“Midnight at the Oasis” – this song by Maria Muldaur rang true to me, for there I was smack dab in the Sahara on a camel. I thought I wouldn’t be riding a camel because, as I said in another post, I’ve done that, so why spend the money to do it again? Well this was different.
There are many opportunities to take tours, go with guides through the city, take a hop-on hop-off bus, and I have done all of those. But when the manager of the hotel presented me with a package that included a Moroccan dinner, breakfast, entertainment and the opportunity to sleep in a tent in the Sahara; oh, and there would be a camel ride, I signed up.
So yesterday at 7 a.m. I met a van that took me to the old medina (city), where I got into a different van of English speakers. Another van were French speakers.
In our van were two young doctors, a man who will begin work in the parliament in Wales, two German girls on a break from tourism school – a school located within walking distance from where we lived in Den Haag, Holland. There was a computer genius, a city planner, a retired engineer from Boston, originally from China, two Americans and another couple and a single woman traveler. The one American – a fireman, told me he had come to the country directly from New Jersey, working 60 hours a week in the flood and fires. His home town, Sea Isla City, New Jersey was in the eye of the storm.
“I’m happy to get away from there and do something different.” He was visiting his girl friend who is in school for the summer in Spain.
So we got on the long, long road to the Sahara, passing mud-brick houses, walls of various brick and stone, villages with women in their long robes and head scarves, men in their robes and head gear made of scarf material and wrapped in such a way it becomes a hat. I was told the different ways of wearing a hat comes from the tribe they are from.
We wound around and up the mountain seeing pine trees, palm and rock mountains. Women in the isolated villages walked with packages on their heads. Little boys controlled donkeys that carried loads on their backs. Women who lived near a river washed their clothing and laid it out on rocks.
Village homes and buildings are made from the source near them. Human beings are brilliant and show amazing efforts to create beauty and practical at the same time. I’m not only talking about the likes of the impressive Colon Cathedral, but the stone work and the creative way the terrain is used in more primitive life.
Our driver would stop every so often for bathroom breaks, and drinks. We also stopped for lunch on the first day and the second day, as well.
Then we stopped at the Ait Benhaddon Berber village, where the last of the Berber families live. It was at this village that the movies, “The Gladiator, “Prince of Persia”, “Jewel of the Nile,” “Kingdom of Heaven.” “The Four Feathers”, “Samson and Delilah Legionnaire” and “Lawrence of Arabia,” were made.
Our guide was an extra in many of the movies, as were many of the villagers. He said in one picture he was clearly seen. He is a handsome, movie star looking guy, and it wouldn’t surprise me that he would be noticed by movie moguls.
I had a difficult time maneuvering up the high steps in the village, but there was always someone who took my hand and helped me. I’m ever so grateful for their help. At one point, the movie star led up over a stream of water on rock stepping stones. I looked at them and just knew I couldn’t get from one to another, as they were too far apart for me. He turned, saw me and headed back over the stones, gingerly took my hand and with great strength in his arms, he led me to the other side. He walked over the stones with purpose and confidence.
A bit later we arrived at a place where the camels were waiting with their handlers, who also assisted during the night and the next day. This is where the surprise came for me; and for the reason the Boston man said I didn’t do my homework. He was right.
I kept asking if we would take all of our belongs or leave them in the van? No one answered, and I assumed we’d take a little ride and that would be the end of the camel experience and then we would go where ever the tents were set up.
Not so. “Just climb over the camel, slowly,” the handler said. I couldn’t get my leg over the saddle. My knees don’t work like they used to, and this was evidence I would need help. He picked up my foot and put it over the saddle to the other side. I sat up, and the camel got first on its knees, its hind legs, then its head jutted up and I bounced.
Now we were all ready for the little trip with the camels, but boy, was I ever not prepared for what happened next. Everyone got on a camel and they were tied camel-to-camel in a line. Actually, there were two lines of camels and we set off down the road. The little ride I thought would happened turned into a two hours night ride through the desert, by starlight.
“I didn’t know we were going on a long ride like this. I left my bag and everything inside of it; my medicine and toothbrush, and everything.” I had my purse and my camera with me, as those are always within my watchful eye.
It seems the group knew it would be a ride to the tents. but they, too, didn’t realize it would be that long.
Well, I managed, with help to get off the camel, alone and immediately fell into deep sand that, I found out the next day, was covered with camel poop. the computer guy came to my side, took my hand and got me over to the community tent.
One of the handlers, a charismatic fellow sat down after we all had tea and asked where we were from and then our names. He spoke good English and French, as well. French is frequently spoken here.
Then he brought out the dinner in pottery bowls with pointed-top covers. First course was a soup, and the second was a stew with lots of vegetables.
The last bowl was cut-up oranges.
After dinner we sat around a fire and the handlers entertained us with their percussion instruments and a song once in awhile. They got everyone to play an instrument, too.
By that time I was exhausted. So I found the tent where I would sleep and climbed under a heavy blanket that felt more like a rug. Two other people came in a bit later. The tent was pitch black inside. At one point I needed to use the rest room and had to feel my way to my shoes, walk carefully to the door. The walls were tent-walls and couldn’t be used as a guide. I found my way to the restroom and back. I simply sat near the mat on the floor and crawled under the blankets.
We got a wake up call at six in the morning to watch the sunrise, and then had breakfast of bread and some kind of thick white butter that I thought was cream cheese, and a syrup-like jelly, and coffee or tea. The handler poured the drinks from a distance.
We walked around and noticed that our camels were protesting that they were going for another ride. The sounds began like a ‘moo’ and ended in a high growl. We knew our muscles and bones would get another work-out, but we all assumed it wouldn’t last as long. It did.
Once on the way back one of the guides saw that a date picker was at work, so he picked some up for us and gave each person a freshly picked date. Delicious.
About two hours later we were back where we started the next day. I’m back in Marrakech now and I’m sore everywhere, but happy for the eventful day in the Sahara, where we found our oasis.