Scorpions, bed bugs and big cops, oh my!

Trip Start Jun 15, 2011
Trip End Jun 15, 2012

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Sunday, October 23, 2011

We woke up to a bright morning and Mason and I got up and out of the tent in time to see the sunrise over the Sahara Desert. We were the only ones in camp to rise that early. Soon Shelby, Adriana and Estela were up on the sand ridge enjoying the view with us. The Casablancans were up soon enough, but having missed the sunrise, they hunched down into the pit of a sand dune to watch the sun rise over a dune so they could experience a sunrise all their own. We were on our camels and back to civilization, butts sore and walking bowl-legged. We had breakfast at our motel on the edge of the desert and said our goodbyes, Aziz was there to collect us and we were soon zooming west for new horizons. The heat comes up fast in North Africa; good thing it's October.

We were headed for the gorges to the north of Ouarzazate, Berber wailing on the car stereo and heat blasting us like a hundred giant hair dryers from the open windows. The kids were sound asleep but I was trying to collect as much as I could from my visual tour of Morocco. The desert was turning from sand to dirt to rocky outcroppings and oases, valleys of carefully tended crops and Kasbahs hanging from the high hills. We twisted up into the Todra Gorge. The drive along the cliff edge had all my muscles clenched because most of the road was single lane and mostly made of dirt, and every once in a while a car would zoom down the hill forcing us to the edge of the cliff. Thank God Aziz was a good, careful driver and knew all the hazards well. The gorge itself is interesting in a natural beauty sort of way, but to us was pretty routine. If you’ve spent any time in Utah, like we have, the gorges of Morocco won’t do much for you. We had lunch there among the tour bus crowd, and then moved off to the second gorge, where we were to spend our last night before returning home.

Dades Gorge is less spectacular than the first, but the drive was better because of the drama of the Kasbahs built on the cliff tops and into the sheer walls of the canyon. Nomadic tribes occupied the roads as they went from one canyon branch to another with their donkeys, goats, veiled women and wild-eyed kids. Herders took over entire stretches of highway with hundreds of goats that would swallow caravans of cars as they moved past at a goat-trot pace. We drove up to the panorama of the gorge as seen from a café clinging to the side of the rock, which threatened to fall off with the smallest shake of the land. I hadn’t had a beer in more than a week, or a drop of alcohol of any kind (unless you count a sip of 'Korean whiskey’ the night before, smuggled into our Sahara caravan by our Korean friend Andrew), so I asked for one. The waiter told me that they don’t have any electricity of any kind and cannot keep any drinks cold up there. A café without cold drinks is like a Monty Python cheese shop, don’t you think?

Later, after checking into our hotel just below the panorama, we cleaned up and waited for dinner. At 7:30 it was served, and we found a crowd of people from all different parts of the world, but we distinctly heard American English spoken by an older couple across the room. I made a mental note to have a chat with them, as we haven’t met an American for some time. The rest of the guests did not look like they were interested in conversation. I don’t know how I know this, but I can always tell. The dinner was pretty good, but the soup was an interesting concoction that I could not place. It was like having watery oatmeal without any sugar, but since it was soup we added a bit of salt, which made it taste pretty good. An Englishman at the next table told the waiter that the soup was absolutely horrible. I wonder what extra ingredient he would get in his main course. Note to self: never, ever insult a chef on his food until you have eaten his last. I left a generous tip because the waiter and staff were very good and the food was decent. This paid off big time the next morning because the staff waited on us exclusively, and left the single pot of coffee at our table so other guests would have to get up and come to our table to refill. We were given extra everything, at the exclusion of the other guests. The previous night’s tip was actually quite small by US standards, but it made all the difference.

I do believe we encountered bed bugs for the first time of our trip. The girls woke to several ‘mosquito’ bites, but the place had no mosquitoes. Mason and I had none. For the first time in the four months of travel, we have encountered what everybody back home warned us about, the terror of bedbugs. We slept in nine countries: in hotels, motels, apartments, riads, flats, peoples’ floors and couches, on pads on the desert floor, and we had not, until now, encountered a single bedbug. What a little thing to worry about. That very morning Estela woke up and found a smashed scorpion on her pillow. Now that’s something to worry about. But bedbugs?

The next morning we talked for a while to the American couple we saw the night before. They were a retired couple from Seattle, but were traveling in our style, perhaps a little more rugged. They were taking taxis, buses and rides in vans from people they met, and were cruising all over the country with just two small bags. The man, Larry, and his small Asian wife, Suzie, were living the way more people should travel, in my opinion. They were full of stories of chance encounters with people they had met in other places, had been to more places than we had in our two weeks in Morocco and were making a real adventure out of it. Next they would fly to Cairo and do the same thing there. They never got on a tour bus and always traveled in the lowest class available. But they had life in their eyes and had already met everybody at the hotel and made friends everywhere they went. It was their annual vacation of three weeks and they stuffed it full of whatever they could find. I wish we’d had time to talk with them more.

The rest of our trip was uneventful. We visited the old Kasbah in Ouarzazate, which reminded us all of the Blair Witch house: the plain brand of creepy. I freaked the girls out by putting my face in a corner when they walked into a room (if you’ve seen the movie it would freak you out too). From room to room we wandered, but saw nothing to interest any of us. We were soon on our way once again.

Aziz was a great driver, as I’ve said before, but the Moroccan police had him on edge. The cops here are all tall, handsome and fit. They almost certainly have a thick, black mustache, but always have a neatly pressed uniform, with a sidearm stowed in a white holster on their belts. They have a quiet stoicism; they usually stand on the sides of the roads with their hands clasped behind their backs and quietly observe their surroundings. When you enter a town from the desert they will either wave you through or point to the edge of the road to ask you a question. Once, while driving out of the High Atlas Mountains, there was a speed limit sign on the side of the road that warned of one of these checkpoints. Aziz immediately jammed on his brakes to meet the speed requirement, and then was pointed to the side of the road to answer a question. The cop wandered casually over to the window without a care in the world. He asked Aziz to show his medical kit, since he was transporting tourists. While the officer was inspecting the kit, I got out of the car to get a breath of fresh air, and talked briefly to one of the other officers. He asked me where I was from. He nodded solemnly, giving just a hint of a smile, shook my hand and asked me to enjoy thoroughly our visit in Morocco. I’ve never seen anything like it.

We had a very late lunch in the High Atlas Mountains, and hours later pulled into Marrakech. The girls started their online schooling and didn’t finish until early morning.
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