Saturday, March 17, 2007

Morocco day 8, sands of the Sahara

I am back in Marrakesh madness after spending 3 days crossing the High Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert. I travelled in a large mini van with 14 others from a mosaic of countries including a Chinese American university student who rode camels in the desert wearing a pin striped casual blazer. We explored many valleys and towns on our way to the Sahara and stayed the first night in the Frozen Hotel high up in the High Atlas. I slept soundly but coldly to the sounds of a winter rushing river. We are being well fed with traditional Moroccan fare which means Couscous or Tajines. Dessert is invariably oranges: We managed to get a mini beer donated to our cause and had the pleasure of half a mini-beer before bed at the Frozen Hotel.

Up the second day we continued across the mountains again exploring Berber kasbahs, ancient mudbrick villages and thoroughly modern towns: Unfortunately the bus trip is not the best for photo ops as I have watched with despair as numerous Kodak moments have passed me by.

We left the highway at the edge of the Sahara and crossed overland to an oasis beside some huge orange coloured dunes. A camel train was waiting for us and we were quickly mounted up for our one hour camel trek to our Sahara Hilton tent accommodations. We all had heavy loads especially since our driver had taken us to the local bootleg store where we loaded up with beer and other refreshments.

The camel trek was probably one of the high moments of my life that I will always remember with pleasure despite the extreme pain that some of us endured as we cheek rubbed with the camels high spine. Done properly there is a ring of blankets placed around the Camels hump so that you ride above the backbone instead of on it. A Berber blanket is then placed on top of the ring to create a platform for the widely spread-eagled rider. An incorrectly placed blanket quickly results in suffering as described above: My cheeks still cringe in memory as memories are revisited with these words.

Despite some serious pain issues we arrived at the Berber camp, a set of blanket constructed tents sitting in a valley of huge sand dunes. We had left the oasis at dusk and arrived at the camp under a vast night canopy of stars. Our shared tent accommodations were quickly sorted out and we were instructed to take a walk while food was being prepared. As the only direction to walk was straight up the neighbouring dune, we did as we were told. The climb was a killer. Imagine going up a sleep incline in soft shifting sand. Half an hour later, and after many rests, 8 of the original 15 summited the crest of the dune. What a sight for miles around. We laid on our backs and were swallowed by the incredible blackness and light of the night sky. After the traditional group photos we yahooed our way at high speed down the side of the dune to the camp.

We were then ushered into the communal tent were we formed a large circle and became one with our hosts