Aziz is too small to join the games of soccer played all down the beach in El Jadida, but he's not going to be left out. He takes his younger brother to kick a ball on the dry sand above the games. The 4 year old is delighted at being included with Aziz and rushes around to get the ball and kick it back as hard as he can. Aziz waits patiently for the ball to come back between each kick, taking the time to watch the bigger boys and copy their moves.
Mohammed was the most likeable of the Moroccans I met. He gave his name as something different, but less memorable than the name Hucein called him. Mohammed cooked our food for us at the auberge in Zagora and lead the camel safari. He was also the most humble of the family, if family he was. A couple of years before, an Australian journalist had asked him to take her into the Sahara for 6 months to learn life as a nomad. She bought him 4 camels (about A$10,000 each) for the duration and presumably left them with him afterwards. They may have been the same camels that carried our gear. He was completely relaxed in the desert and aside from one time when I asked him which way was south and he pointed west, he seemed to know his way around without need of tools. When the drums came out, Mohammed was able to keep a complex rhythm and sing rather well, while Hucein pretended to do the same.
Hassan owns the Auberge Chez Hassan 4km north of Zagora and appears to own the family safari business as well. He's a natural salesman and quickly talked us into paying 50% too much for our camel trek and too much for our meals at the hotel. He has a large personality and a turban to match. He was playing the guitar when we arrived at the hotel and kept us entertained with his drumming friends for a few hours until dinner was finally ready. The family has put a lot of work into creating this camping / auberge with about 5 rooms and one 'tent' (a clay walled room with a cloth roof) and he seems determined to create a cosy, friendly atmosphere. This is only spoilt by the late meals and pushy sales pitch. Once he has your money, or knows he won't get it, his interest wanes.
Hucein joined our bus at Agdz and sat down next to Pieter, who I'd met earlier that day on another bus from Marakesh to Ouarzazarte. He was very friendly and quick to invite us to stay at his family's auberge, where we could camp for only 30 dirhum (A$6) per night. Hucein is not a natural salesman and got into a territorial battle when another local tried to present his own auberge / hotel to us. He is quick to promise everything, but has no real confidence in himself and no obvious talent. He gets whiney when his cousin Hassan calls him 'Roman', but jumps whenever anyone else tells him to do something. He claims to have many foreign 'copine' and plans to marry a particula nomad girl next year. This will require him to live in the Sahara, but he doesn't seem particularly adept at that life either.
Whereas the Japanese will avoid saying no by saying 'maybe,' the Moroccans seem to avoid it by saying 'yes' and finding a way to make it true. This particularly applies to anything that will get you to do something you otherwise wouldn't do or go somewhere you otherwise wouldn't go. Examples: "So you'll take us in the 4x4 to M'Hamid?" "Yes, driving, of course." Result - 2 hours with 9 adults and 2 children crammed into a small station wagon before the camel safari. "We can stop in the village on the way back to Zagora so you can see the pottery. They make it there so it's cheaper than in the cities." "Great. A tajine would have more meaning as a souvenir if I could see one being made. Can we see them making it?" "Of course. Just looking." Result - the taxi stopped for 5 minutes at a row of pottery shops with no kiln in sight. "I want to take the CTM bus. Is this really CTM?" "Of course. First class!" Result - an ordinary bus going at the wrong time of day and definitely not first class.
The locals in El Jadida (the New) are much more relaxed than in the east. This is meant to be a holiday destination for Moroccans rather than tourists, which is why I chose to come here, and the locals are content to let me come to them rather than harrassing me as I walk past their stalls. Apparently there are laws in place to reduce the harrassing of tourists, including limiting vendors to talking to tourists a few metres from their shop. I can't imagine what it would be like otherwise.
I get more practise at speaking French here than I ever did in France. Morocco was once a French colony and much of the population still speaks French. They also give my Spanish a workout and even my Japanese. Some speak German and just about every other language you care to try. Usually only a few words, but enough to get the tourists' attention.
Every city, town and village in Morocco has at least one mosque and as long as there's one person still living there, it's the best maintained building in town. Unlike the domed structures I was expecting, Moroccan mosques comprise a rectangular courtyard (presumably with the walls aligned with the cardinal directions) and a tall square spire in one corner. The highest spire that I know of climbs to 67m.
Camels aren't treated particularly well by the nomads. They have rope pushed through their nostrils to lead them and to force them to sit down or stand up. Our camels were hobbled to stop them going far when we were resting and had their legs tied up bent to stop them standing when we were camped. They got hungry enough to eat their own dung. When one of our guides (the salesman) walked too close behind one as it was climbing a dune, the spooked camel lashed out with its foot, just missing the guide. "Camels don't like people," he told me. I wonder why...
Here are a few tips for camping Berber style in the Sahara. camp on the hard surfaces between the dunes sprinkle dry sand on the ground for insulation and padding dig below the wet sand if you have to, to find the dry stuff try putting the poles in upside down (spike first) to stabalise them in the sand use camel saddles as anchors for the guy ropes hold the sides (of the marquee) down with sand - wet works even better than dry make two fires - one for cooking and one for warmth - and alternate as the coals grow too cool for cooking use the water containers as drums for making music