Written by Yixian
We stayed in a quaint hotel in the small town of Hassi Labied at the edge of the Sahara desert, which was close to the bigger town of Merzouga where most tourists stay. This is going to sound ridiculously obvious, but we were not prepared for the heat. It was >40 degrees celsius / ~110++fh, but felt far far worse. I cannot describe the heat in polite language except we felt roasted like rotisserie chickens Camel ridin' .
We spent the morning and afternoon huddling up in a tiny corner of our room which was slightly cooler thanks to shoddy air conditioning, but discovered that we were still sweating in that corner. Later we took a 10min walk in the mid day sun, which felt more arduous than a 5km run. Worth mentioning that it's Ramadan now, and all of morocco shuts down in the late morning till the evening. Basically everyone is on siesta because they can't eat or drink water and are wilting in the heat. Walking around the empty town without a soul in sight felt like being in one of those zombie movies, where the protagonist explores the empty town before the zombies come out.
Quick side note, almost everyone in morocco has a Berber heritage. Like most nomadic cultures, they've very warm to foreigners. A tenant of Berber hospitality seems to be serving you mint tea, before stuffing you silly with carbs, namely bread and potatoes. It's one thing to read about such hospitality, another to be the recipient. One can see how this has helped morocco become a backpacker haven.
In the evening, we ventured out into the Saharan desert on our camel tour. We went to a part of the Sahara called Erg Chebbi, which is a large sea of sand dunes formed by wind-blown sand. Dorothy and I each got camels and were led by a 65 year old guide named Mohammad.
The camel is an incredibly interesting, albeit awkward creature. Everything about them, from their flexible long necks, how they sway when they walk, or how they kneel down like cats when they sit, is exotic Tangine dinner in Berber tent . You can't help but admire how evolution molded such a well adapted creature. They're also photogenic creatures too. Riding one is not so pleasant though. They're a lot wider than a horse, so you have to splay your legs out a bit in the "saddle". Ascending and descending sand dunes on a camel is strange experience. I would describe ascending as imagine someone doing a stair master on your butt. Descending feels a bit like a roller roaster ride. In addition we'd read, and heard from other travelers, about the dreaded after-effects from a camel ride. Basically your butt hurts for days after one. Somehow Dorothy and I emerged unscathed from our experience. Asian butts 2, camel 0. I guess generations of our ancestors squatting around rice paddies have blessed us with superior butts... On another note, we joked about what the camels must think when they see a 300lb tourist coming their way to hop onto them!
While plodding along to the Berber tent camp we were staying for the night, Mohammad heard the call announcing the break of fasting for the day, and dropped down to start eating. Between gulps of food, he told us it was 15hrs since he last ate or drank. We were pretty ashamed that we had enlisted the services of a starving man as old as our fathers to guide us around the desert for 25euros each.
After we got to the tent, he made us some tea and spoke to us Camel toe . Like most Moroccans, Mohammad didn't speak English so we communicated using a mixture of French, sign language and a lot of interpretation. Also similar to most Moroccans, Mohammad cheered up a lot after he broke fast. He promptly assigned Dorothy the affectionate name of "fatima" and started referring to her as such. Later Dorothy asked him to give me a Moroccan name too. I suggested Mohammad, which was flatly refused with a "you, , no Mohammad" (womp womp). After some thought, I was christened Ibrahim.
Conversing with Mohammad was tough to say the least. Regardless of the language barrier, we had a ton of respect for him. He's the same age as my father, yet still hikes 8-12km daily in the desert to entertain tourists. Mohammad's sons run the show in the hotel, responding to emails and tending to guests. Mohammad continues to do the more arduous job of berber'ing tourists around the desert.
We expected to spend a romantic night in the desert admiring stars. Mother nature intervened and gave us clouds and a full moon. To add insult to injury, it rained a bit too. We couldn't believe our shoddy luck for getting rained on in one of the driest places on earth. It was really windy too, which made sleeping hard since we ended up inhaling a fair bit of sand Camel shadows . At sunrise we hiked up one of dunes barefoot and saw that our little Berber camp was surrounded by 10 other Berber camps built for tourists. It belatedly dawned on us that Berbers in the area had moved into more comfortable accommodations decades ago and these tents were only built to service crazy tourists who want to live the "Berber" life.
We rode our camels back to our hotel and started a long journey Marrakech. Traveling was complicated by Ramadan. At one point, I was trying to buy a bus ticket, but everyone in the bus station was passed out in their ramadan siesta. The ticket attendant was nowhere to be seen too. Took me about an hour to track him down. At nightfall, we began our 13hr bus ride to Marrakech...
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