June 25, 2004
DAY 247: The Sahara, the world's largest desert sprawling all over northern Africa, gets extremely hot in the daytime. (Perhaps that's why they call it the desert, huh?) To combat the heat, our tour was set up to avoid the hottest part of the day, by first bringing us in at sunset the day before, and leading us out at sunrise that morning.
The fourteen of us were all awake in our desert camp and ready to go by 6:30 in the morning, just as the sun was making its way over the dunes -- all us us except for Mazza who had a slower start than the rest of us with stomach problems. Eventually, he mounted his camel as did the rest of us. Omar and Mohammed led us back to Merzouga in two smaller caravans. The angle of the sun elongated our shadows as we trekked across the dunes (picture above), bouncing our prostate up and down on the hump of a camel. A couple of hours and a sore groin later, we were out of the Sahara and back in the minibus headed back the way we came.
"Where are we?" Coral asked me.
"In that town where they tried to sell us carpets." I answered. We were back in Tinghir for an early lunch break, which wasn't so early because our food took over an hour to be prepared.
"That guy's probably going to come back," Coral said, referring to Mohammed 0, who tried to sell us rugs during a "weaving demonstration" the day before. I put "weaving demonstration" in quotes because it was more like a subtle sales pitch for his business.
"He was probably wearing Levi's under his [traditional Berber] clothes," Hendrik said.
The rest of us just waited around, wondering when our food would come, or when Hassan would come back to pick us up. Kim asked around and found out that our minibus needed servicing and that the reason for our extended lunch hour was to kill time in town while the necessary repairs were made for the long drive home. Or was that the real reason?
"Hello, remember me?" a man said as he sat down on a cushion in the rooftop dining area we were in. The stranger was wearing a collared shirt, jeans and sneakers. His face was a familiar one; it was Mohammed 0 after all, the sneaky Moroccan carpet salesman trying to make a profit again. Hendrik was right about the clothes.
According to Waddah, who spoke with Mohammed 0 in Arabic, Mohammed 0 just so happened to get wind that our group was back in town, took a shower and changed into plain clothes thinking that a more Western appearance would convince us to buy a rug. "I told him that since I am a guest in his country, he should give me a gift," Waddah explained to me after Mohammed 0 had given up after a continued lack of sales and gone downstairs. "He said he would give me a gift if I buy a carpet from him. I said that's not a gift, that's a trade."
The only other highlight of the day (if you could call it that) was when we were stopped by a cop at a regular routine checkpoint. The cop suspected our handbrake lights didn't work, so Hassan had Waddah press down on the regular foot brake to keep the light on while Hassan argued with the police outside that the light did in fact "work." I suppose the police were just doing their job, inspecting vehicles for safety; when darkness fell, we witnessed the results of two car accidents: one truck was flipped over, presumably by a tourist driver who fell asleep at the wheel; and another had been driven off the side of a bridge and into a river, when it swerved to get out of the way of an oncoming person. (I'm told the driver survived.)
It was about nine o'clock when we arrived back in Marrakesh. Mazza was still feeling pretty ill and just went off to his hotel to rest, while the rest of us wandered the town at our own leisures. Back at the Hotel Ali, Sebastian and I were all set to get a hammam bath from the pizza man after sweating in a minibus all day, but it got canceled when they couldn't find the key. Instead, we wandered the always lively Place Djemaa el-Fna with Russ. Walking through the aisles of food stands, we were treated like marathon runners at a finish line by vendors all around us in order to get our business -- Sebastian and I just raised our arms in the air like we won something and moved on.
I suppose every Moroccan in the tourism industry does what they can to make a profit, whether it be from food, carpet or otherwise.
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