Saturday, 8 January 2011

Finally, a camel trek into the dunes! I’m not sure if my thighs hurt from gripping the camel’s girth or the walk back that I opted for because of the blister on my butt. I would have liked to have gone into the desert for a three-day trek, where the stars are brightest, but there just hasn’t been enough time. Hard to believe, given I’ve been here for two weeks - the days have galloped by. Speaking of gallop, I asked Nancy as we trekked along on the camels if she’d ever been to a camel race. She laughed and said, “Once only, but somehow there was confusion and only three of the camels knew where the finish line was – the other seven went off in all directions.” I was really impressed with the way our camel guides, walking ahead of us, watched carefully as the camels traversed the dunes, both descending and ascending. When we got to the last final dune, the tallest, my camel got almost to the top, but then stopped and complained loudly that she didn’t or couldn’t make the full ascent. The guide acquiesced and she was allowed to stay right where she was, next to a tamarisk tree. She cushed down and I got off with shaky legs, like I’d been aboard a boat on a tossing sea.

The sundown G&T, sitting on the dune, was pretty special. The silence in the dunes is spellbinding. Only a murmur of wind through the tamarisk trees broke the stillness, as we sat sipping our drinks in awe of the setting sun.

I was amazed how fast I had to walk to keep up with the camels on the return trip. When you’re riding in the saddle, their long rhythmic strides seem slow and easy, but they actually travel quite fast. I had to power walk/jog to keep up, and I didn’t want to lose sight of them in the fading light.

Approaching the auberge from the back of the property, we were greeted rather noisily by the pack of desert dogs – Cambo being the leader. Because I know them now, I just called out and they came wagging their tails. It would be terrifying if you happened upon them on your own though, at any time day or night, not realizing how friendly they really are.

This morning, as usual, Nancy and I sat and ate breakfast together out on the terrace. There’s so much I need to absorb here – I’m still making my way through Zelda Fitzgerald’s biography, making notes that will form half of the 5000-word essay. The other half will entail F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s biography, and then I have to compare the two. My thesis will focus on Zelda’s biographer’s treatment of Scott and Scott’s biographer’s treatment of Zelda. I’m hoping to see a difference in the attitudes each biographer takes towards their respective opposites. I assume Nancy Milford treats Zelda with more sympathy than Scott’s biographer, in this case Andre le Vot. There are four biographies on Scott, but I won’t have time to look at all of them.

Then there are the notes I jot down when talking to Nancy. I know I have to take advantage of this time with her here in Morocco, to record as much as I can of her story in order to write my thesis this summer. But it’s not easy fitting all this in – the reading and the writing. I know when I’m back at the flat in Norwich, I’ll have the absolute quiet and solitude I’ll need to complete the assignments. The second semester starts on January 18th, and I’ll need to read two books a week for that alone. I feel a creeping panic as I write this.

Tonight is my last night here in Dar Sidi Bounou. A group of four arrived last night – two young men from Switzerland and their women friends from Peru. A young couple from Croatia arrived late last night and have gone out on a camel trek. This is definitely the place to come for an authentic Moroccan experience.

I got up at 5:00 am and prepared to leave my little mud hut, which I’ve become quite attached to. When I got to the main house, Nancy, Rakia, and Nacer were waiting with coffee, fruit and cereal. The Croations, Ana and Evan, joined us in the dining room and after a quick breakfast, everyone walked us to the road to wait for the bus from M’Hamid. The sky was indigo and slightly lighter in the east, but Venus and Mercury were still shining bright. The bus pulled up, ten minutes late, and we bid our adieus to everyone. I’ve felt emotional lately, but I’m not sure if it’s because I’m having to break camp again, or if something deeper is at work.

The bus was only half full, so I picked a seat right in the middle this time, to avoid the swaying back section and all the motion-challenged passengers. At Zagora we stopped for about ten minutes where more people piled on, then another quick stop at Adgz. We made our way out of the valley and towards the Haut Atlas Mountain. The road is not unlike the one through the Fraser Canyon, the difference being eight hours of winding road as oppose to much less on the canyon road. On this return trip, the bus stopped in the nick of time for three passengers to stagger off quickly (holding their hands over their mouths) and empty their stomachs with an audience of bemused passengers who failed to avert their gazes until they realize too late what was happening (yours truly being one). Finally, five hours later, we stopped long enough for a pit stop and something to eat, somewhere between Ouarzazate and Marrakesh. Nothing appealed to me this time though, so I settled for a coke. The bus ride is a real challenge, but there really is no other way to get to Dar Sidi Bounou. As of this week, there's a flight from M'Hamid (4 km from Dar Sidi Bounou), but it flies to Casablanca, which is a three-hour bus ride from Marrakesh, so you're stuck with the bus ride no matter what. I would discourage anyone from making the drive themselves in a private car - the curves are extremely dangerous and it's wise to leave the driving to an experienced bus driver. Having whined about the journey through the Atlas Mountains, I found the scenery spectacular, and this comes from a Canadian who has experienced the Rockies.

Once at the bus station in Marrakesh, I jumped on a bus to the Djemaa El Fna and the Ali Hotel. It's right on the square, sitting at the edge of all the madness and circus atmosphere of the market. It reminds me of the bar scene in the first Star Wars movie - characters who you intuitively know not to trust. Snake charmers, hawkers of wares, perveyors of rugs, pots, fruit, and nuts. I was tired after my long bus ride, but hungry, so I braved the electric atmosphere and plunged in, following the smoky smells of barbecuing meats. I picked (or rather they picked me) a stall that looked promising and was immediately served something that looked like salsa while I checked out the menu that had been thrust into my hands. I decided on the screwers of chicken and some olives, but was also served a dish of steamed spinach, which I hadn't ordered but didn't have the energy or wherewithal to refuse. This is a place to come with a friend or a lover - a thrilling, swirling place of action. After eating, I walked around a bit, but decided my hotel room was all I had the energy for. The room was only £23 per night and felt like the home of a very poor but kindly grandmother. The sheets were thin, the coverlets scary, the room very tired looking, but there was plenty of hot water for a bath. The towels had definitely seen better days and were drab but clean. The window looked out onto a complicated maze of air conditioning and vents. I would compare it a little to staying at the Cobalt or Patricia hotels in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, not that I've been a guest in those establishments, but that's what I would imagine them to be like. There were however no bugs, at least none visible. I realize that I've lived like a princess for many years, and had to remind myself to "get over it." I wanted duvets covered in 600-count cotton, big fluffy white towels, and little chocolates on my pillow. I wanted little containers of shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. I wanted room service. But I got over it. What I really needed was a good night's sleep, and that I got.

In the morning, I headed off to the airport in the hope of getting on the earlier flight to Gatwick, which I stupidly didn't book, thinking I could make the trip from Dar Sidi Bounou in one day and take the later flight, avoiding the cost of a hotel. No luck. I had to wait at the airport until the 7:20 pm flight which didn't leave until 9:15 pm. I got into Gatwick at 12:30 am and went straight to a yotel, which is a capsule-like hotel room, not unlike what you'd find on the Starship Enterprise. I was really surprised at the comfort level - and they had cotton duvets! It was cheap - £64. I had hoped to go straight from Gatwick to Pip and Selina's in Hampshire, but it was too late for any trains, and I hadn't realized they were waiting to hear from me and would have come to pick me up at that late hour. In the morning I called Selina and said I'd probably head straight back to Norwich and bury myself in the reading and writing I need to do for the essays. But she, in her winning way, talked me into taking the train to Guildford, where Pip would pick me up. I'm am so very happy I did. I arrived to a house full of wonderful young adults - all four kids are home from school for the holidays, and the chance of seeing them all together at once is rare. David's girlfriend from California, Emerald, added a different flavour with her irreverent good humour and edginess. They are all funny, bright, and endlessly entertaining. Pip and Selina have done an excellent job of raising four exceptional young adults. We stayed up late playing poker (with match sticks) and being silly, with Padstowe the dog and Misty the cat looking at us from their cushions of the floor by the fire, seeming happy that we were all enjoying ourselves. Tomorrow morning, I leave on the train for Norwich. I'm looking forward to the routine of study after two weeks of adventure, stimulation, and nostalgia.


  1. Hi Mo!
    I somehow missed the first Moroccan installment. But I am eating up each word now. What an adventure! The photos are so beautiful and the narration amazing. We spent 6 days in Morocco many years ago, but we did not have this kind of experience. Time for another trip.

    Good luck with all of your reading. Sounds like the next few weeks will be challenging.

    xoxo Naomi

  2. It was truly amazing, Naomi. And it would have been nice to have had someone to share the Marrakesh experience with. I know you and Marc are intrepid travellers, so you'd probably enjoy staying at Nancy's auberge in Dar Sidi Bounou. That's if I haven't put you off the bus ride! It's the only way to get there other than renting a car, and that's not something I'd recommend.

    I'm up to my neck writing my essays, but should have another post by middle of next week. Thank you for being so supportive and encouraging!

    Mo xoxox