Sandstorm

This is the best OAT group we have been with. No one is obnoxious and any annoyances are very minor. Zak, our trip leader is quite impressive. He is only 25, speaks great English, is well organized and has a great sense of humor. He is giving us a lot of good insight into Moroccan culture, with a millennial’s perspective. He is very open, talking about dating and young people in a changing culture. It used to be taboo for a young man to discuss these things with his mother, but Zak talked about it to his mom and she asked around the family and found a prospect. He is in the middle of birddogging the young woman, checking out her Facebook page and deciding if and how to approach her. While we, like 16 parents look on and watch it unfold.

This has also been the sickest group, first me throwing up on the streets of Rabat, MarĂ­a feeling punky, then a guy got flu-like symptoms, and the worst was a woman who asked the bus to stop, then ran outside to deal with a bout of diarrhea on the side of the highway. First some kids, then more, then a couple of women came out from the local houses to watch.

We are 16 travelers, plus Zak and Khalid, the excellent driver, on a 48 passenger bus.

This morning, getting ready to go out to the Sahara, we stopped at an ATM and a pharmacy. Zak said, “It’s too bad, but it’s a fact of life; some people are going to get sick on the trip. Diarrhea is an included feature!”

Today we went to a fossil factory. In my last email, I mentioned that this part of Morocco looks like Arizona. It turns out that here, 350 million years ago, instead of being embedded in limestone from shellfish, fossils here are embedded in iron ore and other tougher materials. This factory quarries this material from the nearby mountains, then slices it into slabs that are loaded with fossils. They polish these slabs to make countertops, tabletops, and smaller items, all loaded with fossils of small sea creatures. It was very cool, and of course there was the shopping opportunity.

Later, we went to a woman’s home for what was supposed to be a short visit for tea, but she wasn’t home. Zak asked a neighbor and out turns out she was visiting her mother, so we went over there. We had an interesting chat with her daughter and son, who served us mint tea. The daughter is finishing university, majoring in Islamic studies. She would like to be a religious guide for women, but she might get assigned to a mosque in another town, and her husband doesn’t want her to travel for work. If she could get a job locally, that would be okay.

Next, we drove out in 4x4s across rocky desert, then sand dunes, to our the camp. After lunch, we had a nap.

Our tents are very nice, with a comfortable bed, nice bathroom, electricity and a fan, no A/C. There were about a dozen flies in the room, but we eventually killed them all. It was hot, but we napped.

Around 4:30, we drove 10 minutes or so to a farm at the base of a huge sand dune, maybe 100 feet high. The farmer’s father had homesteaded the land in the 80s and now they had a grove of date palms and many plots of other plants. He has two wells and irrigated his plants. As we were leaving a sandstorm came up. Suddenly, the wind was blowing harder and the fine sand was blowing, reducing visibility to a few yards. We wrapped scarves around our faces and ran back to the cars. The drive back to camp was like driving through a dense beige fog. We’d see the shapes of the other cars fade in and out of view. We passed camels, ghostly in the gloom. It was very cool, a highlight of the trip.

When we got back to camp, we went straight to the dining tent for dinner, then came back to our tent for a shower and to write this. The sandstorm faded away while we were at dinner and the temp got cool, high 60s. No internet out here so this is going to sit in the outbox for a couple of days.