Crowded Buses. Tents. Camels. Read on…
After class on Thursday we went to the train station and got tickets to Meknes. The train had little compartments just like Harry Potter!! Some old guys were amused by my Beginning Arabic textbook. Three hours later, we arrived in Meknes (around 4PM) and got bus tickets to Rissani… the bus didn’t leave until 10PM so we had somet time to kill. We’d heard good things about Meknes but didn’t see them while we were there. Searched in vain for a restaurant for about an hour… it was so hot we gave up and stumbled into the first place we saw, which was a bar. A note about bars in Islamic countries… technically Muslims aren’t supposed to drink, so the whole bar scene is on the down-low. They have very dark and small windows and usually some kind of curtain in the doorway so passers-by can’t see in. We asked if they had food; they did! We were guided to a room in the back with nicely set tables–it was so bizzare, like being in a speakeasy–and we got a LOT of great food for a supremely cheap price. It was awesome. Above all, they let us stay there for hours on end, escaping the heat in our dark and cool refuge. Oh, and they had plates with Christmas trees on them. Irony?
We took a night bus to our destination, which is the best way to do it because, I don’t know how much you’ve heard about deserts, but they are HOT. Even an air-conditioned bus is not pleasant during the day. It was impossible to sleep on the bus, but at least most of the other passengers were asleep so it was quiet. Eight hours later we arrived in Rissani, where we were promptly accosted by several tour guides who wanted to take us to their auberge. We were kind of skeptical but also supremely tired so we threw up our hands and went with them. Arriving at the auberge, they gave us hot tea and breakfast and gave us a few minutes to relax. We then discussed the price. Luckily, we had met two Canadian brothers on the bus who had come to the auberge with us, and thus we had a group with five people in it. This was a GREAT bargaining chip to get them to come down on the price. Brynn amazed us all by driving a hard bargain–in Arabic–and we eventually wound up with a one-night camel trek, sandboard included, plus accomodations at the auberge for 475 DH each, down from 700 each. Wow!
We slept all day in the beds provided at the auberge. Or at least tried to. It was over 110 degrees! Later at 6pm, after the worst of the days heat had passed, we set out on our journey!
After two hours on camel (rather tiring) we arrived at our camp, sandboarded a little (which is just what it sounds like… strap on a snowboard and head down the sand) and then our guide prepared us some dinner. Which may or may not have been gazelle meat.
Then we attempted to sleep under the stars, which were AMAZING out in the desert with no light pollution, but I woke up at about 3AM with a mouthful of sand and discovered that the fierce winds had all but buried us. Noticing that the Canadians had moved into a tent, I too moved inside, where it was uncomfortably warm but I wasn’t being pelted by sand. Pete and Brynn lasted all night in the sand.
Also, we asked the guides if we should be worried about scoripions (there were cats out there in the tents–5km into the desert–they said it was to catch scorpions), and he half-joked that scorpions weren’t a problem but to watch out for the Algerians [ongoing border disptue]! Thanks for being reassuring, guys.
The next morning we camel trekked two hours back to the auberge–I discovered bruises I had previously been unaware of and we had breakfast and a SHOWER. I think I brought home half the Sahara in my hair. Then they brought us back to Rissani where we caught a bus directly to Rabat–much better than changing in Meknes–and we arrived in Rabat at 5AM. I felt bad for my host dad who came and picked us up, and only in part because I smelled like three days in the desert and camel. Phewwwww.
As always, check the facebook and flickr for more photos.
Also, I have created a new section on the site called “Your Turn” where I put info about places I’ve stayed and services I’ve used just in case you want to do this kind of trip yourself.