Monday, January 28, 2008

Morocco travel letter: Marrakech-Desert

Land Rover
At 7 we meet the Brazilian guy Vittor and our Land Rover driver Mohammed. We’re really in luck with the Brazilian because he speaks good English and also has a considerable command of French, which means he can communicate more fluently with the driver. We can just eavesdrop on their conversation and as it is simple French, pretty much understand everything. Sometimes Vittor also translates for us. It’s not the most comfortable of rides as the car is built for endurance and not for comfort but we see a lot of the country and the changing landscapes – from stony desert land to palm groves and snowy mountains. We make stops to take pictures of the Kasbahs and occasionally talk to the locals. There’s a cute and very polite small boy with an iguana, which at first sight looks dead but is very much alive when the boy scratches its back and holds it by its tail. We give the boy a chocolate bar and he thanks us politely.

Egon, Lennart & Tommy
We have lunch in Ouarzazate, which is the Hollywood of Morocco with several major movie studios and which also has a beautiful kasbah. From there it is still several hours to the destination - Zagora. Altogether we drive for about eleven hours. In Zagora Mohammed hands us over to a man with 3 camels and we get to experience an hour-long ride on the camel. We name the camels, mine is Egon, N’s is Lennart and Vittor’s is Tommy. For some reason I get the biggest one and poor little Tommy has to carry Vittor. I’m amazed how high up I am. I can already anticipate the muscle pain I’m about to get after a full hour of balancing on the camel.


When we get to the small Zagora dunes it’s already gone dark but as the moon is almost full it lights the desert like a huge lamp. We’re seen to our tent and soon after our cook – also Mohammed – arrives with a pot of mint tea. “Berber whisky,” he says as he pours it out, then taps the glass against the tray and passes it to us. We drink the tea and just wait for what will happen next. Our camel man, Lahsen, tells us there will be food and after, fiesta. He speaks a bit of English and French and has picked up phrases in other languages from the tourists. As we’re waiting for the food, the conversation enrolls, not much different from what you’d have with people you’ve just met at a bar. We talk about weather in our respective countries – he can’t imagine we can get minus 20C, query if any of us has kids – no, and guess one another’s ages. It’s rather hard to guess the berbers’ age as they seem to age faster with all the sun and often their teeth are totally ruined by excess smoking. Lahsen, however, seems to be rather young, his teeth are also in good shape and I notice that in fact he doesn’t smoke. How he manages to keep it this way is beyond me. Practically all the men here smoke nonstop and it’s definitely the favourite way to spend time. Lahsen is 28 and Vittor is only 20. We conclude with N that for a berber, Lahsen is rather good looking and that even his moustache becomes him. When we ask Lahsen about how long camels live, he answers without hesitation: “Thirty three, then teeth gone, camel dead”. I have a hard time believing it but who am I to argue a berber.

Soon, Mohammed arrives with our food – tajine with chicken and vegetables – and this is without any doubt the best meal I’ve had in Morocco. We screw open the wine we’ve bought from a hotel bar and enjoy ourselves. After the table is cleaned the guys re-appear with djembe-like drum, there’s a third man accompanying them but I don’t catch his name. They start singing – using the drum, an empty plastic canister and their hands as instruments. The singing sounds like chanting and they sing in canon, with one beginning and the other joining in soon after. It’s a good concert and pretty soon we’re all clapping along. The drum is passed on to Vittor – or Doctor, as the berbers call him – and he sings a Brazilian song. In terror, me and N look at each other. There’s no way we are going to sing something. We insist that Estonians have no rhythm, but the moment we say it, the pride rises in us, and we don’t want to leave the berbers thinking there’s no music in our country. However, not one song springs to our mind and there has definitely not been enough wine to get over the barrier.

E shkoori
As it happens, technology comes to our help. I’ve got my ipod with me and if I remember correctly, there should be a folder with Estonian songs on it. The Brazilian guy has a portable speaker and in a minute we’re already singing along to Tanel Padar & the Sun. The berbers are extatic, because finally this is turning out to be a real fiesta. “Dancin, dancing,” they shout when “Welcome to Estonia” starts playing. We’re in a circle, holding hands and moving around the pole in the center of the tent. It’s a simple dance but it’s more fun than I’ve had in a while. To Genialistid “Täna ma ei skoori” all of us – the Estonians, the Brazilian and the berbers – are singing along: “E shkoori, e shkoori, e shkoori…” This moment I am storing in my heart for the rest of my life.

The night in the desert is very cold and at some point I can’t wait for the sun to rise already. The cold and my full bladder get me out of my bed right before sunrise and in a pretty soon Lahsen appears to wake us up. We eat some breakfast and take some photos. The dunes are indeed rather small but with the magnificent morning light we get some good pictures and with the previous night I am definitely not disappointed. There will be other times in future to go and see the big dunes in Merzouga. We pack up and climb on our camels again, soon it’s time to say good-bye to Lahsen and start our long ride back to Marrakech. It goes faster this time, with only a couple of stops. We’re back at around 5 p.m.

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