I'll pass on the "camel pie." Thanks.
03.15.2012 80 °F
Toward the end of our trip to Morocco, Phil and I asked ourselves what was one thing you have to do when you're in Morocco. Avoid contracting tetanus. Then we asked ourselves what the second thing you have to do is. Ride a camel into the middle of a desert and sleep there. We decided to do both.
Just as we were leaving Erfoud to head for the sand dune Erg Chebbi, we mentioned to a Moroccan man at reception that we were planning to find a camel ride, and what do you know, just like every Moroccan in the country, he had a cousin who ran a company of the activity we were looking to spend money on! We used the opportunity to snag a low price (we just threatened to find something "when we got there") and began the drive.
At least 15 miles from our destination we could see the dunes rise above the horizon. We pulled up to our desert tour (one of many) and Pepper immediately began inspecting the funny looking horses. Our gaze was pulled toward the dunes and we could see tire tracks everywhere. For the hundredth time since we entered Morocco we thought to ourselves, why the hell weren't we on motorcycles?
After an hour or so we joined up with the other half of our group (making 4 en totale) and saddled up. Mounting a camel was an experience in itself. It was awkward, extreme, surprising, and delicately unstable. There were no stirrups, nothing to balance your feet on. Your ass is your feet. It's the only point of contact and balance besides a t-bar handle that moves as much as the camel and always in the opposite direction. First you huck your leg over the seated camel and try to balance on a stiff blanket wrapped around the camel's hump (presumably to protect the hump from you...or maybe you from the hump). Then the camel stands up and it's like a friggin roller coaster. First it gets up on its wrist joints (lean back), then to its knees (almost pitching you off the front), then to its front feet (back again) and finally its back legs fully extend. You're level, but now balancing delicately ten feet in the air on a strange animal.
Now try that with a beer in your hand.
We were led off into the desert, very slowly, by a boy of 17 and his little brother aged 9. This was a family business. Pepper came with us into the dunes but spooked the camels, got kicked, and so had to be led by the teenage boy while the little boy led our camel caravan. The Moroccan boys walked with sandals, the fine sand going everywhere. The camels were easy for them to direct, as they were led by a little string tied to a ring in their nostril. Each of the camels were tied nose to tail, literally.
Since we got a late start we saw the sun set in the desert and stopped to run up and jump off the dunes. We reached the Berber tents just as dark set in and the stars came out. I had decided my ass couldn't take any more swaying on a crappy makeshift saddle when we turned a corner and our Berber tents appeared. They looked like woolen blankets stitched together, and pretty much were. There were two sleeping tents, a kitchen and "staff" tent, and our dining tent. After exploring the area around the tents and finding more sand, we retired to the dinner tent.
There was a snag in the traditional tagine dinner (veggies, meat and spices cooked/steamed in a special ceramic dish over coals) -- they ran out of gas for their steel pressure cooker. Apparently the tagine is cooked western-style and served in the tagine dish just for show. So three hours later, we ate our traditional LOOKING meal, had Moroccan whiskey (tea), and shared a bottle of wine between us four which we brought with us. After dinner the boys played music on drums and a two-stringed (ie. broken) banjo. It was amazing! They sounded great.
It was cold and after we dumped a long stream of sand out of our shoes we literally crawled into our tents through the foot-high entrance. Once inside we could stand up inside them. Inside was simply a rug set on top of the sand with a mattress and lots of itchy blankets. Sleep was over quick and before long it was time to get up and get on the roller coaster again.
One hour later we were back - not a minute too soon. The camels seemed to march with lazy and sloppy steps, taking no care to make the ride more comfortable for their passengers. I don't really blame them. I'd had enough of their jarring steps and I'm sure they'd had enough of me. But in the end, I got the crazy experience I wanted and they got to poop in their natural environment. Win win.