We hopped on a plane crossing the Mediterranean to spend a weekend in Morocco. I found something called an “eco-tour,” which was sold as a tour of the Moroccan country side on camels, and who doesn’t want to do that?
What they failed to mention was that much of the traveling would be done in a van that took you to specific stops where the travel company got kickbacks from the restaurants and merchants. Oh, and there was only one CD to listen to for the entire nine hours we were in the van, which was rotationally hilarious and mind-numbingly grating, as you can only listen to songs you don’t know or particularly like so many times, and the roads were shitty so the thing skipped constantly.
The countryside was lovely, though. Immediately outside of Marrakesh, plastic bags blanketed much of hilly surroundings, but beyond that were large swaths of farmland on both sides of rivers that bisected otherwise barren desert. We finally stopped at a small oasis hotel that seemed largely unoccupied, but the walls were covered in such ornate designs that having people there would’ve ruined it for me. Our camels met us there, and a couple Berbers (a nomadic tribe in Northern Africa) led our group off into the desert.
We got to the encampment just after nightfall, and they had dinner waiting for us in the large dining tent. It was lit with gas lamps and candles, beautiful, richly colored rugs lined the floors, walls, and ceilings, and a small band of kittens roamed the interior. We spoke loudly in combinations of English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Farsi, Berber, and pantomime. We pulled from large baskets of bread, brass serving dishes with vegetables and meats, and trays of fruits and vegetables, and drank tea to fuel and lubricate the conversation.
When dinner was over, they took us over to the fire they built to play the drums and dance and sing under the Sahara sky. My lady and I slipped away and wandered over a couple dunes for some privacy. It was romantic, but sandy, so it didn’t last long, and we rejoined the group.
As the night wound down, most of the eco-tourists made their way to their tents. The Chief of the tribe and I were fast friends, and he took me to see where he would be sleeping. They all slept on the dunes overlooking the camels so they could watch over them at night (and also so that the shit didn’t roll downhill onto you at some point while you slept). He pointed firmly to one of the night guards sleeping on and under a collection of rugs and said essentially, “You sleep here!” It was an enticing offer – the nomadic lifestyle makes for some fit looking men, but, “I think I’d prefer to sleep with my fiance.”
After some clarification, I understood that he just wanted me to do as they did, so I grabbed my lady and a collection of carpets and we set up under the most beautiful set of stars I have ever seen. I woke up with my face coated in a fine sand, but who the hell cares? What an awesome night. I had my friend write the word for “nomad” in Berber, which literally translated to “feeler of the road.” It is presently tattooed on my right leg (I did not get the tattoo in Africa because… well…). We said goodbye to our new companions and after a short 9 hour van ride (he clearly had not had time to get a new CD), we were back in Marrakesh.
The streets of the city were teeming with stray cats and stray children that would insistently offer assistance in finding your way to your hostel, then curse at you in English and Arabic when you refused to pay them for their unwanted services. The marketplace was alive at night – stalls filled with camel leather products (all cured in camel dung – a smell that does not come out quickly) and vibrant sacks of spices were manned by a group equally as insistent as their children. We wanted alcohol, which was illegal for locals to buy, so we followed a guy down some dark, winding alleyways until we got to one restaurant owner who would sell us hugely overpriced bottles of wine.
We drank them in the comfort of our hostel, chatting with people from all over the world next to a white marble pool, which was a remnant of better times for this establishment. The plane ride back to metropolitan life was short and welcome, though I’d be happy to hang out with those Berbers again any day.