With the insanely low airfares around Europe, we decided to take a side trip to Morocco for a week. We packed ultra light, carrying only one backpack each. Unfortunately for us, Morocco had an unusual cold snap; so, we ended up being very cold most of the time.
Morocco is by far the most exotic place that we have visited. What we first noticed was that all of the buildings are red. The streets in the old part of the city are all narrow, one lane cobblestone and have pedestrians, horse-and-buggies, motorcycles, donkey-carts, bicycles, and vendors crowding them day and night. They are arranged like a maze with three-story buildings on both sides with no sidewalks. The main square is even more full of activity than the streets. There are rows and rows of artisans selling their wares along with street performers including snake charmers with cobras, singers and dancers, and monkeys dressed in tutus. Vendors can be desperately persistent and would follow us for uncomfortable distances trying to get us to buy something. Just after I had given the kids a talk about not taking anything that is handed to them, a woman in a burka approached us wanting to give us henna tattoos. Before any of us knew what was happening, Audrey’s hand was covered in a beautiful, but unwanted, tattoo. And then, the woman was on Oliver (thinking he was a girl because of his long hair). As I was trying to push her hand away from Oliver, she just scribbled the design all the more fast on his hand. When she was finished, she told us that we could pay whatever we thought it was worth. She ended up thinking it was worth more than we did and things got a little unpleasant. From then on, we all walked around with our hands in our pockets!
The highlight of our trip was a 3 day venture to the Sahara Desert that included taking a camel caravan into the desert for a night of camping. We had a couple of interesting stops before getting to the desert. Our first stop was to visit an old kasbah. You have seen it even though you don’t know it. Many movies have been filmed there including Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones, Babel, the Bible, and Gladiator. Our guide was born there and is a horse handler. So, he has actually been an extra in several of the movies. The Kasbah is very old and does not have electricity or running water; but, people still live there.
We also stopped at a traditional Berber Kasbah and learned all about how they make Berber carpets: from shearing sheep and hand made yarn to using natural dyes and wooden looms.
When we arrived in the Sahara Desert, camels were saddled and waiting for us. I had no idea what camels sound like. They make sort of a groan or heavy sigh that sounds like air forcefully billowing out of something very big. They also make a noise that sounds like water suddenly going down a drain after a clog has been removed. Getting on a camel is interesting in itself. Its hind legs go up first, so you end up facing straight toward the ground until it brings its front legs up. Our four camels were linked together by a rope. A man dressed in a robe and turban led us into the desert.
We all wore turbans presumably to keep the sun and sand out of our hair and faces; but we really did it because it was so much fun. Oliver worked long and hard and can now whip up a turban like a pro. Wrapping a turban turned out to be quite useful as I ended up sleeping in one for the rest of our trip to help keep me warm.
We camped in permanent Berber tents (tents made out of Berber carpets). The handmade carpets are so durable, strong, and tight that no wind could penetrate the tent. While in Morocco, our best (and warmest) night’s rest was in that tent. As soon as we arrived at the camp, we took off to hike up the tallest sand dune in Morocco and watched the sun setting. Afterwards, we enjoyed mint tea by a campfire and then had a traditional Moroccan tagine dinner. After dinner, we enjoyed traditional Berber music and singing by the campfire. The singing inspired others to sing traditional songs from their homeland. It was simply magical!
The Sahara is unbelievably beautiful! The red sand-dunes go on forever. But, what I will remember most happened when I was all alone. I got up in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature. The moon was what I call “an eye-lash moon” with only a sliver visible. But, oh the stars! I have never seen anything like it! Nothing I can think of even comes close. The sky looked like someone had spilled sugar on a swath of black velvet. The stars alone were bright enough to light my way. It seemed like a full moon was out even though there really wasn’t much in the way of a moon at all.
The next morning, we got to see the sun rise over the Sahara while we were riding camels back from our night of camping. It was very, very cold. But, it was also splendid!