Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From Camel Blankets to the Milky Way

No, not the candy bar. The actual Milky Way.

My friend Krista and I went to the desert on Sunday. We left at 9 in the morning, picked up by our guide (Yafya) and driver (Ramdan), two Berber guys wearing great swathy turbans. They took a while to warm up to us. I think it was mostly becasue they didn't really believe that we understood Arabic, which they both (thankfully) spoke. Yafya actually spoke better French than Arabic -- so he talked to Kirsta. And Ramdan, a tiny, tough, mustachioed, early-forties, spoke Darija with a strange southern accent that took me a while to get used to, but once I did, well...he didn't shut up.

We drove from Ouarzazate through through Zagora (it was a souk day -- safety pins: 1 dirham), up to Jebel Zagora to see the exceptional view of the great Draa River which stands as a testament to the great Draa valley in all its fecundity as well as the great unfinished hotel which stands as a testament to the great Arab bureaucracy. The Kasbahs (old fortresses) out there are all used by the Hollywood industry to film things like Star Wars and Gladiator, so all in all, the views were pretty, well, great. The

When we got there we had tea. And more tea. And then went for a camel ride. And then drank more tea. And then we ran up the dunes -- because they were there. And then drank more tea. And then it got dark. After dark there was nothing to do. So we ate dinner. And then drank more tea. And then Ramdan told us jokes in Arabic. Some of them were long, some were short, but jokes in Arabic don't work exactly the same way as they do in English. When a question is posed, you are actually supposed to suggest an answer. Also, sometimes they're more like long stories than jokes.

I had to pee like the devil from all of that Berber Whiskey. As it turned out, we had only made it to the "bab" (door) to the Sahara, we were sleeping next to our jeep in a tent which had a gas burner already set up for us, and there was a tent full of turkish toilets for our use, and, get this: running water. This was car camping at its best, but I didn't mind.

NUJUM ("stars")
That night we sat on the dunes and stared at the stars. I learned some of the names of the constallations...but they were in Arabic, or maybe Berber, so I don't remember any of them. The sky was smudged with other galaxies, some looking like clouds, others like fireworks. Moonrise and moonset were dramatic. For such a sliver, it cast what I saw as a silver lining across the desert. And of course, we gaped at the Milky Way.

We left at 6:30 the next morning. We got back to Ouarzazate with enough time to RUN to the Kasbah and, yes, buy a blanket from Hassan. Alhumdullilah. He wanted us to stay for some Berber Whiskey, but we had to run back (I appropriated another taxi) to barely get on our bus for Marrakesh.

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