Ait Benhaddou, Morocco
Although Morocco was incredible, my mind decided that as long as it was going to feel perpetually dehydrated, it should at least be treated to the whisper of the Sahara’s itinerant sands. With that in mind, I set out with my gang from Marrakesh. Our first stop was the Atlas mountains, where I was treated to a brief respite from the scorching heat. Relief was short-lived, however. The rising temperature was our only constant throughout the descent to Ait Benhaddou, an ancient Berber village and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of it’s unique appearance, the village serves as the filming location for many movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy and Gladiator.
After some time spent exploring the village, we made our way to Ouarzazate, Morocco’s film capital. It was here that we ate lunch. While the others dined from the tourist menu, I sought out the bowels of the restaurant that housed all the drivers, guides and assorted others schlepping western day-trippers around the region. It was here that I found a delicious lentil salad, bread and hot coffee. Though I was a bit leery of eating salad out of concern for the water I’d ingest, I ordered and ate it anyway. Superb, as was the conversation I shared with the others at the table.
After lunch, we headed into the Dades Gorges, where we did a bit of hiking and settled into our hotel for dinner and a cool night’s sleep. Nestled between in a towering crevasse, with nearby flowing water really helped cool things down. After a dusty hot day exploring the area, the cool night was welcome.
The next morning, we rose early and made our way to Rissani to pick up some scarves finally stopping in in Merzouga. When we arrived, it was approximately 48 C and the sand in the desert was too hot to stand in for more than three seconds. In order to temper the heat a bit, the group decided to splash in a nearby pool for a couple of hours until the sun began to set and the temperature dropped. The French word for pool is piscine, which sounds terrifyingly similar to PISS-IN. Although the pool smelled like it contained enough chlorine to kill an entire army, the water was turgid, and so I opted to avoid it.
When everyone had had his fill of the pool, we suited up, boarded our camels and plodded off into the Sahara. I was initially somewhat hesitant to ride a camel because of my allergies to horses, but I figured it was worth a try. No problems…or at least none with my eyes. The hours of plodding really hammered my pelvis, so when I climbed off the camel at the night’s camp, my backside was pretty uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I was fascinated by all the dunes that surrounded us and ran up and down them trying to get a better appreciation for our location. It would be very easy to get lost there, so I was careful not to stray far: footprints vanish quickly in the desert wind, so it was important to keep your bearings.
After some exploration, we ate dinner and then settled in for the night. Falling asleep under a bright moon and a starry sky would have been more incredible were it not for the fact that superheated sand cools slowly. So, even at 2 AM, it was still more than 40 C, and as the wind blew the sand around my body, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between my situation and how anthropomorphic bread would feel inside a convection oven. By 3 AM, it had cooled to a more manageable temperature, and I drifted off to sleep, my dreams accompanied by the gentle song of sand being swept to new peaks by the desert winds.
The next morning, we rose, packed and made our way out of the desert before the sun turned the place into an inferno. After a quick breakfast, we started the long journey back to Marrakesh. I could probably have arranged a bus from Rissini to Fez directly, but at 3 PM under a blazing sun, I wasn’t that interested in investigated, so I passed out in the car and let our guide take care of the rest.