After all that Moroccan domestic life, I decided to hit the road on a tour to Merzouga, the edge of the Sahara Desert! My new friend Ahmad got me in contact with someone who reserved me a spot. The night before, I couldn’t sleep. Typical! Well, and there were some young women, girls, really, who were either outside my window or in the hallway chatting and laughing until the early hours. And I had to be out the door at 7am!
I got up and quickly got ready, knocking for Abdellah so he could drive me to a nearby hotel where we would wait for the driver to pick me up. Forty-five minutes later, Abdellah got a call – the driver had gotten lost! Finally, a van pulled up and I got in the front seat. No one else was in the vehicle! I asked the driver if there would be other people. He said yes. We drove to the square and I was asked to pay for the trip. Then my driver told me to get back in the (empty) van and we started driving out of town! Finally, I spoke up and asked what happened, as the driver was on and off the phone. “Driver bad, he to wait ten minutes, only waited five.” was the response. So, we were trying to catch up with the tour bus! I told the van driver, “Everything will be fine!” after he was cursing at some construction truck in front of us. And indeed, just after a gas station, we saw a mini-van pulled over.
We stopped, I got out and quickly approached the van. The tour driver was there to meet me and take my luggage but saw I only had a small backpack, so after a few words exchanged between drivers, I climbed into the mini-van, squeezed between seats and people to get to one empty seat in the very back. I apologized along the way and got a “no problem.”
I was sat snug between Asians. On one side, a couple from China, on the other a young woman from Hong Kong. We proceeded up into the Atlas Mountains, weaving around curves, bumping up and down all the way. The Chinese couple were moaning a bit, the girl pressing her face into a pillow. The Hong Kong girl was typing into her cell phone. I hugged my backpack to my chest and tried not to think about how I really had to pee! And how thirsty I was, as I had run out of bottled water.
It was a relief when we stopped after about an hour of travel. I ran down into the basement and past the male bathroom attendant who expected me to pay some coins for some toilet paper. I had some tissues in my pocket but no change. I contemplated getting a coffee or tea but the line looked long. I went back outside to wait for the van to be unlocked and talked to a young Croatian couple who were living in Austria. The husband was a chef at a resort. They both spoke German but their English was so good, we conversed in the latter.
We stopped a bit later for a photo op of the Atlas mountains. It was a bit windy up on the pass we were standing!
It was about another hour and a half before we stopped again. The toilet was down some outdoor steps but I noticed men going in there, so I asked one of the other travelers if it was for both men and women. The way she gestured, I could tell she was uncomfortable speaking English but she got her point across – yes, she imagined. This toilet did have paper in the stalls. On the way back up the stairs, I saw a young cat lounging and reached my hand out for it to sniff. It really perked me up. Felines are miracle workers, especially for weary travelers!
The next stop was at Aït Benhaddou, an UNESCO World Heritage site and the backdrop for many movies, including Gladiator. But I didn’t realize that and asked the guide where we were and he just stared at me and said he would tell us all about it.
So we walked through a small town full of small souvenir shops, across a bridge, up a path with more trinkets on tables and in adobe style huts, up and up until we got to the very top. Then our guide pointed to a green area and told us that it had been the Jewish cemetery. There were other tour groups and a couple with a private guide. We snapped some pictures and went back down, stopping at an artisan’s station where he showed us how he light his paintings with fire to darken and enhance the designs. But we had no time to buy anything, if we wanted to.
Back down on the street, we were told to walk to the right and enter a restaurant. When we were seated (me with the Croatians and a couple from Hong Kong), the guide came up and asked for money for the tour. We all looked at him confused and I told him I didn’t have to pay extra for anything and showed him a text as proof. But then paid anyway, although he did not have the exact change to give to me. We all ordered pizza, the two couples ordering just one for the two of them. I was glad to have my pizza all to myself and had a liter of water I had bought earlier to wash it down. Yum!
We stopped in another hour or so in Ouarzazate (sounds like “wharz a zat”) just for a little break. There was a film museum there but we didn’t have time to go inside, and I heard it was nothing special. There was a delightful older man who played a native instrument and would sing “How are you, how are you, how are you” every time a tourist van stopped. I snuck into a restaurant bathroom, as I always needed to use one.
After another hour and a half, we stopped at some accommodations and five people, three Italians and two Spanish, got out. We continued on down the road perhaps another fifteen minutes, and got out to see some cool rock formations for a few minutes.
We soon arrived at our accommodations, a kasbah, for the night, which was rustic but romantic. We were greeted with sign-in forms and tea on the back patio. Some time later, we met upstairs in the dining area for tagine, about three of them for us to share. The Croatian chef pronounced it better than those he had had previously in touristy Moroccan restaurants!
I was feeling on the edge of getting sick, so the Croatian girl gave me some medicine, and I drank it and a lot of water throughout the night to restore my hydration, while some Berber music was played for a while elsewhere in the auberge.