It crossed my mind, belatedly, that this may not have been the best decision I’ve made. It wouldn’t even rank among the top 10. Here we were, two 20-something girls hurtling further and further away from any forms of modern civilization. Sure, we had cell phones and emergency data plans but how useful would they be? It would be hours before whatever authority could come and rescue us… and by then…
Well, it was too late to do anything about it. Might as well see it through.
It all started on Couchsurfing, like so many of my adventures do. His profile was seriously blinged out… and although he’d only gotten 22 reviews from his previous surfers, everything looked good. Originally, I’d been looking for a host in Marrakech, planning on spending all of the 6 days we had there. However, I was looking for adventure and found a host that lived in the last village before the Sahara Desert. The only downside was a straight 11-hour bus journey from Marrakech to his village.
On the way, however, we were treated to such a variety of Moroccan landscape that I never imagined to find here! We saw parts of the High Atlas Mountains, valleys, oases, great stretches of nothing but sand—it felt like every time I fell asleep, I woke up to some new scenery, all equally amazing. It often felt like it was part of a dream… or that we were in part of Disney World’s Epcot or Animal Kingdom.
The stops we made at cities en route were also a treat. Everywhere we looked, we found culture so different than anything either of us were used to—people sitting sideways on donkeys hauling huge wooden carts, dirty in-ground holes used as bathrooms, oranges arranged into one large mound and sold for 1 cent each.
9 hours later, Sayaka and I were reaching our limits. Every time the bus stopped, we’d look back hopefully at Hicham, our host, who would always laugh gently and shake his head no. And then dejectedly, we’d sit back in our seats for another hour… but it wasn’t too bad because we were distracted by the stars. Although the bus had lighting inside, they shone so brightly they were still visible.
When the bus stopped for a final time, reaffirmed by a nod from our host, I looked outside to a small gathering of cloth-covered bodies, and exited the bus to an open street with a single string of streetlights. But it seemed our journey was not yet over. We huddled by one of the dim street lamps until a 4×4 pulled up and took us about a mile from the outskirts of the city.
“What is this?” I asked. We stood at the entrance of a stone hut, the interior illuminated by one flickering candle from which I could see the orange reflecting off two figures crouched on the ground.
“It’s a family home.” He stepped inside, beckoning for us to follow. We did, taking our shoes off as is the custom, and seated ourselves on the patchwork of carpets lining the ground. Dusty, sandy pillows were propped all along the wall.
Immediately, a silver platter holding a silver genie-like teapot and three small glasses appeared on the lopsided table. His cousin started pouring it, holding the teapot far higher than necessary; we would learn later that this is part of the tea ceremony done every time we had a cup of tea. After such a long time spent on the bus, this tea was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. Strong, yet balanced out by the immense sticky-sweetness. And, because we had been on the bus for 11 hours, our energy was flagging. Hicham noticed.
“Here, I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping.”
We followed him outside, where two box-like shadows stood. Berber tents. Inside, we found only mattresses and blankets. Looking around, I saw only the expanse of… nothing. It felt a bit like being in a snow globe; at a certain point of bare scenery, the earth starts taking on a globe quality—the sky turning down at the corners to meet the sand, the stars following the spherical horizon. This is where we would be spending the next three days. No bathroom, no shower—nothing except what was to be provided by our host. We didn’t even know where to get food.
“Um, where is the bathroom?”
“Everywhere,” he spread his arms and laughed. Got it. First thing tomorrow morning, we were buying toilet paper.
Sayaka and I settled down quickly, eager to finally drop off the huge weights that we’d been lugging around the whole day. We were also eager to sleep—but first, we headed outside to soak it all in. Sitting in silence under the stars, we reflected on how lucky we were: we were in Morocco, camping in a Berber tent for a few days in a village that few people have heard of at the gate of the Sahara Desert.
“He seems like a really trustworthy guy,” I casually mentioned to my friend, trying to gauge her state of mind over the plans thus far.
“Yeah, but it’s only the first night; our stay isn’t over yet. Only time will tell.” And on that ominous note, we both tucked ourselves in on our thin mattresses. Sleep came easier to Sayaka, who usually had less energy than I did normally. For me, however, I was restless that night, eager to see the desert in the daytime and impatient to begin promising adventures.
The next morning did not disappoint as we woke up to views like these:
So we had a little fun…
Looking back now, I’m so happy that I chose to Couchsurf with him. If I were to do things differently and if I hadn’t booked anything for the entire time I was in Morocco, I would have gladly spent all 6 days in his tiny village, soaking up the slow rhythm of their lifestyle. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling, it’s that so much more can be experienced by moving forward. And so we did. The following days, we would sleep under the stars, climb Erg Chegaga to watch the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever witnessed, and visit a few families still living in the kasbahs nearby. Much much later on, I would go on to experience the fling of a lifetime… also in Morocco. But shh, there’s still a lot to tell before that.
Linking up with Bonnie!