We get up refreshed the next morning and leave ready to face whatever the trip is ready to throw at us. This turns out to be the mini bus, with the emphasis on “mini.” We discover that two people have dropped out of the trip at the last minute and yet that still leaves us with sixteen including the driver and guide to cram into the bus for hours at a time.
Our first stop, just down the road in the main part of town, is for local currency exchange and booze. Morocco is a Muslim country and whilst this doesn’t necessarily mean that alcohol is prohibited, as we discover, it does mean that various places that we stay along the way won’t sell it but have no problems with you bringing your own.
A bunch of us head into the local bank brandishing our foreign coin. I’m first in the queue behind the one local person in the bank. Waiting patiently, as Moroccans don’t rush anything, I take in my surroundings. Weirdly there is no mention of there being a bureau de change (in French or otherwise) and so when it comes to my turn I simply hand over my wedge of cash and hope that the woman behind the counter isn’t just opening a Moroccan savings account for me!
Fortunately I remember Paul mentioning that the Lonely Planet says that the exchange rate is pretty static at around about sixteen Dirhams to the pound. The bank teller hands me a larger wedge of local notes than I gave her and a receipt with an exchange rate just below sixteen. So all good there then!
I pop next door and buy four cans of the local beer for about 60p a can, to be drunk in the evening where we’ll be staying in the Sahara in Bedouin tents. Others buy a few bottles of wine.
Our next stop is at a local beauty stop on the road. These stops are a welcome chance to stretch our legs and practise our “no, merci” technique as locals appear seemingly out of the cracks in the road to try and sell us things.
This time, the rest stop doubles up as a “get your picture taken with chameleons hanging off you (for a small fee of course) stop.” Only in Morocco!
Next we stop for lunch at a nice road-side restaurant. It’s here that we discover the staple diet for Moroccans is bread, salad, couscous, bread, vegetables, potatoes, miscellaneous(!) meat with bread followed by an assortment of oranges for desert.
The main course is all served under a tangine which is basically a dish with what looks like an upturned funnel on top to keep it all hot.
Two stops later along the road and we arrive at Zagora and our next mode of transportation.
We’d been asked to separate out our luggage to take just what we’d need in the desert for our overnight stay. I pack my camera, tripod, toothbrush, toothpaste and sleeping bag into my rucksack and this gets hung off the saddle on the camel that I’ll be riding.
The camels are all strung together with a local Bedouins leading us in three groups of six camels each.
One of the camel herders approvingly tells me that my choice of camel is a “very good one” and I get my leg over and hold on for dear life as it stands up.
It’s a long way up and I do my best to imitate Lawrence of Arabia as we saunter down the road and into the desert. It’s easier said than done though as my camel has a bony hump that does no favours for the rider’s backside!
I feel my inner thigh muscles being stretched to their limits too and do my best to keep my heels up. I get nightmare visions of myself walking around like an old man with a sore ass the next day! (Not something that I'd ever thought I'd hear myself say.)
As we hit the desert in earnest we walk smack back into the middle of a sand storm! Keeping my mouth shut and my cap down low over my head I hold on tight. The loose top-soil sand writhes across the ground in front of us like snakes rippling up and down the dunes. It’s f**ing cool and adds a stormingly adventurous feel to our journey to the camp. Almost enough for me to forget my aches and pains.
A few short hours later we hit the camp. It’s a series of flat roofed tents, arranged in a U-shape to shelter against the wind, covered in mats and blankets. We even have air mattresses which is a bit of a result considering that we were expecting to be sleeping on the ground!
We wash down our dinner with wine (I’d left my beer on board the bus, doh!) and the locals take the opportunity to get everyone around a campfire dancing and joining in with their songs, unfortunately, for us, in Arabic. At one point Paul swears that they are singing about Bob Marley!
I get my camera tripod out and try to take some long exposure shots of the amazing night sky. Easier said than done when I had only read half the manual and struggled to see the camera controls by firelight! As it was, I discover that shots of a black background with a few white spots look just like that when you look at them afterwards. Better luck next time I guess.
Thanks to the mattresses and my trusty ear-plugs (my number one travel accessory!) I sleep soundly this night all set to get up early for dawn over the distant mountains.