Date with a camel

Today I awoke with the thought, “Today I have a date with a camel!” I was very excited! A very long day started with an 8 am departure. We picked up the group members at the other kasbah and headed out. Along the way, we stopped in Tinerhir. A guide came onto the mini van and told us to follow him. He was wearing a traditional garb that had a pocket on the front left side. I saw later, this is where he put his tips!

Tinerhir

We got out of the van and starting walking alongside a field. The sun shone warmly upon us while a little breeze rustled my clothes. It felt like pure bliss! Our guide showed us different crops growing there, like alfalfa. He asked us not to photograph anyone without their permission. A few women out working in the field set up a protest as a few in the group took pictures of the landscape in their general direction. Those who took the pictures yelled back that they didn’t take their picture. There was a boy who walked by the group and wanted to give out figures made from the alfalfa grass but not knowing if he wanted money, I refused.

Finally we got into town and were taken through the former Jewish quarters until we reached a courtyard full of carpets. The guide bade us to take off our shoes and enter a room. I hesitated, as I imagined this is where they badger you into buying a rug! But the man inside asked us where we were all from, making a comment at each response, as a form of connecting, and told us he would not pressure us. A woman poured us tea in the traditional glasses and we drank while he told us about how these were Berber carpets made by hand on a wooden “machine” shown on the far end of the room. He said you could tell this by the fact that only one end of the carpet had fringes on it. He brought out a bunch of different sizes and shapes of rugs.

I must say a small baby camel rug for 150 Euros enticed me, and I admitted I was tempted when another man, all dressed traditionally with wrapped headscarf and Berber robe, asked me. I added that I was a nomad like them and didn’t have a place for it. In my room was already a beautiful rug that my mother had made. Finally he backed off, but it was interesting to find out that he had gone to graduate school in Pennsylvania!

Weaving machine

At this point, I really had to pee, and the guide took us to a shop where there was one traditional (squatting) toilet. We all waited in line for some time. Then we jumped into the van but not for long. We got out again on the edge of town to take photos of camels and their handlers. Some took selfies but I figured, I’d have my chance soon enough with my own camel!

My friend Abdellah knows this guy, since he is from this area!

We stopped again at the Todra Gorge, which was a sheer rock cliff that attracted rock climbers with its various holds and grabs. We walked into the gorge a while. It was very touristy: all other vans had also stopped here, in fact some drove past us! Finally we stopped by a building on the other side of a river. Our guide asked for payment for his services and then suddenly our van was there and we climbed in.

Todra Gorges – lots of tourists!

From here on out, we stopped just for bathroom breaks. The landscape became increasingly more brown, with fewer green trees, until finally we saw a hill of sand over to our left – the start of the Sahara! We had arrived in Merzouga! Again, different members of our parties were dropped off at other accommodations until only 10 of us remained. When we got our facilities, we could see the biovouac (Berber-style tents) off to the side of the building a few hundred yards. But we were instructed to leave our luggage and go immediately to the desert edge as our camels awaited!

The camels were all kneeling in the sand, covered with a blanket and saddle. We were told to climb onto the backs quickly and when I did, the camel got up first on its knees, tipping me forward, and then onto its feet, which tipped me back and righted me. I was high off the ground! I quickly wrapped the blue cloth Abdellah had given me around my head and watched Felix behind me wrapping his around his head and face. I called him a “bandito.”

Senor Bandito! Look at the handy water holder!

Once everyone was up on their camels, we had pictures taken with our cell phones, and were shown where to shove our water bottles, just below the handle bars. Then we were on the move! At first there were two caravans of five, but then the other guide needed to leave, so our guide strung all the camels in one long line. We giggled as we headed out. We’re riding camels!!! It was fun! Until we had to descend a dune – then our backs were jolted as the camels’ knees buckled in the shifting sand. And we had to hang onto the handle bars for dear life so we didn’t fall forward off the camel! We laughed some more when some of the camels, like the one in front of me, pooped small pellets that would drift off on the surface of the sand. Felix’s camel nibbled on my shoes and traveled pretty close behind me, but I loved petting his/her head – very fuzzy!

Photo by Felix Diaz Jimenez

After venturing out into the Sahara for about forty-five minutes, the breeze brisk enough to keep us cool, our guide stopped the camels and one by one had them kneel. That same process of getting up but in reverse, down on the knees, shifting us forward, sitting all the way down, caused some yells and shouts from some of us! We got off and took off shoes and wandered barefoot in the desert. It was lovely! I walked up to the top of a dune. The wind stirred up a lot of sand that blew into my eyes. I could see on three sides the edge of the desert but on one side, it continued on to Algeria. I saw some biovouacs a bit further off and some other caravans cruising through the dunes.

I went to talk to the camel guide for a while. He was a delightful older fellow with some gaps in his smile. I wanted to ask him about this Moroccan somersaulting spider I had heard about but was unable to make him understand me, as I didn’t know the word for spider in French! We did chat a bit in French. He asked me if I was married, and I thought, oh boy, is he flirting with me? I asked him if he was married and he said yes. I also asked about the names of all the camels and he recited them all. The lead camel’s name was Benji!

Our camel guide
Camels at rest

Felix and his friends were taking jumping pictures and asked me to join them. Our guide took a few photos as we had difficulty getting it right!

We stayed until the sun passed below the horizon, leaving a orangy-rosy glow. Then we mounted our camels again and headed back to our accommodations. Off in the distance, call for evening prayer sounded. I thought, “How perfectly romantic!” Although the Chinese couple’s constantly chatting ruined the mood a bit. And I was feeling sorer and sorer with each jolting step!

When we got back and dismounted our camels, we were told to wash our hands at an outside water fountain and then went inside to a tagine dinner with oranges for dessert. We were all quite tired and headed out to the camp for bed right afterwards. I got the first room, with a beautiful royal purple brocade. It consisted of a hard mattress with a pillow and several woolen Berber blankets. The manager lounged against a log a short distance from my room and even commented once on my scarf. I felt rather uncomfortable and a little bit anxious. He did show me how to close the door flap. After I was in bed, I started feeling unwell in my stomach as well as achy in my muscles. And, since I had drunk a lot of water that day, I had to go to the bathroom, which was hundreds of yards away. Multiple times. During the night, a sandstorm blew up and caused my door to flap continuously. I tried to find a way to make it stop, but to no avail! All in all not a good night, although I could hear Berber musicians playing somewhere in the distance!

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