As Toubkal faded away amongst the rest of the Atlas mountains, we sadly made our way back to marrakech, as it lay between us and the Sahara. We didn’t stay long, we made sure of that, walking from the city until we dropped half dead in the shade of some trees. Trees, in such places and for such people like us, are priceless. If not for trees on the sides of the road, hitchhiking in temperatures hovering near 40C would be… Unpleasant.
We got a lift after about six hours, as I dozed in the shade and Adam stared like a zombie at traffic. We spent the night not so far down the road, in a town which probably wouldn’t even be on the map. We slept in some sort of orchard, as worryingly big ants inspected us invaders and a few Moroccans drove suspiciously slow around the general area of our position. But we were too tired for all that to bother us.
Before sunrise we packed up and hit the road, as shepherds took their hordes of sheep through where we were sleeping not an hour before. There we waited, for four or five hours until our savior stopped. A man named Aziz who would take us about 400km to the edge for the Sahara. Zagora.
The climate went from arid 38C, over the foothills of the Atlas mountains, and down into the expansive and barren rocky land of the desert. The temperature rose to about 48C by the time we passed Ouarzazate and headed out to what seemed like the ends of the Earth. Our driver played some of the best music we’ve heard in morocco on his stereo as we drove, the same tracks repeating overland over again. The heat, the music, the rolling jagged rock formations around us… It was hypnotising.
As we drove into the almost completely empty city, it felt like something from an old western. Sand blew across the streets (with the garbage, of course), and almost every shop shuttered. Aziz wished us luck, and there we were, hiding in the shade of a mosque, breathing in Saharan air.
Only a few places were open, and of course the one that was open was a camel tourism business… Which we didn’t realise at the time. Of course they told us to come sit inside and wait for places to open later in the day. We did, and it didn’t take long for them to try and sell us a tour. That went on for hours.
We had a contact on couch surfing, so we phoned him up. He came almost immediately, and one of his first questions was if we were interested in a tour. Great. When he found out we didn’t have so much money, he became cold, jerkishly telling us we could only stay one night, and then going off with his friends for the rest of the evening. The next day we did end up taking one of these… Tours. We had to. We were in the desert. Camels.. Yea.
Oh what a tour. A camel ride a couple of hours away from town, into an area we could have sworn had its sand trucked in. “Welcome to the desert,” the man said. Ah yes, the desert. Beautiful place, surrounded by the distant towers of old factories and the nearby remains of some building with its purpose forgotten.
The only authentic thing about this tour were the guides themselves. Most were from the big desert, born and raised, more or less forced to the bigger towns for work. The one I talked to, Hassan, had a bit of a melancholic look in his eyes. He hated how the Camels were treated, and sat watching the hills in the distance with a sort of longing when his job for the night was finished… After myself and Adam had a mediocre dinner and horrible tea, we did the same. Lying on these ‘dunes’ while listening to the wind and the distant laughter of tourists had a serenity to it. We laughed at how people took this for genuine, at how this was a perfect way for our Moroccan trip to culminate into, and how almost every day was some strange and bizarre adventure. In its own way, we loved it.
The next day we rode our sad camels back into town, and we decided to bus right the hell out of this place. As I may have stated sometime previous, I try to never bus or train… But this was the edge of it all, during Ramadan. We got a bus to Casablanca and bid farewell to this place.
The bus ride… Imagine a fuller than full bus of hungry dehydrated people in almost 50C temperatures slowly making its way through the desert. It was interesting, and we simply watched people shouting and arguing, sometimes pushing each other. As night came, a calm set about most people, and when we stopped for everyone to break fast everyone sat and ate more than humanely. It was like a Sunday dinner with the family. We felt a bit silly, devouring our melon like we hadn’t eaten or drank anything.
Casablanca. We arrived in the morning, and left later that morning, hitching north along the coast. Past strangely rich and American-seeming neighbourhoods, we were picked up by some well off kids on their way home from their first ever camping trip. They were fascinated by us, wanting every detail of how we travelled. They gave us more food than we knew what to do with, and drove us to a beach to sleep on. I must say, I found in fascinating to look into the life of people who lived in a world very unlike mine. I loved how that divide didn’t matter in the slightest when it came to getting along.
Rabat. City jumping, whew. I think the best things about that city were scurrying about an old factory on the edge of town, the extremely awesomely cheap bakery we fell in love with in the medina, and the cool and rare down to earth Moroccan guy we couch surfed with. But it was a city, and not so interesting to this man. Onwards!
I’m going to cut this post here. I’m writing this as I sit in Lisbon, Portugal! I’ve got to try catching up a bit better. Trying to cut out stuff I don’t need to write… But it’s all the little things that weave this adventure together into what it is, dammit!