It starts off by me standing on the outside of a silver Toyota Prado 4×4 holding onto an “oh shit” handle with my left hand and the roof rack handle with my right. My feet are firmly placed on a slim running board while the rest of my body presses against the driver’s side door like a starfish, and I’m asked to hand over my phone.
A stalky man dressed in a blue djellaba and black headscarf puts the car into drive and starts to peel out up and down the orangey-colored dunes shouting, “Ahhfreeeeekaaaah!!” while I’m holding on trying not to fall.
“This would never happen [legally] in the states,” I’m thinking.
Moroccan music plays in a medium volume in the background, the skies are bright blue, the weather is warm, and there isn’t anyone else in sight. This is life. This is living.
“Advaaaaaaaantuuuurrrreee!!” he screams.
My thoughts are interrupted by the fine orangey-colored sand gripping the tires behind me. We drive near someone’s campsite, and a dog about the size of a small poodle begins to chase us. If we don’t go fast enough, the dog might just have enough opportunity to sink its teeth into my ankles. We eventually outrun the dog, and his barking comes to nothing but a faint stop.
We go up and then down again. Up…shit, a second dog. A similar sized dog chases us and this time starts to gain on us. The other dog finds his way back and then buddies up from the opposite end. I’m coming up with alternatives in my head if either dog catches up, but then we roll down another hill and then up another.
“Advaaaaaaaantuuuurrrreee. Ahhfreeeeekaaaahh!” he repeats, keeping watch of the dogs from his rearview mirror.
About a half an hour later, we roll down a hill into a campsite with 16 white tents. This is going to be my home. I learn my driver’s name is Hsain and he shows me my tent, the fourth one on the left side. He quickly inspects the room, peeks behind the partitioned curtain where the bathroom sits, but then tells me the room is not ready and proceeds to cross the camp into another tent.
My replacement tent had a queen sized bed and twin in it. I’m not feeling the vibe as much and hesitantly put my bags down before finally admitting I liked the other room better and wouldn’t mind waiting for it to be cleaned. He calls the housekeeper a few tents away and speaks Berber to her. He tells me it’s okay and then carries a long table near the bonfire circle and places it in a shaded area with a chair for me to wait.
Hsain apologizes and tells me he needs to pick up other guests. I sit in the shaded area swatting the occasional fly and then pull out my laptop from my backpack recalling how many countries and mountains this bag has traveled with me. I then begin to extract my memories from Mount Toubkal less than a week ago and the panoramic mountain views at the summit. My calves are still slightly sore, and I can tell my abs feel stronger.
I’m tired. All I want to do is sleep. One of the male staff calls me and tells me my tent is ready. It’s next to the one I initially wanted, but I think I’ll like it just as much. It’s almost 4:00 pm now and I can’t wait for my nap. I fall flat on top of the bed with my arms extended out, set my alarm on my phone, and close my eyes falling into a deep sleep over the next 40 minutes. Sigh. This is exactly what I needed. It’s so silent here.
I eventually wake to faint voices. Tourists must be coming back from their day trips. I open my eyes and look outside the tented door I never closed and see some Chinese people on the hill above. I get up and look even closer outside and see another Chinese woman to my right swinging on a porch-like bench studying her phone.
I lie back down and continue to peek at the family on the top of the dune from a distance. They have a child about 4 years old who is dragging his butt down the hill making one continuous line. They’re paying no attention to him, and he runs back up to do it again.
I’m still not in the mood to deal with all the beauty and instead am finding the comfort of my own tent to be exactly why I came here. The sun begins to set, and I step out to the restaurant to ask what time dinner is being served. 8 o’clock. There’s another Chinese lady on the carpeted runway to the restaurant having her photo taken by her boyfriend in her Berber garb and running shoes. Her outfit doesn’t really match how natural she is trying to photograph. Imagine a runway model trying to do the catwalk in New Balance walking shoes. But to each’s own. I was at least able to capture this improv photo soon after she left.
My friend, William, video calls me after I briefly comment on his Facebook wishing him a Happy Birthday. He’s my first virtual guest in my tent! We keep losing a signal, and the call keeps getting dropped, but we facetiously blame it on the LA rain and not the fact that I’m in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
8 o’clock quickly rolls around. I’m about half finished with my bottle of wine I bought from a restaurant earlier, so I’m feeling pretty relaxed.
I am the last one to stroll into dinner and am greeted and then seated alone. I am smiling and observing each of the couples and groups. I am the only solo traveler here. Should I feel lonely? Psh. Lonely is for kittens. I am a cheetah. To my left sits a group of Chinese with the child I saw earlier and his back facing me. He is immobile and hasn’t moved, so I’m wondering if he has fallen asleep at the table while his parents pay no attention to him again chatting with the other adults. Then there is a Chinese couple next to them. They sit side by side, and the man has one of those Berber scarfs on his head paired with his prescription lens glasses over his eyes. He’s feeling the Berber part. A Chinese Berber man. It actually suits him well. Then working my way to the right of them sits a black couple. They’re the only black people in here, and I wonder if they might be from London considering our proximity and their fashion sense. The girl actually looks more mixed with very fair skin but with an afro hairdo. Her boyfriend has dreaded-like hair. Then moving again to the right sits a wealthy looking Chinese couple. The man is groomed well and put together nicely in his black knitted shirt and his wife graciously uses her eating utensils on her plate. They are sharing their dishes, and I can silently see them exchanging few words perhaps discussing their thoughts on the meal. “What is this?” I overhear them ask the server. “Couscous,” he responds, and then they nod their heads in approval.
My first course is a bowl of vegetable soup. I’m served the same bread I find all over Morocco, but this time it came with olive oil and white vinegar instead of balsamic vinegar. Interesting. I like it just the same. I get a good whiff of the olive oil and then taste it. It’s clean, aromatic, and a little sweet.
The soup is pureed and green. I’m not sure of the contents, but I’m enjoying it and finish it. It’s now my turn for a 7 vegetable couscous salad. It’s the best I’ve had out here, and I suspect it must have been cooked in a broth or stock of some sort. I am stuffed by this point and regrettably have to tell my server I won’t be eating the main course. My server continues insisting I stay and only have a couple bites, but I can’t. I’m so full! So I tell him I’ll be right back and never return. I felt bad, but I’m here for a few days and will leave more room for tomorrow night.
I later hear “Cee!” then again, “Cee!” I jump out of bed, and it’s Hsain, my driver and who I now learn is the camp owner. He checks in on me asking if I need anything else and offers to bring snacks. I’m so stuffed, but I suggest I might be able to wiggle in a few peanuts into my stomach to go with my wine.
The bonfire goes on outside, and I’m listening to the steady drumming from the privacy of my tent.
It’s between 10-11:00 pm and Hsain returns with a spread of snacks: a bowl of peanuts, a variety of olives, a bag of chips (that his staff wanted but left behind) and dried fruit. This is VIP service all the way that I wonder if anyone else is getting the same treatment.
I invite Hsain to join me for some snacks while I sip on my wine, and I didn’t realize it before, but he is actually quite funny. I was laughing most of the night in his company hysterically. He tells me I am to be treated like family and to make sure I leave a great Airbnb review. That’s always the disclaimer, but he would undoubtedly be getting an excellent review for throwing the good-natured vibes my way.
Tears continued to roll out of my eyes from laughter throughout the evening and while he dresses me up in his black headscarf. Admittedly, I don’t think black is my color!
Having his company wasn’t something I anticipated, but having him around brought a lot of warmth and comfort into my stay. It turned out to be one of those things I didn’t realize I needed, but it was what I needed – especially after a slightly awkward lonesome dinner.
I’m finding myself falling more in love with Morocco as time passes. I’m coming up on my third week, and Moroccans have been so honest with me. A taxi guy drove out of his way to drop off a hat I left in his car, the sunglasses and credit card I lost that were returned, and even the young guy who guided me through a labyrinth of alleys to my hostel and didn’t ask for money. Then there’s the Atlas Extreme guy who kindly lent me a sleeping bag, beanie, and gloves for my winter trekking trip to Mount Toubkal and the two guides from Morocco Daily Tours, who bought my friend and me dinner one night in Gueliz. Moroccans have been very generous and hospitable to me.
It’s getting late, and I finally make it to bed at around 1:00 am. I knew I wouldn’t bother getting up early for the breakfast buffet, but Hsain was kind enough to have his staff keep the buffet out until 10:00 am for me. VIP, I’m telling you! It’s such a wonderful feeling being spoiled and getting the royal treatment, and that is exactly what my first day impression was glamping in the Sahara Desert.