We are on an 8-hour train making its way east in north Africa. We got up early to take the 6:45 from Marrakesh to Fez. Usually on these long trips, I upload and sort through photos for the blog and write, so that I don’t have to do it once we get to our destination. This morning however, it’s only two hours in and my eyes are already shooting daggers at Anthony’s head. He’s supposed to be helping me blog, but instead handed me his GoPro with 3,200 photos on it from our 3-day trip through the Atlas mountains to the Sahara desert. When I uploaded his collection, my fully-charged laptop was drained by half. This is not the kind of train with power outlets. Sorting through photos and deleting the tons of crap pictures (THERE ARE 3200 PHOTOS) cost another 35% of battery and years off my life. My laptop is now dead for the remaining 6 hours of our journey and I will have to do the work later tonight. And this is him right now:
This is me:
We arrived back to our lovely hotel in Marrakesh last night after driving all day, and we were sweating like pigs and smelled like camels. We’d spent three days in the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara, logged mucho hours on a camel’s back and camped out in the desert in a Berber tent, surrounded by stars and sand dunes. We met some super cool people and saw gorgeous sights. And we also had our first crap experience of the trip.
We left Marrakesh bright and early Monday morning. Similar to what we did in the Bolivian salt flats, we were going with a group to Merzouga, in the Sahara, for 3 days, 2 nights. This group was bigger, 13 in all. We stayed in the mountains the first night. They were beautiful, but more than anything I was fascinated by the people: a mix of Berber and arab, nomads and half-nomads and those who lived in the cities. Also fascinating – Ksar of Ait Ben-Haddou, a UNESCO world heritage site where a ton of movies have been shot, like Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator, and also GAME OF THRONES. GAME OF THRONES WAS SHOT RIGHT WHERE I STOOD. I totally fan-girl’d out and while the guide was rattling off boring names like Jewel of the Nile and Alexander and The Bible, I impatiently cut in: “But — you said GAME OF THRONES was shot here right?? Where exactly HERE when was it can you show me the spot and do you know what season and scene?” He knew nothing and was useless to me. I IMBD’d that mishugas and found out it was used in season 3, when Daenerys goes to Yunkai with her followers. I started to yell out BRING ME MY DRAGONS but no one else spoke english and they probably would have thought I was having a seizure.
That night in the mountains the hotel was less than stellar. There was no curtain on the shower and Anthony walked in to see me chasing the shower head around the floor while it flew in every direction, as there was nowhere to hang it. The bathroom was flooded until we left the next AM. I’m certain there were bedbugs (it just seemed like an obvious) so we wrapped ourselves up in our brand new sleep sacks until all you could see were our eyes (when in Morocco) and watched a movie on the laptop til we fell asleep. We looked ridiculous. The next day we headed for the Sahara. We stopped into a Berber village on the way and I almost bought a carpet, but I was threatened with bodily harm if I made us (him) carry one more thing (I bought a lot in Marrakesh). But honestly. He’s going to wish later we had that rug. We arrived in the desert around 4pm, hopped on camels (one hump) and rode two hours to camp. It. Was. Beautiful. Sand dunes as far as the eye could see. I know, no shit, it’s a desert, but I’ve never seen such uninterrupted powdery soft beach-like sand in a desert — no trees, no rocks, no cactus, just sand and rolling dunes and the occasional plant. Abdul, our guide and driver, made me a headscarf and I completely Sahara’d out. As we were in Berber territory, the guides called me Berber woman and I may just change my name to that when we get back. I understand now why they wear this head wrap. When the wind blows the sand is so fine that it gets into everywhere, and your eyes and mouth and nose are the first to suffer. Shoes came off as soon as we got to camp and thank you God and Allah because it was so hot. Berbers walk barefoot in the desert much of the time, so we followed suit, and it was amazing running up and down the dunes like that. Like being on a beach that never ends. Night fell and we had our communal dinner, as in we all ate out of one couscous pot and one tagine, desert-style, with mint tea for dessert. That’s when we realized that aside from stars and sand, there were also scorpions and the gnarliest-looking spiders I’ve ever seen: about the size of my hand, sea green with what looked like smooth skin and long thick pointy legs. I knew the desert, especially this one, would mean these things crawling around. That wasn’t the issue. What I didn’t know ahead of time is that inside our tents, our beds would be on the floor. As in a thin mattress, or sleep mat, plopped on the ground with heavy wool blankets over them for both padding and warmth. And a perfect place for these animals to crawl. We slept 5 to a tent, and two out of the 6 tents had real beds, as in mattresses up on legs. Another group was there for the night as well, and I was so busy taking pictures of the camels when we arrived that by the time we walked into the circle of tents, those cherished beds were gone and we were stuck with the floor. One girl in our tent was getting ready for bed when a scorpion crawled on her. She knocked it off but was freaking out, especially as she’d seen another one earlier in the tent. And as you are now in the middle of the desert, there’s no hotel to run to in the middle of the night. The guides quickly took away our dinner tables and made a bed for her on top of them in another tent. A few of us decided there is no way we were sleeping on the floor and we would either stay up til sunrise or sleep on some other wobbly-looking tables we found, but those didn’t look promising. One by one people started to drift off to bed, and our small staunch group was soon left with just the camp guides. Abdul our driver had stayed at the hotel, lucky bastard, and we had two guys who were here solely for us at the campsite. Which would have been fine except that one was completely and utterly trashed. Drunk. Shitfaced. A group of travelers in 4x4s had come by earlier with a ton of beer and alcohol to sell to the camp. Like much of Morocco, the black market is the only way to buy alcohol in the area. Some campers bought beer — it was warm so we stayed away — and gave our guide a bottle of whiskey. He had finished the bottle in front of us and was now a belligerent mess. Loud and obnoxious and just an ass, to us, to the other guests, to the other guide, who had gone to bed but woke up a few times to tell him to settle down, to no avail. Two German girls from the other group had real beds and offered to share them with us if we helped pull them out of the tents — bugs can crawl up the sides of tents and onto beds so outside in the middle of camp is your best bet if you’re worried. SOLD. Anthony didn’t want to leave one of our new friends alone without a bed so side-by-side they slept in chairs (ass in one, feet up on another). All the while the guide was carrying on until finally, mercifully, he passed out. At that point it was midnight-something and we had five hours to go til sunrise. I don’t think any of us slept. The wind was constant and chilly because it’s cold in the desert at night (the tents on the other hand were warm). Drunkie kept waking up to giggle to himself like a school girl. And all the while we still knew the little creatures were out there. At one point however I had a revelation. Earlier in the night it had been cloudy and there were no stars. I looked up in the middle of the night, from my bed I was sharing with two german girls whose names I never learned (I feel like that’s someone out there’s fantasy), with my husband and our new Moroccan friend sleeping next to us in folding chairs and two Berbers sleeping around us on the floor, and I saw stars. Lots of stars. It had cleared up briefly and I took stock of where I was and what we were doing and what we’d learned and who we’d met in the past 48 hours, and it was nice. Really super nice. It gave me hope that this may not be the worst thing ever. The next day we rode the camels back to our van and breakfast, and the drunk was there asking for tips — he didn’t get any from us — and I realized that yes, this was officially the worst thing ever. We are lucky it took until three months in to experience something not-so-great on our trip and that it’s something as small as a guy getting drunk and being obnoxious. The bugs were just part of the deal. And we are super lucky that we met some awesome people along the way. I was really sad to bid everyone adieu last night. The desert was beautiful and breathtaking and I’d tell anyone to go. I completely want to do it again, just with a different company next time. And in the future I think I’ll smuggle in a bottle of wine for myself.