SUN, Oct 16
Pretty radical day. Good feed for breakfast, then headed off to our first stops – some lush palmeries surrounded by barren earth and cliffs, then a stroll through the commanding Todra Gorge. Very cool, especially the gnarly rock climbers doing their thang. Mildred gave a local grom an Australian 5-dollar bill and he was frothing out and was the envy of his band of mates. A lengthy burst of driving followed, so I started reading the history of Morocco summarised in my guidebook, which was cool, then started on Jack London’s White Fang, which is cool ‘cos it’s about doggies. Next stop was bustling frontier town Rissani, where it was market day which of course meant our new tour guide took us to see the live cattle, sheep and donkey markets. Good old-fashioned animal cruelty. The streets and narrow souks were a feast for the senses, to borrow an oft-used phrase. The smells and colours flashed by so fast the mind couldn’t keep up with where each one was coming from. There were blacksmiths, barbershops, textiles shops, shoe repair shops, fruit and veg, and a Moroccan natural pharmacy selling an assortment of herbs, spices, alms, creams etc. I asked the proprietor whether he had anything I could use to rid my elbow of a couple of pesky warts and the next thing I knew I had a burning stick jammed into my arm, searing the flesh. He repeated this twice until I was left with a crispy charcoal scab. “I am a professional”, the guy assured me afterward. We bought some skin cream from him to give the fam as gifts back home and bailed after a mint tea. We then went to the back-room of a local store where we had lunch with the owner of the tour company, who is a guru and speaks seven languages. He told us how one previous customer had complained there was too much sand during his Sahara Desert tour.
We arrived in Merzouga, departure point for some radical Sahara dunes – at 3.30pm for another mint tea then met our local guide and our camel friends. I lasted ten minutes riding atop one of them before I had to get off. No one deserves to have my bony ass and my belongings digging into their spine when I’m perfectly able to walk. Guidebook terms such as “breathtaking” and “stunning” – despite being redundant creatively speaking – are apt words to describe the vistas and I won’t try to paint the picture further. We arrived 1.5 hours later for another tea and a play-around in the sand, taking a few happy snaps.
Darkness quickly approached, as did three inquisitive cats – seems you can’t escape them anywhere in this country. A middle-aged Argentine couple arrived on dusk, which allowed me some more Espanol practice (this has been sorely lacking of late). Dinner was a tajine, which would’ve been muy rico if it wasn’t for the whole chicken sitting in the middle of it (earlier in the day the tour company president told us about the delish vegetarian tajines we were to be served and related the story of how a restaurant they used to work with had served a vegetarian Japanese girl a meal laced with chicken. She unknowingly put a chunk of it in her mouth, before hysterically shedding a river of tears. He assured us our feed would be carne free…). We lay on a rug and watched a “traditional drum show”, which involved a baked-out-of-his-mind local guide playing a warped old drum out of time for two minutes before asking if anyone knew how to play it. Then I think he asked me if I wanted/had any hash. We went to bed in a Berber tent, looking out at one of the clearest skies I’ve ever seen, the Milky Way and its stars, going to sleep to the immense sounds of nothing.