How many Berber men does it take to open a bottle of wine? The answer to this, and more, below.
Desert Lesson #3: going down a doon is much easier than going up.
We walked/slid down in a few minutes, and joined the rest of the camp for dinner in the dining tent. Over a meal of harira (soup), tajine, and oranges, we talked to Mohammed, a young Berber man from the desert who helped to run the camp. With such a font of information at our table, did we ask about surviving in the desert, or training camels, or any of the other hundred desert questions we could think of? No, the burning question of the evening came from Isa: “Mohammed, why do you not use Turkish red pepper in the tagine?” Apparently, he thinks it would be greatly improved.
After dinner, we gathered around the campfire, and the Berber men played drums, a metal bell-like instrument, and sang. Sarah and I drifted off to set about the serious business of opening the bottle of wine we had brought… and hilarity ensued. So I ask you,
How many Berber men does it take to open a bottle of wine?
3, as it turns out. But if you want the full story, you’ll have to get it in person from me or Sarah. (I have to leave SOME stories for telling in person, you know.)
The four of us lingered around the dying fire with the Berbers, and Sarah and I sang a few songs we knew. Then quite suddenly, the wind started up. The men knew – that was it, camp fire over. We wanted to wait it out, but of course the Berbers were right – the wind kept up, and did not stop till morning. We headed back to our tent with our flashlights, and finished the bottle of wine while the wind whipped at our tend and blew sand in through the rug “door.
Desert lesson #4: Desert wind is serious. And LOUD.
And most unfortunately, thus commenced one of the most difficult 24 hour periods of the trip. The wind was relentless and blew all. night. long. You might be thinking, “Oh, how romantic, a wind storm in the desert! It must have lulled you to sleep.” No. Or as our driver Ismail would say, “No, AT ALL.” Every gust shook the tent, and though we piled our bags up by the door, more sand continued to blow in and occasionally fall from the ceiling. There was sand in the sheets, and every time I tried to pull the sheet up to cover my face to keep more sand from falling in, all I succeeded in doing was dumping more sand on my face. As the night progressed, I became more paranoid, and was most certain the wind would rip our tent right off the sand. I think it died down a bit in the wee hours of the morning, and I may have gotten a few winks of shut-eye. Then it started up again, and I was up again, and by the time the camp started to rise for sunrise I was in a foul and sleepy temper, as was Keith.
We groggily climbed a dune to see the sun rise, but of course, there was so much sand in the air, we couldn’t see anything of note. When Sarah and Isa straggled from their tent a while later, they were in the same state of us. Even Sarah, who considers herself an acomplished sleeper, had only gotten a few hours.
Then, it was back on the camels to return to the hotel where we’d left our things. We were all in a state of zombie-like stupor, and were looking forward to breakfast and a shower at the hotel. I admit, I wondered if I hadn’t made a serious judgement in error, choosing to sleep in a drafty sandy tent instead of a warm bed with 4 solid walls around. Still, we all agreed later that the desert was one of the highlights of the trip – sleepless night excluded, of course.
Then it was back in the car with Ismail for many, many more hours of driving, heading for the Dades and Todra Gorges. We stopped on the way when we saw some baby camels with their mothers, and Ismail checked with their nomad to see if we could intereact with them. Ismail was careful to check whether the nomad was a man or a woman first, because, he said, the women nomads can be terribly protective and mean. Luckily it was a man, so Keith, Isa and I got to pet a friendly baby camel.
A little futher down the road, we stopped to inspect some ancient wells, and have tea with another nomad on the side of the road. We played a little more drums and a stringed instrument made out of a Mobil oil can, and then we were off again.
Truly, it seemed as if the driving would never, ever end. These parts of Morocco are just not served by highways yet, and if you want to see the incredible natural splendor the ocuntry has to offer, you just have to suck it up and drive.
We explored the impressive orange limestone Todra Gorge, with its clear river running through. Locals will come to the river to drink and wash clothes. People who live in this region are some of the 280 (approximately; nobody really knows how many) nomad families who still continue their traditional way of living. They are largely illiterate, do not vote, and do not participate in the larger Moroccan society. When girls marry (usually at the marriage market), they will go to live with their new husband’s family, and will rarely, if ever, see their own families again.
That evening, after arriving at our hotel in the Dades Gorge, we were actually supposed to go with a guide to meet such a family – perhaps living in a tent, or in one of the many caves that dot the landscape. But by 4 or 5pm, we were all so thoroughly tired and miserable, we told Ismail that we just couldn’t. We barely made it into our hotel rooms before collapsin on our beds, and no one spoke to anyone else for a few hours. After being cramped in a SUV for 2 days with 5 adults, you can understand why.
Dinner revived us somewhat, and the gorge we were staying in was truly stunning, but I’m afraid I’ve started to come down with a cold, and am feeling quite miserable. Here’s hoping it clears up before my birthday!