Pop Quiz: Questions You Never Thought To Ask About The Moroccan Sahara

Our last few days in the eastern hinterlands of Morocco have been a cross between the Wild West of Butch Cassidy lore and something out of MTV’s latest attempt at substandard reality television programming. Regardless of whether I wanted to know the answers to these questions, I have them now, so you might as well too!

1 Taxi. 14 People

Question: How many people can you fit into a 7-seater van?

Answer: 14. On our way from Zagora (a small city that bears a passing resemblance to normal civilization) to Mhamid (camels > humans; no need to say anything else) the five of us, plus Yusuf, a Moroccan who hosted Vicky and Alina when I met them in Essaouira, took a grand taxi. About 30 km before arriving in Mhamid we stopped in a small town to stretch our legs and THEN 7 MORE PEOPLE CLIMBED ON BOARD. Including the driver there were 3 people in front, 5 in the second row, 4 in the third row (this is where I sat) and 2 in the trunk. Americans, take note: this is how you carpool.

Drunken bottle fight

Question: What happens when two Moroccan men, one of whom is probably gay, compete for the attention of one woman?

Answer: Hilarity ensues, of course. The lovely Russian Alina seems to be a magnet for creeps, perverts, and sad lovesick Moroccan men, and in Mhamid she unwittingly set herself up for a showdown of underwhelming proportions. Our host Rashid—a man with many goats to his name and running water on his property to boot—and Yusuf had a bit of a standoff over the course of our 3 day stay in Mhamid for a nomadic music festival. Alina casually mentioned to Rashid that she was looking for a husband who would be willing to beat her if she stepped out of line, and she preferred drunks.

Rashid

Rashid—who tripped Alina’s finely-tuned gaydar (apparently half of the men in Moscow are gay, and she’s friends with a lot of them)—replied that he could be that drunken angry man she’d so desperately been seeking, and proceeded to get quite inebriated each night we were together. At the festival the two battling stags never gave her a moment’s peace: Yusuf accompanied Alina as she smoked cigarettes or went to get water and Rashid clumsily attempted to dance with her despite her no-means-no body language. Tensions reached their flaccid peak on our last night, when Alina rejected Rashid’s outright proposal that they “have sex just once.” Sensing a chance to overcome his rival, Yusuf lured us into the desert for camping on our last night (more on that later) and then walked back to the house and snuck into Alina’s bed while she was asleep. Nothing happened, although Alina reported that he woke her up later that night just to let her know that “he was sleeping”—no typographical errors, as weird as that sounds. The next morning, Rashid glared daggers into Yusuf’s back, then gave me an uncomfortably firm hug for a second too long when we departed.

HitlerCat

Question: What is Hitler doing reincarnated as a cat in the middle of the Sahara desert?

Answer: Ich habe keine Ahnung meow Führer! (Translation” I have no idea, my Führer!)

Killin it with the beat

Question: Is there anything cooler than Tuareg music from Mali?

Answer:

Badass guitarist

No, not really.

On the edge of the Sahara

Question: Should you think twice before camping in the desert without proper cold weather camping gear?

Answer: Yes. In fact, you probably shouldn’t go at all unless you have a real tent, not a flimsy plastic one. And bring a sleeping bag that can keep you warm when the thermometer is around freezing. While Yusuf made his ill-fated getaway to Alina (who wisely opted out) the rest of us were literally huddled for warmth against the cold. As romantic as being together with a pretty girl in the wild might sound, it’s not so cool when you’re shivering to stay warm.

...in Mauritania

Question: When hitch-hiking, how many beers need to be consumed by your driver before you realize it was a bad idea to get in his car?

Answer: Yesterday, the dream team finally split up and I continued west back to Ouarzazate with Louise and Franziskus, my two German buddies, while Victoria and Alina went north to Rabat. The three of us found a ride in Zagora with two Berber guys driving a beat up Renault station wagon. Curiously enough, it had seatbelts in the back, which our driver was adamant we wear. His insistence on our safety was ironic considering he popped open two beers while he drove up the narrow mountain pass to Agdz, halfway to Ouarzazate. When took his one remaining hand off the wheel to light up a cigarette–and then later on during the drive asked us if we were interested in buying hash from him–I knew we’d found the perfect ride.

Hole in the wall

Last question: Besides violating dubiously-enforced property laws, why is breaking into a hotel dangerous for your health?

Answer: When we arrived last night in Ouarzazate we decided to visit an abandoned resort hotel that we’d seen the last time we were here, about 5 days ago. Along the way there we ran into Bryce, a scruffy backpacker from California who looked a bit lost. He and a Canadian guy had just arrived by bus from some faraway desert outpost and were looking for a place to spend the night, so I suggested they accompany us to the hotel. When we got there, the doors were weakly barricaded from the inside and surely a good kick would do the trick. However, common sense ruled the day and instead of destroying hotel property it was decided we would attempt to climb the perimeter wall and breach the hotel without breaking anything. Bryce scrambled up the 10 foot tall wall and perched on top, looking for an entryway but failing to find one. Since there was no way for him to climb back down, he let himself halfway down the wall and then dropped to the ground. Perhaps in another country the masonry is better, but in this case part of the wall came down with him, and a huge rock landed straight on his knee. To Bryce’s credit, he took the pain like a man and after about 5 minutes he got up and limped with us to a cheap hotel.

Before you go, you might want to check out this video–see if you can spot some familiar faces in it:

If this is your first time reading my blog, let me know in the comments section below! Wouldn’t it be awesome to see more cool places like this every time you opened your email? Following my blog is free, and I don’t believe in spam–click on the “Follow!” button up there on the right for updates on my travels and inspiration for the next time you go somewhere new!

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9 thoughts on “Pop Quiz: Questions You Never Thought To Ask About The Moroccan Sahara

  1. I was in the Atlas in the winter once, thanking the heavens for my down sleeping bag and the totally inappropriate sheepskin coat my father had given me as a going away present, so I can imagine how cold it was in that flimsy tent! I’d say it would be worth it though, if the concert was anything like the Essakane concerts – or the later Timbuktu concerts. I was smitten by The Festival in the Desert CD I discovered in the early naughties … Was this where the Desert concerts moved to for 2013?

    1. Oh man! The Atlas in winter must be even more gorgeous than it is now! It’s an incredibly beautiful landscape, I was blown away by the ruggedness of the mountains and how small we were in our car. As for that concert, I’m not sure if it was a recent change but Mhamid was definitely an interesting choice. We had a great time though, as you can see! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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