27 March 2010

Camel Adventures, Morocco 2005

A few years ago by chance I renewed my acquaintance with the species camelus dromedarius. I had travelled with a group from Malaga, Spain, across the Strait of Gibraltar and southward through the mid-Atlas mountains. Exotic Marrakesh was the third royal city of Morocco we visited (but not the most memorable in my mind, I give that to Fes). Our tour leader Alami was necessarily proficient in several languages—the great majority of my companions were from South America. He didn’t totally satisfy the large contingent from Brazil who were awfully busy waving soccer flags at flimsy pretexts and inappropriate moments.

Let’s try the present tense. One evening we are taken into the desert for a special “Berber Feast.” By this time a third of our company is absent due to stomach complaints ... obviously no red flags for them about eating fruit with skin on it. Fruit you can peel yourself, like the exquisite tiny oranges picked up in the market for pennies, is sanctioned by all those travel websites that dispense touristica stomach advice.

For this festive outing two of my companions uncharacteristically appear to adopt me. D and D are a cheerful New York City couple: a beautiful coyote and her happy-go-lucky boy toy. Their newfound attention was missing during prior medina explorations where all single female tourists are constantly pestered with offers of “a Moroccan husband,”age and infirmity being no barrier. Nor did the belly dancing performance the other night prompt their new concern ... the night when Trish ate grapes (skins on, remember) and became so incredibly ill we left her in the hospital in Meknes and didn’t see her again until Casablanca.
Fes Medina, Morocco; photograph BDM 2005.
Are D and D being protective of me? I bristle a little at this notion. Protection from what ... fruit? From tonight’s silently efficient waiters who wouldn’t dare lapse into flirtation mode? Or do they cling for their own defense against the predominant Portuguese? (... just when I’m close to a breakthrough with Renate the German-Brazilian; it must be my six or seven words of German that raised a flicker of comprehension.) Never mind, I tacitly accept my new hovering buddies.
Chez Ali, our destination, is a series of rooms resembling Berber tents, open to the night air, surrounding an enormous sand arena. After all, we’re verging on the desert. Wandering minstrels and dancers give constant song and music. It may be touristy but it’s an impressive venue and fun. The meal is typical of what we eat most nights. Can’t beat those Arab appetizers. Then lentil soup, lamb stew with couscous and veg, wonderful sweets for dessert. The post-dinner “extravaganza” performance in the arena includes some sound-and-light history, but the highlight is the show of Berber horsemanship. The riders are amazing, and those gorgeous Arabian horses ...! Postcards are a lifesaver sometimes.

It takes me a while to notice that camel rides are going on peripherally on the darkened edges of the arena. Of course I had to do THAT, propelled by some instinct. Fully expecting my companions to follow, lusty Brazilians and all. Nope, not one of them. The two Ds have been lugging a variety of expensive cameras around for days. Now they are slightly horrified at my boldness but chatter excitedly. Not to worry, my new BFFs are on it—they assure me of rewarding photographs from the viewing stands as they fumble with all their gadgets.

Oh well. Turns out only one of the Ds has a shaky grasp of telephoto operation. An Italian with even more equipment fares better. Trust me, if I’d known in advance, I wouldn’t be wearing a skirt. The camel tender has a singularly surly disposition; his world view does not include job satisfaction or customer service. Paid in advance, he doesn’t care if his passenger ends up ass over teakettle in the all-important mount and dismount. Fortunately, a stored memory of old saves me from disgrace. The camel is terminally bored.

This is not a big deal, around the arena, but it’s an epiphany. It heralds more. I must have more. And it will come.

P.S. The happy-go-lucky D eats unwashed apples every day and suffers no adverse effects. Go figure. Something to do with his DNA?

... an occasional series (and not necessarily in chronological order).
© Brenda Dougall Merriman 2010

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