Merzouga

On a happier note, last weekend was one of my most exciting yet!  We have quite a community of international students through school, and last week the Lions Club organized a three day trip to the South of Morocco that a group of us signed up for.  Jack and Bethany were also visiting from Ottawa last week, so Bethany and I joined this trip while Jack and Mackenzie did their own little trip to Fes.
The weekend started with an early morning bus ride heading out from Rabat to Marrakech.  There were about twenty of us crammed on the little bus, each of us dancing as enthusiastically as you can at six in the morning to Moroccan dance music from our seats, with little-to-no information on what the next three days would look like.  How Moroccan.  At lunch, which we had at a little restaurant in Marrakech, a new Moroccan friend explained that Moroccans like to go with the flow, and don’t like the idea of following a plan.  As much as I appreciate the easy-going attitude, I’m a pretty big fan of schedules, so it was a pretty good reminder to relax a little bit.

Most of the first day was spent on the bus, jamming out to Moroccan music, conversing simultaneously in French and English, playing card games, and winding through the unbelievably beautiful High Atlas Mountains.  I’ve never been on such winding roads, and have never had such a confident driver.  He drove so fast that at one point even the Moroccan students asked him to slow down.  A few of us were sure on several occasions that we would be spending our last minutes on that bus, but sure enough, we made it through the mountains with only a few close-calls.

Our biggest stop for the day was at Ait Ben Haddou, an incredible Kasbah famous for all the movies that have been filmed there, including Gladiator, Indiana Jones, Lawrence of Arabia, and most recently, Game of Thrones.  Mom and I were there last summer, but it was amazing to see it again with cooler weather.  We climbed all the way to the top, which provides a great view not just of the ancient village, but all the way through the valley.

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Since the trip was organized through the Lions Club, a part of the trip involved visiting an orphanage and school that the club supports in Ouarzazate.  Part of the cost of the trip paid for new clothes and school supplies that we then delivered to this orphanage.  I am always very wary of international volunteering, particularly when it is so short term.  In school, we learn about the Saviour Complex, wherein Westerners fly over to the developing world, snap pictures with some local kids for their Facebook, establish a pedantic adult-child relationship, and then leave again.  There’s a lot of dangers in this relationship, and it can lead to a lot of negative results, including a dependancy complex, as well as a view of the developing world as helpless and child-like.  That said, it was absolutely incredibly visiting this orphanage.  The kids were so excited, and we got the chance to interact with them and just hang out for about an hour.  I ended up with some girls reading French, since they were just starting to learn the language, and it was so much fun just listening to them and laughing with them and everything.

The next day was another long drive from Ouarzazate to Merzouga, the last town before Erg Chebbi, the famous Saharan Sand Dunes.  We stopped for lunch in this incredible gorge with a beautiful river running through it, before carrying on towards the desert.  Erg Chebbi is everything you imagine when you think of the desert.  The sand dunes are straight out of Aladdin, sometimes reaching 150m tall.  It feels like an ocean of sand, but somehow simultaneously feels like mountains.  Naturally, these are best explored on camel-back.

We reached the dunes so late at night that it was completely dark.  At first, we thought it was too cloudy to see the stars, but as soon as we set out on our camels the clouds parted and we were welcomed by more stars than I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  It’s completely unbelievable how many stars there are when you’re not in the city.  I couldn’t help but stair up at the sky the whole hour and a half we were riding, which made it that much harder to stay upright on my camel.  After singing a vast repertoire of songs in our camel caravan, including Frank Sinatra and Oh Canada, we reached camp.

I think I slept a grand total of 30 minutes that night.  After eating dinner and taking part in a drum and dance circle, we got to wander out into the dunes10351587_10152529224333335_3753808873503987466_nand play in the stars for ours.  A berber boy set up a blanket for me and two friends so we could just lie and stare up at the stars.  I saw over 10 shooting stars, and I’ve never been able to see the constellations so clearly before.  We also all took turns trying Sand Boarding, which is exactly like Snow Boarding but down sand dunes.  A fell down my first time, but after a few tries I was looking pretty good!  We also had so much fun playing around with cameras and taking pictures of us with the stars using flashlights and extra long exposure settings.

People slowly trickled off to bed, but a dedicated few of us stayed up to watch the moon rise.  I’d never even heard of watching the moon rise before this trip, and I still don’t really understand how it all worked, but we were promised that around 3am the moon would start to rise and completely light up the sky.  And I wasn’t about to miss that.  The desert gets so cold at night, so we all huddled up and talked about everything from school to Islam and politics, which in my mind is the best way to wait for the moon.  At around 3:30am the harvest moon started to rise.  It was completely unbelievable to watch it light up the sky.

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I still wasn’t tired, so a few friends and I wandered through the sand dunes for a while longer before finally pulling blankets out onto the sand and sleeping under the stars.

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast before hopping back on our camels and heading back to Merzouga!  This time we got to really see the sand dunes in the light, which was even more impressive than I could ever have imagined.

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The third day was an impossibly long drive from Merzouga to Rabat.  As much fun as propping myself backwards in my bus seat to play Cheat! with my friends was, I was so relieved to finally make it back to Rabat and settle into bed after one of my longest and best weekends yet.

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