Friday - Sunday, Feb 19 - 21
Friday, Feb 19
There were so many things we wanted to do! Hiking in the high Atlas mountains was high on the priority list, as was heading to the coast of Essaouira for some beach time. While discussing our options over breakfast, Tariq’s phone rang. It was one of his friends telling him about a trip leaving the next day to Zagora which is the gateway to the Sahara. Decision made. Plan settled. When the universe talks it’s best to listen!
The rest of the day was normal for Marrakech. Snails and OJ, snake charmers and monkey tamers, story tellers and henna artists, and us hiking through the middle of it all. We ate, talked, walked and Garry shopped. He got a room for the night and we made a plan to get together at 6 am for our long trip south.
Saturday, Feb 20
Seven hours. That’s how long it takes to drive to Zagora. We had five Argentineans, one Greek dude, and our trio. Our little van had room for everyone, and our driver was extraordinary. It was wonderful zooming through parts of Morocco I hadn’t seen yet. It seems each village has its own specialty. Some were sheep, some were geodes, some were crops, some were nothing but ladies digging weeds to weave. I napped, we ate, and we drove on.
Our driver pulling off the road startled me from sleep. I saw that we where high in snowy mountains, with crazy cliffs and waterfalls everywhere. I jumped out, snapped a few pics, and realized there was an animated conversation going on in the van. I climbed back in and heard our driver and our Argentinean pals heatedly discussing something in french, them talking to each other in spanish, and our driver making calls in Arabic. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but it was clear that it wasn’t good.
One of the Argentineans brought us up to speed in english. We couldn’t go on because the bridge in Zagora was flooded. What! We can’t go to the sahara because it’s flooded, and we get this news while we are surrounded by snow! The hair on my neck stood up because I knew this was about to get good.
Ours was not a passive crew. Immediately, maps came out, ideas got tossed around and the driver realized we were not just going to go along with whatever program the tour company had lined up. The wanted to take us to a hotel close the sahara and put us up there for the night and take us back the next day. We said fuck no, you can give us more than we paid for, but not less. We looked at teaming up with another expedition that was leaving from anther city and spending an extra day. We talked about going back and getting refunds. In the end and after a phone call he said “Zagora!” Cool! We headed on to our original destination knowing there was a flood waiting for us.
People were everywhere. We drove our van through crowds of people, past cars parked on the sidewalks, and up to the first barricade. Our driver talked with the cop (everything in Arabic sounds like an argument), we crammed our van into an open section of sidewalk and hiked down see what the commotion was about.
God there were a lot of people there! It was clear people had been waiting for days for this bridge to open, thousands of them. There was an optimistic energy from the crowds, and an excitement from seeing such a sight. The river was indeed flooded, WAY flooded. We had seen many signs of this miles before Zagora, but this was our first encounter up close and personal with the river. The bridge we needed to cross was about a half mile beyond another heavily patrolled barricade and about 200 yards long. You could see the river rapid that was formed from the river pouring over the high railings of the bridge. Impassable.
Our crew of nine watched the river, the people, the cops, the engineers and the folks on the other side for an hour or so. We talked to anyone who had some idea of what might transpire. It seemed that the river had gone down throughout the day, and may go down enough at night for people to cross on foot. Naturally I only listened to the optimists, and I felt good about our chances.
We told our driver that we wanted him to line up transportation on the other side of the river, have our camel team ready to trek into the night, and we wanted some beers while we waited. At the bar in a hotel we had our first chance to sit around and really get to know everyone. When you go through a tour company, you never know what kind of people you’ll wind up traveling with. We struck gold with our crew.
Every person was well traveled, highly intelligent, down to earth, funny, and emphatic about blazing their own trail. There were other groups in the hotel lobby too, and they all looked glum and resigned to having shitty trips. Our crew was laughing, drinking, locking down plans, and having a damn good time. Rock stars. After beers, came wine, and with wine came dinner. After dinner we hiked our asses back to the river to see how things looked.
We were almost there when we saw our van heading our direction. Our driver had been doing some bribery by the river and had talked the police into letting us attempt a crossing. Funny how quickly optimism can turn to fear. To attempt and fail meant they would find our bloated corpses tangled up in some reeds in the Nile. Thankfully the water had gone down quite a bit.
Nervous excitement took over, and each person rapidly collected their packs, pulled their hip straps tight and crossed the barricade for the half mile walk to the bridge. Going from huge crowds, to an empty road in the moonlight was intense. Hearing the water roaring was intense. Seeing the bridge up close for the first time was just fucking nutty! Holy shit. We are about to actually do this!
We took off our shoes, rolled our pants up to our crotches and I stepped into the mud leading to the bridge. WOW. Thick mud, then soupy mud, then cold water, then water over my feet, then deeper water, then the current. We hiked slowly along with the moon reflecting off the rippled water around us, some people holding hands for support, . There was a fire on the other side of the bridge to aim for and we waded farther. Over our knees the current was strong. We all took careful steps with water splashing higher up our bodies. Close now. The people on the other side of the river where cheering and we hiked on.
I never felt in danger, but it was there. The metallic taste of adrenaline overwhelmed any fear. I loved being in the middle of that river, feeling the current pull at my legs knowing that my life is wonderful.
There was a driver waiting for us on the other side. He drove us a couple miles up the road, then off the road to our camel team and their Berber tenders. Under normal conditions this would have been kinda neat, but since this was unfolding under African stars in the middle of the Sahara after crossing a deadly river, the experience is burned into my mind. The smile on my sisters face as her camel stood up, back legs first, then front, was about enough to make a fella cry. What a beautiful experience.
Camels kinda suck to ride. They take huge loping steps, and the back of beast a long trip from the front. Your torso is always fighting to catch up to your hips. Christ, where is my KTM 450! My nuts hurt in five minutes and I swung sidesaddle in eight. I finally figured out how to move in time with the animal and settled in for the ride into the Sahara. The only sound was wide feet on dirt, the occasional groan, and some murmured conversation. The stars were blazing over head, and my friends were shadows around me.
We finally made it to our Berber camp. We all tiredly staked out a pad, grabbed a couple of blankets and drank tea with our three wonderful Berber hosts. This day is for the record books.
Sunday, Feb 21
There was real danger of the river rising again and us getting stuck on the wrong side. No one wanted that, so we were up early, snapped a few pictures of camp and saddled up for the plod back. Our original driver was waiting for us at the road and told us we had two hours for breakfast before they closed the bridge to vehicular traffic.
The seven hour ride home passed without event. Everyone slept, snacked and slept some more. We said our good bye’s in Marrakech and parted knowing we all shared something special together. Yes. Rock Stars every one.