I boarded the bus at 730 am. Desert bound. Abdul made sure breakfast was ready for me before I left. The staff at Riad Africa go above and beyond-warm, personable, a sense of being home.
We made pick-ups along the way. In the end, we were a mishmash of diverse backgrounds. Some from Germany, UK, Italy, Switzerland. They are a lovely bunch. There were about 18 of us. I believe I was the oldest-it didn’t matter. Generally speaking, these young cats from abroad seem to be much more mature than I was at their age.
I am the only solo traveler save for Nina. Nina, I would guess, is in her early ‘20’s. She is from Japan working in Spain for the summer. The group sticks mainly to themselves initially, eager to get to the destination. After a few hours and a couple of bathroom breaks, we arrive at Kasbah Ait Ben Hadou-we think-apparently they filmed parts of the gladiator and an episode of game of thrones in this village.
The bus driver tells us there is a local guide waiting who can show us around. The guide is tall and lanky with sunken eyes and struts about with an air of indignation. We follow obediently. He speaks quickly and is not understood by anyone. He half points to the village ahead and mutters something about the time and needing to get back to the restaurant. We are confused, hot and verging on irritability. “Excuse me sir?” He looks towards me with distain as though the mere sound of me is interrupting his agenda. “What!” he snaps. “Um..where are we?” He starts to mutter arguably but the rest of the group interjects “Can you please explain to us what you said and where we are?”, they ask. All we got out of him is that he’s one of the last remaining families in the village-the rest moved on when the river dried up. Ok that will do..I guess. And from that moment on we all knew we were kind of on our own here, somewhere in god knows where.
I sat on the edge of a landing overlooking the high ancient walls. Nina sits down beside me. She shakes her head with mutual confusion and annoyance and pulls out a pack of camels and lights one up.
At the end of our- whatever you want to call it-the guide ushers us to an overpriced restaurant across the dried river which he is clearly getting commission for. Everyone disperses in search for something reasonable. The waiter called out to the guide who was talking to his pals. He then frantically tried to herd the cattle back in the pen. We weren’t having any part of it. Nina and I went to another place and ordered.
The guide came running in, as he must have to the rest of the group in their respective eateries, waving his arms like an emotionally dysregulated scolding parent. “Thats it! I’m calling the bus to get you!” Nina and I turn our focus to the earthy and incredibly abundant tajine presented to us. “Wonderful” I say. “mmmm” says Nina. We ignore him. We finished up and met up with the group who all stood around glaring at our questionable guide as he stood cowering like a defeated bully. Nothing like a shady character to create some group cohesion (we later discovered he had no affiliation with our excursion).
Back on the overheated bus, we travel like sardines for yet another three hours. I dozed off heavily and woke from the jerk of my head snapping back..my mouth open and lips looking like an open box of shrivelled raisins. My mouth is as dry as the desert. I’m pretty sure I exhaled dust. We get off again for water and another bathroom break. I get water and what appeared to be a drumstick (ice cream is usually a good mood changer). The cone was stale and the ice cream a pale orange colour. It was terrible but I didn’t care. It wasn’t dry. Nina slouches down beside me and pulls out her camels-she has a certain unassuming spunk that Nina.
We both looked out to the abyss in the scorching sun, feeling one another’s plight. “wow” I say “wouldn’t it be nice if we could jump in a body of water at the end?” Nina takes a long drag and a slow exhale and without turning to me says “we going to the desert”. I turn to her knowing full well my ice cream has spread along my chin and we both laugh. “This is true Nina. Very true”. So I took that little mirage and shoved it down my stale cone and threw it in the trash on the way back to the bus.
On we board. It’s now 630pm. We have been riding in that cramped bus over the hills of the atlas mountains for 11 hours. Then finally…it ends.
We share a collective gasp when we notice that we are surrounded by desert and a caravan of camels.
We dump out of the bus like a hamper of dirty laundry and make our way towards them. My comrades and I are divided and I am ushered by Mohammad to load my camel. I’ve never seen a camel before. They are beautiful interesting creatures..big lipped snouts and lashes to make any woman envious. I got a two for one. I would be riding a mom with her babe in tow. I instantly missed my children.
Alice the camel had two humps and a very excited canadian girl
And on we trekked… the sun setting like burning embers in my wake.
We entered deep into the desert as though we were entering another reality. I was mesmerized… awed. It struck me… I am in the Sahara desert in Africa ..on a camel. That’s me. In that shadow. One never knows where you will be on any given date in life. How would I know even last year on this date i’d be in the middle of the African desert. Life is marvellous. We don’t have to know exactly where we will be..we just have to start walking.
Finally we arrive to our camp. The tents protect an area of handwoven berber carpets, and (khayma) sectional loungers with colourful gold etched pillows.
We are offered some tea and nuts. The crew speak little english-they communicate enough through their infectious good natured smiles. “When do we eat?” (it’s 9pm) Omar smiles and shrugs. “Ok” I say. Finally at ten we are led into a tent and served our dinner. Bread, salad and finally chicken Tajine.
I sit with Tekay and Abu (i’m sure I misspelled that). The others went to a different camp. Tekay is working for the peace core in Guinea in the area of child and maternal health. I so enjoy listening to other people’s stories. We eat..we converse..we find our connections in that way travelers do. We all take hunks of bread and sop up the remainder sauce. “Mmm” says Tekay “I love food”. I always find my people.
me and da boyz
After dinner we saunter into the open camp and each find a lounger to collapse on. Then mohammad and some others pull up a straw stool in front of us and start to drum.
Others join them with clamping brass instruments finally synching into a song they all know. The drums beat harder and faster… other men start to dance… before you know it we are drawn into the circle finding our own rhythm to the beat, hooting and clapping. In that moment, it was like my very essence, all scattered within, spun together like a wand of cotton candy. Can’t describe it really. I swirled and spun looking up at the desert stars that seemed to shine brighter than any skies I’ve seen. I slept soundly that night. My mind still and my heart full.
Life is a privilege-never to be taken for granted.