Saturday, August 15, 2009

Morocco II: The Desert Strikes Back

Hey gang! Its me, Brooke!

I'm flying out of Ouarzazate in a VW Golf, on the way to Merzouga, to sleep in the desert.

Let's revisit Agadir, shall we? We spent the majority of our second day at the beach, frolicking in the water, playing with my waterproof camera- and even though its no Canon, it seems to do its job pretty well. Once we were sufficiently crispy, and after Taha and Ryan had played a game of Sport- not actually what its called... Basically tennis with no net, just 2 paddles and a ball- over Meagan and my heads, we went out for lunch. We had 2 giant chicken tagines- chicken and vegetables and broth all cooked in a clay dish and eaten with bread- and a smaller meat tagine and cokes and fruit and somehow it ended up costing us nothing. Turns out there is such a thing as a free lunch! We obviously didn't ask any questions, and its probably for the best.

While we were waiting for Haitam's car to get themselves organized, we were stopped next to a cart of snacks and beach toys. Ryan commented how he wanted the inflatable Spiderman hammer hanging there. Next thing we knew we were up one squeaky superhero hammer. And what an excellent purchase it was! We don't have to worry about people dozing off in the car anymore! And we've told off a few cops too. (don't worry, they don't know it... We just hammer a seat everytime we pass a cop... Its a more subtle form of rebellion).

We ended up leaving Agadir around 630 or 7 pm, once we'd stocked up on water and a forty and essential roadtrip snacks like cookies and gum, for the 6ish hour ride to Ouarzazate. At 830, we were in the flats leading up to the mountains, the sun had all but set, and it was 40 degrees out. With no sun!! We all stuck our hands out the window just to make sure the thermo wasn't lying. It spoke the truth all right!

Once we hit the mountains, it was dark, and the sky was partly cloudy, and the moon was nearly full. The roads are second only to the road to Darjeeling- hairpin turns, ups and downs, 1.5 cars wide... Oh, except unlike India, there were trucks flying along these roads, always coming at us, we didn't pass a single truck going our way. It was a very exciting drive! I think in the day it would be scenic- in a raw, harsh way.

Our hotel had a pool. So, despite the fact that it was well after midnight and we were all exhausted and unshowered, we swam. Because the pool was there.

Since we'd gotten there so late, we decided to spend a second night in Ouarzazate. And wouldn'tcha know it, there was no room at the inn for us for a second night. But another place had space, so we relocated.

Our big adventure yesterday was to Atlas studios; where parts of Gladiator, Alexander the Great, the Passion of the Christ, the Mummy Returns and the Kingdom of Heaven were filmed. Our guide had been an extra in a lot of these movies, and his friend was in Babel, in a couple scenes with Brad Pitt. It was all pretty cool- being able to walk out of ancient Egypt into Israel and Rome. However it did also strike me as wasteful. One facade of a temple took 2 months to build and was in just 3 minutes of film. I mean, I know it provides jobs, but then it just sits there.

Meagan, AJ, Ryan and I spent the afternoon doing various activities; blogging, napping, journalling, swimming, getting bus tickets... I went for a walk around our neighbourhood. By early evening, we were all sitting down by the pool, reading and checking emails and stuff like that. We were also rather peckish. So we ordered dinner. And after what felt like 3 hours, dinner was served. We inhaled 3 tagines, soup and dessert. We said goodbye to Ryan- he left for Marrakech early this morning- and passed out.

10 hours later we were woken up by the phone ringing. I answered and was met by a wall of Arabic. After a sleepy and confused 'sorry?' on my part, I got a 'breakfast' on the other end. Enough said.

So far the scenery is a lot like that of New Mexico and Arizona; dry, rocky, mountains in the not too far distance. A lot of the villages/ towns we've been through are like those in the movie Babel.

We made it to Merzouga with only one minor incident; after hitting a dip, our cars may or may not have taken off, and we may or may not have bottomed out. No big deal. Then we were passing road signs warning that there may be sand dunes on the road, and the Sahara was before us. When we got to where we were going to be starting our desert adventure, the thermometre read a toasty 47 degrees.

Since we'd gotten to Merzouga early, we had to wait for it to cool down a little. So we ate. And waited out a sandstorm.

After it had dropped a couple of degrees, and the sun was setting, we each got a ruzza- a head scarf/wrap, and climbed onto our camels. Pretty soon into the hour and a half ride, the desert lashed out at us, hitting is with a sandstorm from the right, then the left, and rain from all directions. All I can say is that those ruzza were a godsend! Sand stings like a billion little pins on any exposed flesh.

We got to the oasis where we were spending the night covered in sand, and nicely exfoliated. We sat outside for a while, but it was so windy that we decided it would make more sense to eat inside the tent. But first we walked over to see where the guides make dinner. And the desert struck again. On the walk back to our tent- probably 60 metres- AJ got bitten or stung by a something. Of course it was dark, so we had no idea what it was. But since it wasn't a creeping pain and it wasn't super swollen or anything, he decided to wait to see the doctor in the morning.

Dinner was delicious. We had a chicken tagine, and Taha said that we were hungry enough that any food would have been amazing, but I still thought it was really good! After dinner (during which it rained...) we went back outside and stared at the partly cloudy sky and listened to drums. Just before bed, Taha, Haitam, Meagan and I climbed this uber-dune behind our camp. Under the nearly-full moon, you could see the edge of the dunes, and the lights of Algeria. It was amazing. Then we ran down the dune, because that's the best part of dunes.

We decided to sleep outside, under the stars. I eventually fell asleep, and later, I woke up and I was soaked and cold. Being half-asleep, I figured it was sweat, rolled over, wrapped myself in my ruzza and went back to sleep. Turns out it was rain, not sweat, which makes a lot more sense. So we were in the desert for 12 hours and it rained 3 times. As one final blow, it was cloudy in the morning, so no watching the sunrise for us. Thanks desert! Despite all that the desert threw at us, I had a really good time, and would definitely go back. My camel, Mick, was lovely (as camels go), and it really is a beautiful place.

We were on our way to Ifrane by mid-morning, and spent most of the day in the car, trying to stay awake after a night of next-to-no sleep in the desert. We made it into the mountains, to Ifrane by evening. Morocco reminds me a lot of the south-western US. Deserty with some moutains and canyons and rocks. Its really quite pretty if you like those kinds of qualities- which fortunately, I do.
Ifrane is beautiful. And cool. It was probably only 20 degrees when we pulled in. And there are trees everywhere. And hills and creeks and Jess, you would really like it. It feels like a little mountain town, like Canmore or Darjeeling: more relaxed- which is tough to do in Morocco, the whole country is pretty relaxed. In a big way.
We spent the evening napping and trying to get most of the desert sand off of everything we own, then went for dinner and a wee stroll. By this point we were all beyond exhausted, and hit the hay. Hard.

Taha's university, Al-Akhawayn- the Two Brothers- is in Ifrane, and the next day we went for a tour. And boy, is it nice! They've got an Olympic-size swimming pool, and it all feels like its own little town. I was very impressed!

Our last big adventure of the roadtrip was horseback riding in Ifrane. We parked the car across from the creek, got out, crossed the street, and literally as we stepped up off the road, we were surrounded by boys and horses. Instant craziness. We were being pulled by the boys one way, and nudged the other way by horses, until we were all in a tiny little bait ball. We did eventually each pick a horse and climb on.

And then the boy belonging to my horse started hitting it with a stuck to make it go faster. And no one else was moving. So my horse and I took off and once we were out of range of the boys, we stopped and waited for my friends. We rode for an hour, stopping at a waterfall for a picture at the halfway point. We pretty much all lived in fear of the boys, and everytime the horses heard their boy getting closer they would speed up. In the end though, my boy and I made peace, he tucked my foot back into the stirrup and we played a game of 'can you reach the branch'. Obviously, being on a horse, I won.

And then the final leg began. I adore roadtrips. I do not like the last stretch. It means the adventure is ending. Mind you, as last legs go, this one wasn't bad. We stopped for gas and ended up with a meal's-worth of snacks (including a couple magnum bars, and some chicken and thyme flavoured lays chips-so good!) and sat around snacking and laughing about everything we'd done and been through. There's nothing like a 'messed up' night in the desert, or a squeaky spiderman hammer, or a terrible but catchy song to bring people together. At least, that's been my experience.

Despite our little feast at the gas station, when we arrived in Tangier, we all agreed it was time for Amigos- Wonderful sandwiches with fries inside. And after stuffing ourselves, we rolled home to Taha's, to bed.

And so began our last full day in Morocco. A day of chores- passport photos, headphones, laundry, lunch- and hanging out with friends, old and new. And next thing we knew it was our last morning in Morocco. And that was this morning.

I'm currently sitting on the very nicely polished floor of the Stuttgart airport in Germany, next to the plug, telling you about the end of our time in Morocco.

This morning was a packing morning. And by packing, I really mean battling. Fighting for all we're worth to get everything back into our bags. Which, I'll have you know, we managed to do quite successfully, thank you very much! Before we knew it, it was time to head to the airport; a time we'd all been dreading. As we were leaving Taha's, Ryan and Laila called to say goodbye from Marrakech, and send their love. Then it was really real. We were leaving. On the way to the airport we picked up Imane, Taha's girlfriend, and then, after what felt like 30 seconds, we were at the airport, saying goodbye. And it was not easy, it never is with boat people, I think because we're so scattered around, you really have no idea when you'll see each other again. That, and they're family, and saying goodbye to family is never easy.

And so, after 2 flights, and a few hours of reflection- we flew Tangier to Madrid, Madrid to Stuttgart- let's try to summarize nearly 3 weeks of wonderfulness. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that I love Morocco. The food is endless and incredible, the country is beautiful and most importantly, the people are among the most friendly, open, welcoming, sincere people I've ever met. You'd be hard-pressed at home to get three of your friends into a wedding where they know no one, or to get a ruzza- I guess the home equivalent would be a toque- given to you because you're a friend of a family friend. And I'm by no means trying to knock the people at home, its just a refreshing change, that's all. Did I have a favourite place in Morocco? Yes and no. No, in that I don't have a least favourite place, I haven't got a ranked list or anything. Yes, in that Tangier with Youssef and Taha felt like home, and in that I really liked Marrakech, despite the heat, and in that even though the Sahara tried to beat us down, we still managed to laugh about it all- even if it took some of us longer than others to get to that point-, and in that when asked where he lived, Ryan replied 'in Taha's car'- and some of those drives are among my favourite memories of Morocco. Would I go back? The only question is when, not would I; I'll be back. As long as there are friends to visit, I'll be back.

For those of you who are wondering, Stuttgart is a pretty sweet airport. Granted, its after midnight, so there's nothing actually open... But there are model planes everywhere, and there are seats with no armrests, which means we can sleep, and there's no one here. We've got a 10 hour layover until our flight to Luxor tomorrow morning- technically later today I guess. I pretty much expect Egypt to be more or less chaos all the time. Our plan is to be up early, out until mid-morning, hide indoors for most of the day then set back out as the sun sets, because apparently it gets so hot that your shoes can melt to the sidewalk. And I'm not buying another pair of shoes!

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