There’s nothing like waking up in peaceful, open air, with blue sky and warm sun. It’s cool enough to snuggle with Emma and I tell her how mature she is for a nine-year-old. The kids have handled this excursion so well. Later, Ibrahim tells us that Lily is the youngest he has ever taken into the desert.
We watch the three dromedaries, and we have to keep reminding ourselves that they are not camels. We hike up a dune and we can see at least 30 miles, maybe farther. The guides remember that Emma likes hot chocolate, and bring her cocoa, sugar and hot milk. Bread dries-out pretty fast here, so last night’s loaves are eaten with sips of coffee to moisten.
Just after 9 a.m., the camels lurch us in the air and we head back. This trip is much like the night before, but a little brighter and with less wind. We enjoy it even more. Oddly, somewhere on the route, I’m able to get a mobile signal and post a little to Facebook. The signal disappears again shortly thereafter.
On the horizon, the palm trees appear that mark the narrow Draa river area and the town. And after a short rest, we are in view of our hotel, Chez La Pacha. We grab our bags from storage and slog past the pool to our ‘suite’, scattering sand behind us as we shuffle. We are all sore and bruised in various ways. Emma tells us that she feels ‘old’. HA!
The room is darling, with four-poster beds, one queen and one double. The queen has red sheer curtains and the double has a zebra pattern sheet. It’s lit entirely with colored Moroccan brass lights and the outside windows are stained glass. It’s sort of dark inside, but it’s colorful and fun. And there is a small air conditioner that keeps it tolerably cool. We all take long showers. I can’t remember the last time I washed my hair with shampoo. Was it Marrakesh? Cairo? It’s brittle like straw.
The girls dry off and pass out on the bed. It’s 11 a.m.! The ride into the desert took more out of us that we expected and it was so stimulating that we all need to crash hard. Around 1:45 we get up and put on clean(ish) clothes.
We were supposed to meet Ibrahim at 1:00 for a ride to our lunch place. But our perception of time has slowed considerably, and 45 minutes late is right on-time. He doesn’t question it at all. I’m not sure if he would even have come get us if we didn’t show up. It’s clichéd, I know, but back home we rush too much.
Lunch is in M’hamid, cooked by a local family. It’s a carpeted room with a short table and we sit around with pillows. For the first time in Morocco, we are served cous cous and it’s pretty darn good. It’s obviously been cooked alongside the lamb and it actually has flavor, something that cous cous never seems to have in the states. We get melon and tea, of course. Emma and Lily take nibbles of food, but eating in Morocco has been hard. They could use a pizza right about now.
We thought lunch was supposed to be with the family, but most of them remain in another part of the house. it wouldn’t matter anyway because no one speaks any English. Emma plays a bit with the children, but mostly she watches Dr. Phil, with Arabic subtitles. Lily is cranky and clearly needs more rest. She’s strong for a first grader, but this part is still tough.
After lunch, Ibrahim drives us to the end of the highway. All the hotels are closed as are most of the shops, but what exists of the town, just ends there where the asphalt ended. To go further in the desert is at least 100 miles to another outpost like M’hamid in the east. To the west and south, it’s 500 miles and you’d be in Algeria.
Our sunscreen has run out! Doh. And the only pharmacy in M’hamid is closed on Sunday. It’s unlikely that they would have it anyway. (We find it in Zagora the next day for $30 and decide to skip it.) So we stay out of the afternoon sun and rest till 5:00 when we spray out the last of the PreSun and cover our faces and shoulders.
I play in the water with the girls, one of my favorite things to do on the trip. The best thing about this trip is not the travel itself, it’s the massive amount of time I get with my wife and kids. In a regular, scheduled week, I get a few hours on weekdays and maybe, 8 hours with them on weekends. It’s often less with business travel, projects, errands etc… So I get a week’s worth of time in TWO DAYS of travel. Over the month, I’ve gained half-a-year of life with my daughters and wife. It’s like stretching time. I’m a lucky guy.
We have the pool again to ourselves. The only other people we’ve seen at this hotel were some young French backpackers yesterday and a European family that seemed to only be using the pool. There doesn’t seem to be many staff either. All the ones I’ve seen are sleeping or yelling for Aziz. ‘AZIZ, AZIZ, AZIZ!’ Aziz is the main man around here, but he disappears a lot. Aziz serves us dinner tonight, and we can eat anywhere on the empty outdoor patio. Trisha says she feels like we are the last tourists on the planet. In that respect, Chez la Pacha reminds me of travel in Soviet Siberia. I would go days without seeing other travelers.
The dinner is pretty bad, but eating outside on the patio is nice enough except for the brown-outs that leave us in pitch-black. Aziz reassure us that it’s the whole town not the hotel. Ok, we chuckle. Later at night, another brown out leaves us with no AC for twenty minutes and the prospect of a sleepless, sweaty night scares Trish and me. But the power comes on and holds til morning.
It’s set up to be a nice hotel, but it’s a little creepy to be the only tourists in a ghost town. Chez la Pacha feels like the hotel at the end of the universe.
[Photos by Trisha Creekmore]