Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ouarzazate - Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Day 4 (Part 6)

Arriving back at Mohammed's car, we noticed that he was nowhere to be found. After about five or ten minutes, Mohammed appeared and we were on our way back. I hope that we did not interrupt him if he was praying, as Southern Morocco is quite strict in its Islamic culture, with most of the people heeding the five calls to prayers each day.

On the way back, we stopped on a hill to watch the sunset in the barren rag desert. It was a beautiful sight. Below us were some scattered villages and green fields in a vast, brown rocky expanse. There were hills and mesas casting spectacular shadows across the landscape.

On the way back, Mohammed suddenly pulled over in a town and told us he will be back. After he left, the radio that he had on was suddenly interrupted, and the chanting of the calls to players were broadcast over the radio. All around us, we can hear the calls to prayers being broadcast through loudspeakers from the scattered minarets in the town. Hearing the calls to prayers for the first time is a powerful experience. It feels that all of society is united in the power of prayer, which is omnipresent in the towns and media outlets when the appropriate time comes. Soon after the calls to prayers ended, Mohammed returned, and we were on our way back again.

Passing through the main part of Ouarzazate, we had to take a bridge to the section of town our hotel is in. This bridge crossed a wide, but mostly dry riverbed. It was built as a raised dike, with stubby painted concrete pilings marking the road. A car could easily drive between them and off the bridge. We drove across it slowly, as this bridge was shared by many townspeople strolling around town. For some reason this bridge reminded me of some places in China I had been in, adding to the feel that we were very far away from home.

After being dropped off, we told Mohammed that we accept his offer of taking us to Merzouga for 2000 dirhams, and paid an additional 600 dirhams each for a one night trek and camping trip into the desert. Although we realize this price was probably a bit high, we didn't really feel like negotiating as we did not know what the fair price was, and we thought they needed the money more than we do anyway. We gave Mohammed a 50 dirham tip along with the payment, which he didn't look at and just stuffed into his pockets. Later on, Felix and I were talking about Mohammed. I wondered if Mohammed even know we tipped him, but Felix was sure he did, and that "he'll look at it tonight and smile a bit." I am always cautious and suspicious, so I thought Mohammed was definitely ripping us off. Felix had a much more positive view of Mohammed. Well, that was going to change drastically in the next few days.

That night, we had dinner at the hotel as it was already quite late and we just wanted to eat as soon as possible. We paid 100 dirham each for a full meal with tagine as the main dish. Although it was a reasonably priced compared to Europe, it was still overpriced, as can be expected in any hotel. During dinner in the courtyard, under palm fruit trees, I took the time to enjoy the stars in the cloudless sky above. There was little light pollution in Ouarzazate, and I had not see this many stars in the sky for a while now. I enjoyed seeing the Milky Way so visible, draped across the sky like silk. After dinner, we took a quick stroll in the streets. We were surprised to find that everyone in town seemed to be out. The streets were filled with people and activity. It turns out that in Morocco, most people come out after sunset because it is much too hot during the day. We had arrived at the airport at exactly the wrong time, during their long noon siesta when all the stores are closed because everyone is asleep at home.

The streets were dusty and the weather was still quite hot, but it had cooled to a bearable temperature. Southern Morocco is still surprisingly traditional. Nearly everyone was wearing the same outfit. The women had covered heads and wore long robes. The men wore flowing grey or light blue robes, sandals, and many of them sported long beards and the traditional Muslim caps. Walking down the street, I made a mental note of a bakery which I would stop at tomorrow morning for breakfast before heading off to Merzouga. I also bought a cheap nail clipper off a street vendor selling wares from a tarp for 3 dirhams. This was a horrible purchase as the nail clippers, which I would use for the rest of the trip, pinched my nails more often than clipping them.

After a cramped shower, we went to bed. From our window, we can still see people walking up and down the main street in this section of town. A Exxon Mobil gas station was also visible from our window. What I found amusing about this is that in English, the 'o' in Mobil is red with the rest of the word blue. Similarly, in Arabic, we noticed one connected letter was painted in red while the rest of the word was blue. I found it amusing they forced the same colour scheme into the Arabic version of their name and didn't spend the extra effort to come up with a more suitable logo.

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