to tell a camel to ‘stop’ but I do know that Celine Dion is a musical genius. Is it ok to shrill like an African woman or will that cause the camels to stampede? Do camels stampede? I don’t know- what I do know is that Celine Dion is a musical genius- that’s what I have learned in the Sahara.
The desert and the dunes are breathtaking and yet when the camel in front of you craps you are drawn to it like a magnet. The camel is a large beast, six feet high, ten feet long and yet their poop are the size of marbles and the marbles roll down the dunes gathering at the valleys where they are met by thousands of other little marbles. Beautiful dunes, covered in countless shadows cast by the small ripples in the golden sand surround me. Bright blue skies, light wind, a lone Berber walks into the desert miles away and yet I’m drawn to the marbles. I blame MTV for my fascination with watching crap go downhill.
Everywhere I go I am met by New Zealanders. They are everywhere- like a pandemic. In the Sahara Desert, under a Berber tent I shared a meal with, yes, you guessed it, a New Zealand couple. They introduce themselves but I immediately forget their names as I am thinking only of myself and suspiciously eyeing the butter that sits on the table. Who eats butter in the desert? Is dairy safe in 100-degree temperatures? I would ask our guide but I’m not interested in knowing that Celine Dion was nicknamed “Vampire Queen” in highschool. The Kiwis are an older couple- hardy. They don’t sleep in the Berber tent they’ve reserved but under the stars, I like them immediately. I name drop my New Zealand writer friend and the title of his award-winning book. They’ve never heard of him or the book. It occurs to me I’ve never actually seen this book he claims to have written. New Zealanders are like butter in the desert- refreshing? Sure. Delightful? You bet. Suspect? Definitely.
The 14 tents set up in a figure 8 define the living area. The entrances to the tents are on the inside of the courtyard. The courtyard itself is covered in rugs, a low table is in front of each side along with a mattress to sit on or sleep under the stars. We reserved one of the larger tents for the 5 of us. A young Greek couple wandered into the compound and asked the Berbers if they could send the night. For a little cash they were given one of the outdoor mattresses. At one point the Greek guy walked into our tent to have a look around. “Something we can help you with?” We query. While we might all be pretending to be communal nomads for the night we will kill you if you try to steal our sleeping space. “You have a lot of room in that tent.” The Greek says and waits for us to respond to his non-question question. “Very observant, Zorba- there are five of us- now back the fig away.” They guys girlfriend made some disparaging remark about Americans and she smirks at us through supper. Later that evening she kept the compound awake with her vomiting- beware of butter in the desert and my evil-eye, I’m not kidding.