Overnight in a tent camp (March 17, 2018)

Wake up call: 7:30. Departure: 9:00. We were all reluctant to leave the wonderful hotel and wished for a sunny day by the large pool in the center of the beautiful courtyard. But sightseeing beckoned.

500 million years ago the Sahara Desert was under water. Erfoud is known today as the gateway to this part of the Sahara as well as for its fossil beds discover in the 1960s. We toured an impressive fossil-filled marble workshop, watched the skilled craftsmen work, and learned about the process of finding them and turning them into beautiful things and, go figure, ended up selecting things to buy from their three huge showrooms. A fascinating stop for sure.

Our second stop of the day was in Rissani, a caravan stop in days gone by, where we met our guide all decked out in his native dress of royal blue with orange (that he referred to as yellow) trim, called a booboo, and a six+ yard scarf wrapped beautifully around his head. He was terrific. He stopped the group at a bakery, so we could watch men making traditional round meat pies called pastilles. He explained that the ones we saw were probably made in the bakery from start to finish and would be sold for the noon meal, but often women make their own meat filling and pay the baker to wrap them in pastille (crust meets phyllo) and bake them.

We then entered a maze of twisted, narrow alleyways, all interconnected in some way, that form a very old housing complex that is home to 80 families and their livestock. Not only were we surprised to know the families bring their few animals into their homes at night, it was explained that the animal waste as well as the human waste is collected and stored in a designated place close to an exterior wall of each home. When the storage area is almost full, arrangements are made to have a door of sorts opened on the alleyway side of the wall, so the waste can be shoveled out and carted away to be used as fertilizer in the fields. The whole maze of dwellings was fascinating!

Before heading into the Sahara for the night, Safi surprised us all with identical blue and black cotton scarfs. This area of Morocco has been deeply influenced by foreign countries as well as numerous tribes, so with our identical scarves we were now identifiable as members of the same tribe: Safi’s tribe. In turn we each had our scarf wrapped around our head in the traditional way.

All decked out in our scarves, we grabbed our duffels and backpacks, which had just what we would need for our one night in the desert, and loaded into four by fours for the ride to the dunes. We made a stop at a public well along the way. If you didn’t know where to look you’d miss it completely since the wall of the well was made of cement the color of the surrounding sand. The cutest thing happened minutes after we arrived. A three to four year old girl  with a little satchel walked out of the desert toward us. All alone, without saying a word, she approached, sat down, dumped a tangle of simple necklaces onto the sand, and began to untangle them. Our hearts melted! Safi knelt to speak with her as her family slowly approach. Had her family not approached we would have bought everything in her little bag. I’d put money on it. After they concluded their business we were welcomed into the tent of a nearby Berber family for tea and a tour. A small stable was nearby as well as an adobe kitchen.

We stayed the night in a rectangular shaped tent camp with a courtyard in the middle, a dining area at one end, and sleeping ‘rooms’ forming the outside ‘walls.’ The walls and ceilings were made of heavy, wool blankets and the floors throughout were covered in huge Moroccan rugs. Each room had a sink, shower, and flush toilet.

As soon as we dropped our stuff in our ‘rooms,’ we hustled up the small dune surrounding our camp and hopped on a dromedary (one humped camel) for our ride further up the dunes to watch the sunset. Two dromedaries to one dromedary handler   who lead the first of the two camels. Of course we were all thrilled and taking a buzillion pictures. It was not the first rodeo for the guys leading the camels evidenced by the fact that they took our cameras and phones right out of our hands and took pictures at the best spots. No doubt a tried and true tip-enhancing move. We got off our trusty beasts of burden at the top of the dune and enjoyed the sunset before heading back down. At the suggestion of one of the handlers I got off my camel half way back to camp. He then situated me on my camel blanket and pulled me down the dune as if on a sled. A clever and fun idea.

Cocktails were served in the courtyard of out encampment and then we went into the mess tent for a delicious dinner of the meat pie we had learned about earlier in the day, chicken with vermicelli, soup, and fruit.

Just as we were finishing dinner the same musicians who greeted our group when we approached the camp entertained us again. The music is strange to our ears but interesting. The main event was a man who managed to do amazing things with a tray loaded with tea glasses and a full pot of tea. He balanced it on his head while he sat, stood, did push ups, walked, and crawled. His finale was somehow wriggling it from his head down to his feet.

I don’t remember how I managed it during such a busy, fun-filled day, but I somehow purchased two scarves and two necklaces. I’m getting a reputation, by golly, for showing no restraint!

We climbed into our very comfortable beds with a mountain of heavy covers and dropped right off to sleep.


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