Lunch with the desert

Trip Start Jan 05, 2008
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
In the desert

Flag of Morocco  ,
Sunday, February 3, 2008

The desert is not a picky eater. She will eat anything, but she eats very slowly.
If you take lunch with her, you can take your time peacefully enjoying yourself without concern, but always keep an eye on her as she may get an appetite when you're not looking.
The desert doesn't often talk to strangers, but she has great love for her friends and family.
If you join her in midday, you may hear her converse with her sister the wind, with whom she shares her temper. Listen as they discuss life, watched by the sun, the parent from whom they both inherit their spirit. Be careful, as their arguments may storm you out of your meal.


Five days, four nights in the desert. Two nights at the `Hamman du Chemalier` camp east of M'Hamd, in the `dej l'hebrouie` (dunes of the jews,) three days and two nights walking and sleeping in the desert surrounding the sleepy town of M'Hamd.
Mountains surround the valley, making the journey seem safely bounded and adding their own air of grandeur to the expanse of dune, palmery and plateau.
Starting at the base camp, we came to meet our guides and hosts around a fantastic vegeterien tajine, followed by the first session of traditional Aganouan music, an appetizer for the many courses of both that followed over the next few days.
In the mornings we arose, eating a quick breakfast before packing our two pack dramaderes with their load. They always complained, moaning loudly, but all their commotion led only to mocking as we all knew they could easily carry the weight.
After packing, we head out for the walk. Nomads used to keep moving periodically in order to find the resources they needed, or daily when on a voyage. Our trek is recreational, but we still push ourselves to move everyday, following a circuit around the valley.
After a few hours of walking, the heat gets too hot, and our guides give the staggering Canadian(s). We break for lunch. The animals are unload an immediately tea is prepared, always strong and sweet. With our thirst quenched we prepare lunch by fire, usually cleaning and cutting a salad followed by tajine.
As the hour long cooking process proceeds, the locals naturally fall to music, mixing strong projecting berber lyrics with the distininctive sound of the traditional fretless three string guitar, handrums and the metal rattles. Our guides share wisdom as they communally share a meal with us; one shared tapestry table, one communal tajine dish, broken brrad paased around, one smile spread across all of our faces. Immediately after eating we fall back to allow the necessary digestion, before we have to return to our march.
An hour later we are packed and ready to move again. By now the days heat haa lifted to bearable by Canadian standards, but without a wind the heat beats down any brow. The experts are dressed in blue layers of loose light fabric, with keeps the sun off of the skin and pumps out the heat with every step. On their heads they wear turbans ranging up to four times their own height, giving them a full 360 degree brim, heat protection for their scalp and neck, protection from the sandy wind, and a unique hard look that defeats any turban jokes I learned in high school.
After returning from the desert Rob and I both buy the longest turbans we can find.
I follow in my North American hiking outfit, long sleeved light fabric shirts, but heavy cotton rugged pants and boots. I barely manage to keep up. Rob is equipped better, wearing light cotton jalabas and shor(er) turbans that breathe well, but we have to work hard to keep up.
Our usual objective is to reach water during the day and find shelter in the evening. Preferably we find both.
Before night falls we search for a good spot to make camp. The animals are unloaded and let loose to feed, but their ankles are tied together to limit their escape. We set up camp, make tea and finaly relax, taking the opportunity to put our feet in the sand, which cools and cleans them.
The sun starts to disappear, turning the desert from white to a mesmerizing golden brown. As it fades further the beauty of the sunset captivates any observer, covering the sky with the colours of the rainbow from east to west. As the brighter colours leave, they take the heat with them. Sand holds no heat long, so the relief from the temperature turns to shock as the cold creeps easily into the light day fabrics.
The celestial nightvshow is easily as captivating as the sunset, but make sure to be ready to cook dinner.
Dinner is usually fire cooked tajine, sometimes accompanied by bread cook directly in sand heated by the fire. We eat dinner and move immediately into song and game.
As the heat leaves, the experts switch to their heavier night jalaba robes. I add my warmer layers, trying to show some proficiency.
Rob and I learn geography, history, language, games and music.
The cultural value of the music becomes obvious in the night. We are always first to start, and arguably comparitively strong musically (despite the novice Canadian backfield), but we are sooned followed by various neighbouring groups. As we listen, our guides smiles at their distant friends, mock fake guides who fail to imitate what they hear. The music is practiced often, so you can tell if you neighbours are locals, friendly foreign tribes, or dummies playing dummer (they may leave with 4 of of their 4x4s between their legs in the morning.)
Eventually the fire dies down. The cold and the fatigue each compete to be the first to drive us to bed, nobody knows which wins. We eventually give in, wrapping ourselves in layers of clothes and blankets. It takes a few turns to do it, but tie ourselves into fabric knots and watch the stars as we fall asleep.
In the morning the cold eventually forces us out of our cocoons. Thankfully, the sun is approaching, guaranteeing us warmth.
We take our breakfast of warmed bread knowing we will soon be warmed ourselves. After packing again, we are soon missing the chill of the night as the suns starts to cook us.
The cycle starts again, and continues. On the last night we decide to keep walking into the night, to reach the permanent camp and sleep in tents and comfort.
The cool evening is easy to walk in so we walk six hours to a beautiful meal.

The camp is maintained by our gracious host, who has the kitchen running, and the hospitatily warmed. She and her dog are happy to see us, covering us with smiles and kisses.

I had hoped in my heart that the beautiful desert dog that started the trip with us would have returned. I loved waking up and watching her run through the dunes, just for joy. After chasing a bird or two, she'd run to me and we'd play in the morning sun. She really got a piece of my heart, so I guess I did leave something in the desert.
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