A Minnesotan, Moonlight and The Sahara
Minnesotan, moonlight, Sahara...Are you wondering what these 3 words have in common? Kay Nelson that’s what or is it who? Anyway, my intrepid friend Kay crossed another trip off her bucket list last year when she journeyed to the Dark Continent and visited Morocco. It was the experience of a lifetime for Kay, who is kindly sharing her adventure with those of us who will not get the opportunity to experience it for ourselves. And….take it away Kay!
It must have been the 10 cent movies at the Farrow Theater in Parkers Prairie during the ‘50’s what whetted my appetite for a trip to sleep out on the Sahara Desert in Morocco. Well, it took until 2014 to do this, but I am at the “now or never” stage of my life. So, on September 30, 2014, Joining a group of 13 under the leadership of Overseas Adventure Travels (OAT), I flew to Casablanca to begin my adventure!
The Sights and Sounds of Morocco
Morocco was an assault on the senses! The sounds of the call to prayer 4-5 times a day, the flute of the snake charmer, roaring motorcycles, and bleating sheep were just some of the sounds. For the eyeballs, it was a riot of color. The souks, the mosaics, the caramel color of the sand on the Sahara . . . the smell of donkey and horse poop blended with spices, the exhaust fumes from millions of motorcycles. Everyone and his dog was smoking and talking on cell phones.
I can see why the women wear veils . . . to keep their long hair clean. My medium length hair looked like a straw pile under my hat from the sun, sand, and fumes. The jalaba kept one’s clothing protected from all of the above.
There were cats everywhere. They appeared well-fed with clean and shiny fur. I noticed shopkeepers setting food bowls out for them. Then, of course, they hung around the meat markets in the souks where morsels would be awaiting them.
Moroccan Customs and Homes
We were there for Eid-Al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice. If you recall your old Bible lessons, Abraham was to sacrifice his son to prove his faith to God. God intervened by placing a ram in the bushes so the ram gave his life instead. Every year since many families buy a sheep for this celebration and they are so expensive some go into debt.
Local butchers go from house to house doing their dastardly deed. (Never mind my grandfather was a butcher, I was still grossed out.) Then they would hang the sheep on hooks in their doorways for a day. When we made a home visit, our Arabic tour guide asked them to cover them with a cloth for us sensitive westerners who only frequent supermarkets!!
The tour included several visits to Moroccan homes. There was a fancy apartment in Fez, a visit to a Kasbah and we were even welcomed to the tents of nomadic Berbers on the desert. On all our visits we were served hot mint tea with an enormous sugar cube. I gained so much weight, I couldn’t get my jeans snapped after arriving home!
Here’s the Moonlight on the Sahara Part
OK, on to the highlight – sleeping in the Sahara desert. OAT has some fancy-dancy tent villages for their guests that are powered by solar panels! We had a sleeping room and two bathroom areas; one with a toilet and across the hall a sink and shower! It was a full moon on the Sahara which made it especially enticing. The sand dunes were artistically arranged by the wind and have the consistency of sugar.
One of the highlights of the desert stay was the camel ride. Before we took off on our dude string, as one of my horsey cousins describes it (all tied together) we were asked if we wanted to see a camel drink Coke. Yes, we shouted. The handler called the camel by name and then said “Coke.” The camel got up with lightning speed and ran to the fence for his big plastic bottle of coke. He grabbed it, swung his long neck back and guzzled it. I asked if any of the other camels were jealous, and he told me no since they had yet to get a taste of it!
An Evening in Marrakesh
Another amazing sight was Saturday night in Marrakesh. Our group was having dinner on the 2nd-floor terrace of a restaurant where we could look upon crowds of people that rivaled the State Fair. Why was everyone out at night, I wondered? After reading the book, “A House in Fez,” I learned why. It’s so hot during the day that people stay indoors and then come out in the evenings to exercise and socialize.
What would a visit to Morocco be without witnessing the world-renowned belly dance? On our last evening of the tour, we were entertained by a belly dancer at the farewell dinner. Our guide told us these women make a good living; sleep most of the day and have many boyfriends. We were in the most amazing French-Moroccan restaurant, full of mosaics, filmy curtains, and chandeliers. Just like in the movies.
A great time was had by all and I would go back in a heartbeat! We saw very few Americans, but great numbers of Europeans and Australians. The Moroccans asked us to please tell the Americans to come and visit their country. If you decide to experience Morocco yourself, be assured the friendliness and helpfulness of its people were genuine and authentic. Don’t forget that France colonized the country many years ago and vestiges of that time still remain, so dust off your French, add some Arabic phrases, plus English and you are ready to go! Inshallah - God willing!