Part 5 of the Morocco backpacking series: Backpacking through Morocco
Day 5: To the desert
Camel ride split: 1000 Dh
Breakfast split: 34 Dh
Kasbah pass split: 10 Dh
Lunch split: 216 Dh
Sound for this post
This is the dinner conversation that I recorded as we all slouched around the tent high, tired and well fed. Listening to this ambient background noise at home has become a way of relaxing for me. For some reason, it reminds me of happier times. A memory of the more adventurous me. I suggest letting it play while you read the rest of the post.
Same road, different journey
By now, mingling with everyone at the places we stay for the night has become second nature to me. We joined Balarz for a brief time and convinced him to join us in our desert excursion. Balarz is a Hungarian who is taking classes in a university in Yemen, an arab country. He owns an AK-47 assault rifle like everybody else there and is on a Hashish trail pilgrimage in Morocco.
Since he speaks Arabic, he can more or less communicate with Moroccans on an equal footing, so he didn’t get the taunt and art peddler’s attention as much as Mark did. He did still get the “You want Hashih?” from everyone else. According to him. The Hashih in Morocco are cheaper and purer than other places. $20 (USD) for 100 g.
We were supposed to embark on a minibus in the morning, but we forgot to ask where we were supposed to meet. All along, we had assumed that we were to meet at the agency where we signed up, but no. The whole mall was locked down at the time of meeting. Long story short, we ran around Mark and I towards different places. Woke the hotel owner, boarded the wrong bus and finally got picked up by somebody off the street. He said to us “Do you need help?” and we immediately armed our defenses against another false guide or someone trying to rip us off.
To the guy’s credit, he actually brought us to the right person and the agency has a bus waiting to round up all the stragglers like us who had no clue how their world functions. It seems to me that once you have a contract with a local Moroccan, everyone will honor that and help in the success of the deal. This is when I started doubting my initial assessment of Moroccan business practices.
Balarz was super cool about it. He just sat down and had a coffee, not even worrying aboutÂ losing the money he already paid. Making us feel like money pinchers.
What traveling is about
Andreia is a strong willed PortugueseÂ call center manager celebrating a bachelorette party with her girlfriends. We bonded during the bus ride between cities while Mark and I acted as the communication hub between the different races.Â I find it amazing how everyone speaks multiple languages, but not the same ones all the time.
Joanna is a Master’s student in fashion currently studying in Barcelona, a kind soul who’s feelings and good intentions flowed freely from her pretty face. She came along with Andreia. The two of them were initially distant from the rest of the group, but once the common language is worked out, they warmed up pretty well (At least to Mark and I). If my memory serves me correctly, we had to speak French to Andreia and English to Joanna.
Mohammad, is our bus driver. A hard working 60 something Moroccan whom we entrusted our lives with on this trip. I say “entrust” because of the expert driving techniques he demonstrated while speeding through the winding mountainous roads of High Atlas (Wiki). He is a good man, the character of which can be sensed through his humbling demeanor. I talked with him quite a bit, at least, that’s what I thought until he finally mentioned in a apologizing manner that he had a lot of trouble understanding my French. That’s when Mark took over as the main FrenchÂ communicator for the trip.Â I doubt many people have heard French with Asian accents before and just like me when I first landed in Morocco, it will take them at least a few day to get used to the new accent.
Sight seeing and the trip through the High Atlas
For others making the same trip, be advised to wear something warm. Yes, your departing city probably has palm trees and is surrounded by sand, but crossing the high atlas means temperatures will be low enough to freeze water. Don’t make the mistake of wearing a T shirt and shorts.
The drive through the mountain is breathtakingly different. Red volcanic rocks with scant vegetation gives you an uninterrupted view of the steepness of the incline. From the top of each mountain, you can always look down directly to the green valley below where the water flows and supports life. If you fall, there really isn’t anything to stop you, adding some excitement of danger.
We stopped by one of the Casbah. The castles built in the old time to defend against invader. (Gladiator shot a scene in this Casbah). I guess, the will pictures speak of its beauty better than I can.
Mohammad dropped us off at a few designated stops. Mostly his “friends” shops and restaurants. Some are purely for a fair exchange of money and merchandise, but others made me think deep about what he’s trying to show
us. Because I don’t see any profit being made on these stops and it is these ones that has no clear profit motivations that disturbed me the most.
In the Casbah, I saw kids peddling wares when they should be in school getting an education. I was born in a 3rd world country, but even at my homeland, everyone had at least an education. These people will never know the possibilities that’s out there and their worlds will probably not expand beyond this Casbah. That lack of access to hope and a future of opened doors humbled me and made me realize how priviledged I am.
Joanna cried after learning why the policeman ordered her to stop giving the children chocolate cookies. We were at an observation deck overlooking a rocky valley while a swarm of kids is walking back home from school. Mohammad explained to us quietly. “If you give them the cookies everyone will swarm you and you will be injured in the process, because it is not fair to give only to a selected few in their culture. It is unjust.” But by then, the crowd already saw the cookies and were getting out of hand. You can feel their anger and need. Some shouts angry words because we are demeaning them, some begging for food because they wanted the cookies.
Luckily for everyone, an outstanding kid who seem to command respect amongst the crowd stood forward and demanded in his language that she hands him the whole pack. You can tell the voice of authority from his tone and I believe Joanna felt it too because she ended up trusting him with all the cookies. He then proceeded to distribute the cookies to those whom him deems in need. The rest shouted in anger as we turn our backs and escapes back to the bus while they were distracted. That young leader will grow up to be somebody one day. I wish him well.
Le Dromedaire (Or Camel, Dramedary)
There was a time of doubt when we finally got to the tents. Memory of street performers demanding money from us still fresh in our mind. These nomadic Moroccans are very nice and friendly as opposed to their counterparts in the city. The unnerving feeling where one of them is going to ask us all 200 Dh each after a great musical performance slowly faded away as the night dragged on into complete darkness. All they ended up asking for in return, was a simple exchange of music from each of our countries. I feel particularly inadequate when they asked for Canada because I don’t know any and Mark weren’t much help.
Once everyone got a few puff of hashish, the defense went down. By now, we have all loosened our defenses and are finally able to enjoy a care free good time with Morocco people. Abdi, the clan leader, is a short, solid and well educated man who can tell a joke using limited French and gestures. He was a “to the point” type of guy with the same essence of humor. His son is part of the clan and studies in the city during the week, they are a fairly proud and independent clan that does this as a sidejob to add some niceties to their life. I think partly because of their openenss and partly because nobody has asked me for money for a whole day, I finally began to relax and just slipped in and out of conversation with people.
This outing into the dessert along with Andreia, Joanna, Alexandre and Balarge is probably the best so far.
Of course, I couldn’t sleep at night. The experience is too new and adrenaline is still coursing through my veins. I got out of our tent in the middle of the night to enjoy the Arabian stars. Sand dunes lit with star lights guided me. With no lights from civilization around, I dared not wander too far. I chose a spot and sat down. It was then that I noticed. When there’s no wind, the only sound I can hear was the beat of my hear. It’s the first time in my life that I have experienced such quietness.