Morocco: An Over-reliance on the Kindness of Strangers.

So I’ve been here for awhile, and I’ve done a lot, much of which has been school. I’ve been into London a few times (in fact I’m headed back tomorrow, but you’ll hear about that next week), I’ve seen Cambridge and Rugby and some adorable British towns, but the most exciting weekend trip I’ve taken so far was to Morocco.

Two friends, Brenna and Diana, organized the whole thing, and flew to Merrakech in the hours between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Ji, Jesse, and I flew out to meet them on Friday afternoon. Our plan was to meet them in a fairly prominent location, Jemaa El Fna square, and walk together to the hostel. However, once we got there, we couldn’t find our friends, none of our cell phones were working, and we had no idea where the hostel was. We decided to wander the square and have some dinner, but eventually anxiety began to set in. Payphones weren’t working, none of the locals had heard of our hostel, and eventually the shops began to close. Luckily, a man in a shop let us use the wifi on his iPhone, so we found directions to the hostel from the square, and his friend brought us to a notable landmark. We apprehensively started down the indicated alleyway, when another man found us and showed us where our hostel was. We ran in, found Brenna and Diana, and much hugging happened. We all went out and had excellent late night mint tea, then headed to bed.

Ji, Jesse, Brenna, and Diana enjoy some mint tea and the view of Jemaa El Fna

We were up early the next morning for the tour, but realized that we hadn’t quite taken out enough cash – on top of that, the closest cash machine was broken, and no one spoke much English, so we were a bit short, and knew we’d have to worry about it later. Thankfully they still let us do the tour, despite being 13 Euro short, and let us pay later. We took a bus tour into the mountains, saw a gorgeous Kasbah (where parts of Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia, among other movies, were filmed), snowy mountains, expansive desert, and much local colour. The tour bus had a soundtrack consisting solely of Moroccan music (which frequently sounded very traditional), Bryan Adams, and Phil Colins. It was an interesting mix. We took many photos, and I’ll just throw some onto the end here, because I’m feeling lazy.

Snowy mountains! I almost felt at home!

The high light of the trip though, was that night. We were dropped off in front of some camels, which we rode for about an hour in the moonlight. In theory, this should have been lovely, and it was, with the exception of some fears regarding my camel. He was much rougher than the others, so I was in pain in some already tender areas by the end of the trip. To make matters worse, he seemed to be dying. I know nothing about normal camel behaviour, but periodically, mine would make a groaning sound, then throw back his head, and he would make an awful gurgling sound in his throat while his tongue lolled out of his mouth. I thought he was in the death throes, and my friends would not stop teasing me for killing my camel, especially since he was the only one the guides took away when they dropped us off at our Berber tents. Thankfully, Bubbles (as I aptly named him) was reporting for duty the next morning, but I rode a much calmer camel, so my morning ride was much more pleasant.

This was basically me the whole time I rode Bubbles. Actually, I was much like Bilbo for the whole trip – curious and excited, but always a bit nervous.

The night in the Berber tents was phenomenal. We were immediately given dinner, with a Moroccan soup, chicken Tagine, and orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon. After dinner, both tour groups (all in all around 20 people) crowded around a fire and listened to some African drumming. Once the group was down to about 10 of us, they taught us the refrains of a few songs, and even a few drum beats. We then piled into our tents, and slept in about 5 layers of clothes under 3 blankets each. The 5 of us were all in one tent, and stayed up talking for a bit because Jesse insisted that we tell her stories before she went to sleep. I slept quite well, considering, although I had a bit of a fright when I woke up to the sound of wild dogs barking.

Sunrise in the Zagora desert

The next day started off very well, with the aforementioned camel ride at sunrise. However, we realized around 12:30 that there was no way we were going to get back to Merrakech in time for our flight. We were able to communicate this fact to our bus driver, who managed to arrange to have us take a taxi back – a 4+ hours ride. With 5 people in a 4-seater car with doors that didn’t lock. With no seat belts. With a driver who didn’t speak a word of English. That was probably the most memorable part of the trip. I was one of 4 people jammed in the back seat, and it was a little cramped, but the ride was just gorgeous. We had to get back through the mountain, and we stopped for a bit in this tiny completely non-tourist village. The trip was dirt cheap, considering, and we got to the airport in good time for our 8 pm flight… Only to learn that it had been delayed because of snow. None of us had any substantial amount of money left, so we just got what food we could, and tried to get some work done – or in my case, some sleep.

The Death Cab, as we affectionately called it afterward

Eventually we did get a plane, and the taxi picked us up when we finally got in around 5:00 am. I got to bed at 6:00 am, and was exhausted the next day, but overall it was a pretty incredible experience. I’m glad we did the tour, because it let us see a lot of stuff we wouldn’t have otherwise, and I got to ride a camel to sleep in the Zagora desert. However, I would never go with that tour company again (don’t use I Go Morocco, is what I’m saying), and I think the sketchy cab ride was probably what all of us will most remember in 20 years. We all agreed that the other stuff had been amazing, but you do tend to better remember your more authentic experiences, and anything that happens because of desperation like that is bound to be much more memorable than what a tour sets up for you.

Look at your man. Now back at me. I’m on a camel.
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