Saturday, March 22, 2014

3/14/14 Day 57 Essaouira Erg Chebbi Desert

What a looooong day of travel. We left Essaouira at 10:30 and as this was our second time taking the publico bus we knew how to handle ourselves without appropriately when we got to the station. Kevin went right up to the counter slapped 80 dirham down and decisively said that is how much we paid to get here. Two tickets to Marrakech. The ticket seller handed him two passes and we were ready for our 3 hour journey to Marrakech for 10 dirhams less then we paid coming from it. Of course as we are getting on the bus and they demand 5 more per bag...we are always forgetting something. We argue back and forth for a bit before settling on 5 for both bags instead of each, now only 5 dirhams less, but still an improvement. We watch countless sheep and produce stands pass by out the window as not three but four hours pass. We arrive in Marrakech only 45 minutes before our next bus leaves. Ok this is our third ride on a publico there is no way they can rip us off this time. 
Step 1: know the price in advance, 189 is their asking price to Rissani this is the uninformed tourist price standard. 
Step 2: ask them the cost of the ticket, 260 dirhams
Step 3: whoah hold the phone step 2 should not be > cost than step 1, revised step 3 is to find out why they think they can charge more for the junky, slow local us that stops everywhere than the nicer more touristy buses-because it is an afternoon bus and they take a longer more out of the way route than the morning we have to pay more?! Clearly the steps are not working, abort plan. We spend the next 10 minutes combining our whining and walking away technique until we get down to 150 each (including luggage, recited like 3 times). First thing they do when we get on the bus is to charge us ten apiece for our luggage. Frustration. More haggling to get twenty down to ten and feeling totally defeated we climb into our seats where we will spend the next 14 hours of our evening, night and morning. Finally we arrive to Rissani where we are to take a taxi to Hassibalied a village next to Merzouga where we have a host. It is dark, cold and as always everyone in Morocco is trying to screw us over. The cab drivers want 150 dirhams which is what we just paid for a 15 hour bus drive and they want it for a 30 kilometer drive! Then there are the fake tour guides who roam around offering rides to Merzouga  for cheap when in reality they will drive you to their own hotel far from everything else and charge absurd amounts of money for a room and camel tour. We almost fell for this before giving in, giving up and paying 100 dirhams to get to our hosts place via taxi. The only positive is that we got to see a phenomenal sunrise during the half hour drive, the extra sucky part, upon arrival Muhammad told us there were different taxis that would have charged only 13 each! Live and learn. After a quick introduction and hello we are invited to take a nap, a welcome activity after 21 grueling hours of travel.   Waking up at 10:30 with a few hours of sleep and feeling better we head to a local cafe for some wifi and breakfast, (the first decent food for a day and internet for a week). We split an amazing Berber omelette, mint tea and view of the dunes. At 2:00 we meet Mohammed for an awesome tagine lunch and tea. By 4:30 we are packed up and ready for our desert trek. We meet our camels, Kevin is aboard Bob Marley and I get Jimi Hendrix. It feels just like I would have imagined like riding a Landstrider from the Dark Crystal, oh yeah and it makes your legs very sore, let it be known that dromedaries are fat. Towards the end of our trek the rain starts and continues through the night as we enjoy tagine dinner and conversation.  We found out that kids learn Berber in their homes and villages because it has been surpressed and even banned in some parts of the country. They learn Arabic as their first language in school followed up by studying French in their second year of school, and begin learning English in high school. While enjoying dinner it dawned on me that in our group tonight we had two Germans, one Russian, three Italians, two Americans and three Berbers... none of which could fluently speak a second language other than English, it truly is the universal language. I wish that American school programs out more effort into a second language program instead of the useless two years they require in high school. One other thing that we learned is that in Arabic families the first born boy is supposed to be name Muhammad, and the first named girl should be Fatima, after the Islamic prophet and his daughter. Obviously you can tell them apart in school because there are last names. Full of great food and an awesome day it is time to fall asleep to the potter patter of rain on our Berber constructed bivouak, under the deep and immense desert sky. 

Our Berber omelette flavored with a tagine spice
Our breakfast date
The view from the rooftop terrace table, not too shabby
Here we are after our lunch tagine with Mohammed our host and three other couch surfers
All of the houses in Hassilabiad village where we are staying are made out of mud and straw, pretty awesome
Giving Bob Marley a little head scratch
Third tagine of the day, still delicious
Our desert host showing us the proper way to wrap and wear a turban

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