Tuesday, May 02, 2006

shootin' the breeze

All right, so I promised to get back to you after the cream tea, (which was DIVINE!) and I'm doing just that, but from Vancouver rather than the English countryside. That's right...I'm back in the 'Couve! When my 9 hour flight from London ended yesterday with a solid thud as the jet's wheels smacked the runway, I let out a yelp of excitement and clasped my hands together...oh the joy of landed firmly on Canadian soil! I was probably thisclose to leaning over the customs counter and planting a big fat kiss on the customs officer's cheek when he stamped my passport and freed me up to go claim my bags!!! And I positively squealed with delight when I walked through the arrival gates and saw Laura ducking under the roped barricade to come greet me. It was really cool because she and Jaclyn (another Menno housemate and good friend)were both there to drop me off in January and now were both picking me up! How time flies!!! But ANYWAY, I STILL haven't finished updating my travels, so bear with me as I backtrack yet again, but this time to the Sahara Desert.

It's been a lifelong dream of mine to visit the Sahara, especially by camel. And probably the best place to do that in Morocco is near the Algerian border in conjunction with one of the nearby desert auberges (hotels) in either the village of Merzouga or the neighbouring city of Rissani. Mom and I chose to do a two night camel trek and as my camel rose up in front of the base of Erg Chebbi (the main dunes in the area) a elation spread across my face...it was hidden under my turban, but it was there nonetheless! And just as fast as I'd become excited, my heart dropped with disappointment...there we were, mom and i with our camels linked together being lead by our guide...ON FOOT. I thought at first that he was just going to get his camel from somewhere nearby, but no, there we were like kids on ponies at a petting zoo being lead by some barefoot Berber through the sand. Actually I was right peeved for a while and tried hard not to sulk lest I ruin what was left of a potentially great experience. Thankfully, mom and I found out later that all camels have to be lead by someone on foot when traveling through the dunes, even during the authentic camel caravans that traders still travel by. This made us feel a heck of a lot better, and actually once we started crossing the steep ridges I realised that there was no way a camel would just follow up these crests on their own. There were some ridges we trekked along that towered at least 200 meters above the dune floor! There was one moment while crossing one of these dunes when I seriously thought we might die...the camels were struggling just to put one foot in front of the other as they kept sinking into the crest...sand cascaded down the mountainside creating mini avalanches and I watched the edge of the dune give way before my eyes...I clung to my saddle blanket with one hand and my camera with another (which I was stupidly using at the very same moment) while trying to balance myself atop the wobbly desert behemoth. The adrenaline rush was FANTASTIC....seriously...I was thrilled to have crossed that mammoth ridge ALIVE, however, when I warily eyed an even higher dune that I thought our guide was bound for, I made sure to speak up and tell him that I was hardly THAT eager to repeat the ordeal.

One perplexing issue that I hadn't prepared for was that of having to relieve myself in the desert. Where do you go? This is not like the Canadian wild, plush with thick forest and handy moss, this is a child's dream sandbox and save for a few scrubby bushes, quite void of convenient pit stops. When I asked our guide where to 'go', he grandly swept his burnished hand across the lumpy horizon and said, "As you like". No less confused, I shrugged my shoulders and trudged up the nearest dune and over its edge. Squatting in an empty bowl of orange sand, one feels extremely vulnerable to both man and nature. I hoped to high heaven that another camel caravan wouldn't, at the most akward of moments, appear at the top of the basin's edge. Nature, was another threat to comfort, I realised as the wind factor played into effect...let's just say that peeing in the desert is like spitting into the wind...however there is always a great dusting of sand that follows each gust, eager to find a resting place on the sticky skin bared to the breeze. And that's just during daylight. It's a strangely surreal thing to crawl out of a mudbrick hut in the middle of the night and stumble over the Sahara's flat stony desert in vain search of a private spot behind some elusive shrub. If the blackness of night were an option, than a long-distance trek into the wild wouldn't be necessary, but as the full Saharan moon illuminated everything in sight, I had no option but to walk as far as possible from camp and reveal to the night another moon of sorts.

But overall, what a fantastic experience...we spent the first night in mudbrick housing owned by a family living in the middle of the Saharan nowhere, and the second under Berber tents made from camel hair, with other camel trekkers gathered at a desert oasis. The entire experience was of course, a bit touristic, but hey, the camels and the Sahara were all authentic right! I'd definitely recommend the adventure!

And that's where I'm ending it for tonight...I'm actually now in VERNON (whoohoo!) and have been having trouble getting myself to the computer to wrap up my trip! Sorry 'bout that! But there's sure a lot more to come, what with leaving Morocco, relaxing in Spain, and visiting Mandee in England all to expand on!

Thanks for checking up on me! And if you're around Vernon feel free to get in touch!