Today was our last morning in Fes. Bye, bye Fes. We are going to take a tour around a lot of Morocco and ultimately end up in Marrakesh, where we will spend our last days before heading off to Italy. My heart was racing as we packed. I was so excited! We were going to see many villages around Morocco and experience a lot of the native culture. We would see mixes of Berber and Arabic ways of life. We would go to gorges and take hikes through gardens! We would ride camels through the Sahara, and eat Moroccan food. The whole tour would last 4 whole days. Almost half of our time on the tour (not counting sleeping), would be driving.
I’m going to begin with the bad news. I was sick. I was getting better but expected to have some trouble on this ride. I was the only one sick (so far), and I had diarrhea. I was very feverish, and going to the bathroom was a nightmare. I also had frequent stomach aches (roiling tummy). But at least I wasn’t throwing up (yet).
So we started our day (me a little groggy and with a roiling tummy). We hefted our packs and we set out the door. The only thing that was on my mind was about me being sick relative to the tour. Until now, Moroccan toilets had not been different. All the toilets I had visited had been out of the ground with toilet seats, like any toilet in Seattle. But I knew that in other parts of Morocco, toilets are holes in the ground that you crouch over and do your business. Half the time there is no toilet paper. Me in my sick status would have to take trips to the bathroom very often, and sometimes it would involve crouching by the side of the road, behind a rock or a bush. So I was equipped with toilet paper in my pocket as we crawled into the car. We met our guide, Mohammed, and learned that in Islamic culture firstborns are given a special name. If you are a male firstborn, then you name is Muhammad or something similar (like our guide and after the Islamic prophet). If you are a female firstborn, then your name is Fatima (Muhammad the Prophet’s daughter’s name). He was very happy to see us, and gave us the itinerary for the day. So we set out.
Our first stop was the cedar forest, the largest cedar reserve in all of Morocco. On the way there I had to stop like 3 times to go to the bathroom, and had diarrhea each time. Not fun. The funnest thing that most people would see in the cedar grove were the monkeys. At the cedar reserve there were macaque monkeys. We saw a couple cross the road in front of us. They walked across the road in that monkey-sort of walk they do. But usually there are way more of them. But today we only saw like 3. What a bummer. But what I secretly wanted to do was get to the camel ride. Luckily all there was in between me and the camel rides that day was 5 hours of driving. The cedar forest was still amazing. Swathes and swathes of forest stretched for tens of miles. Some other day we were going to visit a gorge that had literally 6,000 hectares of palm trees. That was another thing I was looking forward to on the tour. There were so many things I was looking forward to on the tour.
After many bathroom stops including lunch, we finally could see the edge of the Sahara. Wisps of sand here and there, but where we were, the ground was very much rocky. There is the main part of the Sahara, but on the edge of that they kind of come in clumps. Some of those clumps were big, others small. We were never actually going to go into the main body of the Sahara, but into one of those clumps. The body of sand was still technically part of the Sahara, and it was called Erg Chebbi. We stopped in the very outskirts of the city Merzouga, which is pretty much right on the edge of Erg Chebbi. The dunes of Erg Chebbi are much smaller than those of the Sahara, and this time of year no sand is gusting into your faces. It would not be wise to build a city in the middle of the Sahara, because at any time a sandstorm could rise up and swallow your city. The dunes were very hot during the day, and very cold at night, so we made sure to pack warm clothes for when we slept.
We drove across the long stretch right to the edge of Erg Chebbi. Guess what were waiting for us? Camels! We parked the car right next to the start of the dunes and next to a hotel. We were actually staying the night in the dunes, in tents, but we would have some tea at the hotel before we left.
This was probably the first time in my whole life that I had seen a camel with my own eyes. They sat there, chewing cud (that’s when they move their jaw in large, sweeping motions, like dramatically chewing their dinners). We had some mint tea (a traditional Moroccan snack), and walked to our camels. The camels were all charged up, and ready to go. We all mounted our camels (including Pilar. Can you imagine a 75-year old woman riding a camel?) The camel would be sitting down on all fours, and then, when they were patted on the back by our camel guide, another firstborn, Muhammad, their back legs, and only their back legs, would stand up. it was a jolting feeling, and then the camels would have their front legs on the ground and their back legs standing up. Then they would stand up completely and you would be towering over everybody else, on the literal back of a camel.
We started our bumpy ride on the camels, as we jolted back and forth on their backs. It was especially bumpy while we were going down hills. We had an hour of riding camels ahead of us, so we had to do something to pass the time. We could just marvel at the fact that we were riding camels. We could watch the camels ahead of us. We would just look at the camel in front of us, and tell other people when their camel was going to the bathroom. It was fun to just admire the camels, even though they were very rough with us at times. Each camel was tied to the one in front of it. You could watch their feet beautifully plodding across the sand, with their feet like big, smooth, snowshoes. They would swish their tails and snort their noses. Before this I thought of camels as big, clumsy, hulking animals. Now I look at them and appreciate that they are actually majestic creatures. I loved the experience of riding camels. I would love to do that again!
We passed over dune over dune over dune, horizon after horizon until we arrived at the camp. We had the same rough time getting down from the camels as getting on them, except in reverse. The camp was made of tents, and the sun had already set. While it was setting, the clouds lit up with the sky, and filled the sky with the most wonderful feeling. We were served a wonderful Moroccan dinner, and we (or the sick people), went to sleep. Moroccan foods are delicious, and I would like to mention some of them.
A lot of traditional Moroccan foods include:
Breakfast: Bread with jam and other condiments, yogurt, orange juice, coffee, and the classical mint tea
Dinner: cous-cous, tajine (cooked meat and vegetables)
Dessert: Fruit, bread with honey treats
We would wake up tomorrow and realize that we were in the Sahara! I couldn’t believe it! A while ago going to the Sahara was just a dream, a fantasy. But I couldn’t believe my eyes!
Below: Moroccan Landscape on our drive
Below: The Camel Ride
Below: Saharan Sunset
Below: Our camp in the desert