Marruecos, Part 3

Waking up for the sunrise was not as difficult as I imagined it to be, considering the lack of sleep the night before. Don’t get me wrong, I slept fine, and the only parts of me that were truly cold were my feet, but I already knew that we were going to be going to bed after midnight and waking up around 5 am. Later I found out that the reason I felt so well-rested was because all 89 of us collectively slept past our 5 am wake-up call and only started rousing ourselves from the tents at about 6. It was fairly light already by the time I got up, but I wanted to climb the sand dune to see the sun actually rise from the top.

I gravely underestimated the difficulty of climbing up the sand dune. We were told that it would take about 40 minutes to climb to the top, but perhaps they meant that it would take 40 minutes if you had been training on a very slippery StairMaster for the previous 5 years. I got about a quarter of the way up and sat down in defeat. Every so often, after I had rested a bit, I would think to myself, hell, I’m never going to be in the Sahara again, I have to make the most of this! and I would get up and walk a few more steps before sitting down again. My sunrise pictures are therefore not as impressive as those taken by the people who actually made it to the top, or those (extremely smart) people who discarded entirely the idea of a sand dune hike and just walked out from behind the trees down at oasis level. It was still a great experience though.

After walking back down the quarter of the hill, pouring all the sand out of my shoes, and wrapping myself in a blanket and drinking tea (you guys, SO COLD), we were mostly all ready to get back on the camels and trek to the hotel where we would be eating breakfast and lunch. I say mostly because Monday was the day that travel and strange food and bacteria started catching up with people, and there were at least 4 people who were very ill. Unfortunately, unless you wanted to walk across the desert on foot, there was really no other way out except camels. I felt so bad for those who had been throwing up the night before and then had to get on a very wobbly beast of burden for 2 hours . . . but everyone made it in one piece, and I didn’t hear any “vomiting from the back of a camel” stories, so I’ll assume that we all made it as healthily as possible as well.

Yep, I did say 2 hours. It really wasn’t very far, maybe about 2 km, but camels are very slow, and 89 camels are even slower. Also, by the time we got to the hotel, we were all unbearably sore. I felt bad for the guys most of all, but just because you are female doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt! I checked afterwards and I had actual bruises on my thighs. I still would have done the whole thing over again, if only for the ability to say “I have ridden a camel”, and also to get the chance to hear the ridiculous noises that camels make. Seriously, they sound like when you have a water cooler that spontaneously decides to release some air, and bubbles come up in the tank . . . but a million times louder and for a longer time.

The afternoon at the hotel was one of the few periods of unplanned time we had on the trip, and we all made the most of it. Many people took naps in the sun, and everyone made use of the showers by the pool. Only 3 people were brave enough to actually jump in the pool. Later in the day, we all walked over to the nearby village to look around, learn something about village life in the Sahara, and go shopping. This town was the real deal; the only touristy thing about it was the shop where we all bought rugs and things. Our Sahara guide told us a little about the town and a lot about the educational system in Morocco (I guess that is what happens when you have a group of students and teachers asking the questions!) In Morocco, school is mandatory for 3 years: from 1st grade to 3rd grade. After that, if students want to continue, they can go to an upper school until the end of high school, and then continue to university. The issue is that even though public education is free, it is often cost-prohibitive for students to continue their schooling. For example, the town we visited had a primary school, but no secondary school, so students wanting to continue in school would have to travel to another town. This takes not only time, but money for whatever mode of transport is used to take them there and back. Plus, the economic situation is difficult (to say the least) in rural areas, so many families would also be losing someone to bring in money if they had their kids continue in school. The guide warned us that we would run into many children trying to sell us things on the street, and that some of these kids had dropped out of even the mandatory schooling so that they could begin to earn money. I really think the pictures I took tell most of the story because the town wasn’t prettied up for visitors . . . it was legitimately how people lived there.

We walked around the town for a little and then we went to a tourist shop to buy things. They were not pushy at all (one salesman even said, “We don’t pressure you like those Arabs in the West, that is not part of the Berber culture.” Very interesting!) but the rug salesman, after explaining about the different kinds of rugs and how they are made, did mention that buying from them would help support a local craftsman or woman. I mean, sheesh, how can you feel good about bargaining after that? I did attempt to bargain over a platter that I fell in love with, but I’m pretty sure I stink at bargaining, because the original price was 600 dirham and by the end of the conversation it was 550 dirham. Most everyone else who bought things was able to bargain much more effectively.

After doing some shopping, we walked back to the hotel to get back in the Jeeps and head to the hotel where we would be staying. The original plan was to stay at the desert hotel, but they were booked solid (or at least didn’t have enough room for a group of 89), so we had to stay at the hotel from the night before. When we arrived, it was dark and the musicians from the night before were on the roof playing the drums and horns (a fellow traveler later reminded me of the word vuvuzela, which I am going to now say is the name of the instrument they were playing). We had dinner at that hotel, which was all kinds of awesome, and then spent the rest of the evening hanging out in the bar and tea salon, and having a dance party in a little lounge next to the reception area. There was a DJ and everything. I got to sing a song in Chinese and I actually did dance. Towards the end of the evening, I was starting to feel overwhelmed by people and noise, and the whole waking up at 6 am and eating strange food was starting to weigh on me, so I called it a night at about midnight and went up to our hotel room.

This is where I discovered that, only 2.5 days into our vacation, I had already managed to lose something. I went through my entire suitcase, but I was unable to find my pajama pants, or my pack of medication. It was funny because I kept remembering my Aunt Julie’s advice while travelling: “Don’t worry, if you forget something, this is America and you can buy another one!” Well, there I was in a situation where it WASN’T America and I COULDN’T buy another one! OK, the pajama pants maybe I could, but the medication was birth control and I was fairly sure I would not be able to find such in Morocco. But I mean, what are you gonna do? Just shrug, put on a pair of shorts instead, and go to sleep because it is now approaching 1 am, that’s what.

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