When traveling the people you meet form a part of the trip as much as the trip itself, for the desert excursion tour nothing could have been more true.
Day one of the desert tour consisted of 12 hours of traveling, we left Marrakech at 8 in the morning and didn’t arrive to the hotel where we spent the first night until 8pm. The morning started at 6:15 with everyone in the dorm waking, getting ready to head off to their desert excursion meeting points that they had already booked. As I ate breakfast in the lobby I talked with others who had just gotten back from an excursion and more who were leaving for one. Another girl from the US had also booked the tour through the hostel so when it became time to get dropped off at the pick up location we waited while the others got into different vans. Eventually, the hostel guy who didn’t speak English pointed us to a van and with blind faith that they knew what they were doing and somehow kept track of things we put our bags in, joined those who were already in, and waited for the rest. The group, the people I would spend the next 48 continuous hours with consisted of a girl from the US, Siena, who I sat next to; 2 Canadians from French Quebec who throughout the trip seemed to always find a way to delay us; 4 Germans (2 couples); three Moroccan friends who live in Canada: one with a three and a half year old and one who was a savor (Ahmed) and ended up being a facilitator, translator and co-guide; one South Korean (Candy), who I ended up seeing last week because she was traveling around Andalucía; two Argentinian siblings and two friends from California, Ryan and Kevin who joined us after lunch on the first day and who I’d coincidently be with until the end of my trip.
Last but not least in any way, the bus driver, who unbeknownst to him brought the rest of us together and made it a very interesting trip. It started when he stopped to get gas and after asking if he could open the door so we could use the bathroom. When we came back Ahmed had a confused look on his face saying I don’t know what is wrong with him. He was talking about the bus driver and apparently he didn’t want anyone leaving, we were only allowed out if he opened the door to allow us out. Ahmed also asked if he could at least know when we were stopping so he could tell the rest of us and the driver said no, when we stop we stop and the door will open.
The second incident happened after the second stop, all of a sudden he pulled over on to the side of the road, one of the Moroccan ladies was yelling, he was yelling and the door was open. With the rest of us having no idea what was happening Ahmed explained to us that she had asked him to put the AC on and he said no. Prior to booking the trip they specifically asked if there was AC and they were told yes of course it was necessary. So for 20 minutes we were stopped on the side of the road, neither of them speaking, their pride causing the rest of us to suffer. All I could think was that this was going to be a loooooong journey, we had only just begun and we were all in it together. Eventually the door closed, we started moving and the AC was put on. Apparently the driver couldn’t put the AC on because the incline of the road was too great, the engine had to work to hard and if the AC was on it could have blew, however he didn’t explain this when she asked, he just only said no.
The third incident, happened after our stop at Ait Ben Haddou. Ait Ben Haddou is a 700 year old Berber settlement located on the edge of the High Atlas Mountains that has been made famous by films such as Gladiator, The Mummy, Lawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven and (not a film) Game of Thrones. The French Quebecs decided they didn’t want to climb through the city so they took an alternative route. When it was time to leave they were no where to be found, we spent about 45 minutes waiting on the bus until they were finally found them. When they arrived the bus driver (who also spoke French) started yelling at them, they started yelling back and then he stopped the car saying they could leave if they wanted. They opened the door getting ready to get out, I’m not sure what they planned on doing because we were 6.5 hours from Marrakech, but fortunately Ahmed stepped in and diffused the situation. Unfortunately for the French Quebecs they were seated next to the driver and had to spend the rest of the trip in close proximity.
After incident three we made our way to Ouarzazate, nicknamed the door to the desert for lunch. After lunch we were supposed to tour the cinema museum and one of Moroccos most famous “castles” the Taourirt Kasbah, but due to the various delays along the journey we didn’t have time if we were to make it to our hotel in the Dades Valley to catch the sunset. We did however gain Kevin and Ryan and strangely enough the driver started being friendly, smiling and initiating conversations with me in Spanish as well as letting Ahmed know what the plan was. I think while we were eating he was doing drugs in the bathroom. Two and a half hour later he got us to our hotel just before sunset. That night we ate dinner together and then enjoyed traditional Berber music performed by the hostel staff. When I say we, I mean the rest of the people because I went to bed after dinner, I was exhausted and had a room all to myself!
One full day of a bunch of strangers traveling together in a bus through the desert was down, one more full day to go. We woke, had breakfast and left the hotel around 8:30 and stopped two hours later where we received a tour of Tenghir, a city on the way to the dunes. We learned about the region, how agriculture works in the area and the traditional roles of the Berber men and women. We also got a tour of a Berber families house that made the traditional rugs. He said many times we didn’t have to buy anything and that people came never expecting to buy something, but was visible upset at the end. He had brought out rugs to show us so we could “see” different designs, but after 5 awkward minutes of silence I was starting to think that our only way out was if somebody bought a rug. On another note, the tour took twice as long because the only two people who didn’t speak English were the….. French Quebecs, so everything was said twice. We joked that we were going to miss the sunset in the dunes because of it.
After four more hours in the bus we finally arrived to Merzouga (the town next to the dunes) at 6:30pm. We stopped at some place where we were all prepared to get out, however the driver said something, pointed to two of the Germans (Lukas and Elisa) and told them they had to get out. Not understanding why and on the verge of tears from the thought of being separated from us they didn’t move, they didn’t know why. Ahmed stepped in as translator and apparently they booked a private tour. Begrudgingly they exited the van and went to get their bags, with a last ditch attempt to ask the two French Quebecs if they wanted to switch (nobody wanted them anyway) failed, they were literally left in the dust while the rest of us traveled to our pre-dune destination. The eight of us who were ready, which unfortunately included the two French Quebecs, were transported to our camels. The other seven we didn’t see until we arrived to the encampment later that night. We arrived to the camels!!!! And the dunes!!!!!! The camel ride was a disappointment. It wasn’t much of a ride and was more of a novelty. I also had to share one, but the dunes were worth it. Almost as far as the eye could see (depending on which direction you were looking because they span an area of about 186 sq miles), they rose like great orange waves out of the ocean. Walking among them was like waking on a different world.
Later that night we crammed into the main tent of the encampment for dinner along with other tour groups. We may as well have been in separate rooms because nobody spoke to others outside their group, nobody even tried, you forged a connection over the last two days with the people in yours. After dinner we explored the dunes at night and then went to bed in our “room” that consisted of 6 mattresses on the floor. The following morning we woke at 4:30am to ride camels in darkness so that we could watch the sunrise and then went back to the pre-dune place to have breakfast. After breakfast it was time for Kevin, Ryan and I to say goodbye to the others because they were going back to Marrakech (a 10.5 hour drive) and we were going to pick up Lukas and Elisa to make our way to Fes. A 9 hour journey back through the desert and out of it, with a taxi that didn’t have AC and a driver that spoke no English.
The journey continued