No, I’ve not fallen asleep, just experiencing distractions from daily life and deadlines looming overhead (which are now, thankfully, past). And then there was the ICE STORM. Capital letters don’t do its magnitude justice. But this is not about that. Rather, it is somewhat of a digression since our digital camera is still on the fritz and I am unable to post pictures of my progress on my latest painting. It is about Morocco, as I had promised, and coming along nicely in spite of the other things getting in my way.
But it is not for today, since it’s rather boring to talk about a painting one can’t see. Today I will paint a picture of Morocco in words, a tale from our first trip there, and one that had lasting effects on both Dave and me. This is a rather long tale, so I’ll give it to you in a couple installments. You’ll just have to tune in later to see how it all turned out. We did survive, you can surmise, afterall.
The Desert Calls
The front wheels of our car bump off the road in front of a sign that reads â€œAutopisteâ€ and onto a spray of car tracks leading in several directions out into the barren dust illuminated in our headlights. We are at the northern edge of the Sahara Desert south of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, headed on our way to a 3-day camel adventure. Weâ€™d found our guide, Abdul, in the seaside town of Essaouira on the northwest coast of Morocco, a full dayâ€™s journey from where we find ourselves now, at dayâ€™s end, entering the Sahara.
Abdul grew up here in the desert in what he calls the family compound. He owns a small shop in Essaouira selling jewelry and trinkets to tourists, and when he can find willing adventurers, he brokers camel trips of various lengths for intrepid spirits such as ourselves. For a negotiated fee heâ€™s agreed to drive us to our tripâ€™s starting point in the Sahara, hire guides and camels, and provide all necessary provisions, such as food, water, and gear, for our 3-day trip. It sounded like the experience of a lifetime, and David and I were excited and dumbstruck by the prospect. Abdul had warned us that we would need to get to our turnoff into the Sahara before sunset, as the roads were weak and indiscernible, little more than tracks in the dirt. â€œThe roads, they go like this, this, this,â€ he explained, motioning his hands in different directions and shaking his head to show their confusion. Since he no longer lived there and was now unaccustomed with the way from the highway to the compound, he would need the light of day to distinguish the right course through the sand.
Our day had begun with a maddening watch alarm failure due to its complicated instructions. We had awakened late on the morning of our departure from Essaouira and scrambled frantically around to meet Abdul and head south to the desert. By the time we met him just outside the city gate it was close to 8 oâ€™clock and the day well on its way. Our journey took us up across the Atlas Mountains, where we stopped for lunch and a brief rest. We made several stops for photo opportunities, and somewhere outside of Zagora we stopped at an open market for our trip provisions. Heading south out of town we were further delayed by a slow convoy of SUVs also headed south. The sun was quickly sinking as we raced to pass them.
The twilight had enveloped us as we finally pulled off the highway onto the piste headed into the Sahara. Abdul had accurately described the lay of the road, if it were to be called that. Tire tracks led everywhere, each beckoning you to follow its lead. Ahead at the distant horizon the sun was slipping its footing, sinking into darkness. I looked behind us in time to see a bus discharge several passengers into the dusk. Where were they headed, I wondered, with no visible town or village or house in any direction? I watched them set off knowingly behind us, headed westward, just as though theyâ€™d been let off at some busy well-lit city street corner. As we headed onward I lost sight of them in the growing dark.
The first moments of panic bubbled up from the pit of my stomach as I looked out the front window trying in vain to determine the road. Abdul and David had spent much of the day amicably chatting, but now their voices were silent. Who was this man, really? What did we know about him? Instead of the headiness of a fantastic adventure about to unfold, I felt an icy foreboding in the pit of my stomach. What kind of foolishness had David and I gotten ourselves into? Maybe Abdul was taking us to some desolate place to abandon us and be off with our money, or worse. Why wasnâ€™t he talking? Where was the jovial fellow now?
In an effort to steady myself I tried to think of something light to say, but nothing came to mind. Instead, all I could focus on was the closing way before us and the waning light. We rambled over a vague rolling terrain of sand and low scrub . Off in the distance I could make out the silhouettes of a few camels and a couple of lone people, but no lights of dwellings or distant towns. The car was moving slowly and I willed the heavens to help us find our way, to protect us. I regretted all our stops to take pictures, our time spent resting at lunch, our missed wake-up alarm, our decision to come on this journey to begin with. The car stopped ….