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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Desert Zagora, Morocco, Sunday, 04 January 2009 9:03pm

Mo spotted the first star of the evening, but the first one I noticed by myself was one of the main ones in Orion's belt. The night sky is full here in the desert. The moon is a waxing crescent, enough to easily see by, but dim enough that it really feels dark. We can see some of the lights of Zagora in the distance, but that's the only sign of anything beyond our circle of tents.

Ali, our driver for the desert tour, arrived at our riad in the morning with a Toyota 4x4. It turned out that another person had joined our group, and Ali set off driving through a maze of twisty little streets. It took a few tries (apparently her riad has a really common name), but we eventually picked up a Brazilan woman named Julia.

Our initial route was the same one as for the day trip to Ouarzazate, since there's only one major road in that direction, but this time we covered it much more quickly. We got to see a lot of the same mountains and valleys, but in different lighting conditions. Amusingly, one of our rest stops was at the same cafe/souvenir shop/rest area that we'd stopped at both on the way over and on the way back on the other day.

Since we were the only passengers, we got to ask Ali to stop wherever we wanted. I asked him to let us out at one of the meadows near the top of the pass.

The snow up there packs in to perfect snowballs. Not too slushy, not too icy. I think it has been more than a year since I last touched snow.

We made a stop in Ouarzazate to visit the tour agency and meet the manager. He also goes by Ali, and is extremely friendly and very helpful.

We continued on to Zagora, where we switched from 4x4 to camels (Ali insists that they're "dromedaries", not "camels", but I'm suspicious, since the Arabic word for them is "zhmel").

Riding was initially exhausting. I think the saddle I was sitting on had a distinct list to the right, and I was trying to compensate by leaning. The side-to-side motion tired out my legs pretty quickly. We had a rest stop where I got off the camel and talked to Mo a bit about what riding should feel like (she's ridden horses before), and when I sat back down, I must have squared myself properly, because it was much less tiring, and all of the motion was up-and-down or forward-and-backwards.

We rode for about an hour and a half past palm plantations out to a camp in the rocky desert. The tents are more permanent than I had pictured. Clearly this is a camp that isn't broken often (if ever). There's a main dining tent, and a dozen or so individual sleeping tents, and a building with sit-down toilets and a shower.

After mint tea and dinner there was a demonstration of Berber drumming and singing.

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