The morning came too soon and as I woke up, rushing to not miss the sunrise, everyone else woke up, along with our hosts that started calling us for breakfast.
The view from our tents into the horizon was unbelievable. One could see the sun rising from afar and the beautiful Sahara extending beyond the horizon. The strong scent of mint started to overwhelm us, a scent that was coming from a table that our hosts had set up for breakfast. We had hot mint tea and Moroccan pastries and sooner or later our hosts started to pack up and get the camels ready for our journey back to our next destination. I was the last to mount the camel because I stayed behind standing by a dune, admiring the beautiful landscape in front of me. It was a blissful moment. I finally turned around and run to my camel and she stood up and we were able to start walking back, with the Berbers guiding the camels and us, perplexed with the views, silently admiring the beauty of the Sahara. We drove back to Ouarzazate and had another lunch there. By the time we had finished lunch, the driver pointed at me and then pointed at another Van. “You go there”- he said, and signaling that my luggage was already packed in the other Van, he said bye to me. I briefly said goodbye to the people I just had met and went to stand next to the other Van. The driver of the new Van was still waiting for the group. He pointed at the restaurant so I figured I still had time to go and walk around while waiting.
During the time I was outside, I saw Mohammed one more time. He was wearing his white Moroccan clothing and his smile was bright and shiny. I said hi to him and I asked him about the Berbers. “Who are the Berbers?” – I asked Mohammed, and he replied “Look at my eyes, they are Berber eyes” – while pointing at his eyes, smiling and looking serious at the same time “They are not Arab eyes, they are Berber eyes”- and as he smiled to me, he turned around and continued walking around the area, waiting for the next group that needed his guiding services around the beautiful Ouarzazate.
My driver started walking towards the entrance of the restaurant where we had lunch at. He started gathering us and asking us to go back to the Van. Everyone had their seat picked and as I was the “extra person”, I sat in the front of the Van, with the window down, admiring the beauty of the road. The new driver only spoke French and I was not in the mood of remembering my French so I didn’t really talk to him. He would look towards me trying to get my attention and he would point at things on the horizon and then I would look in that direction, trying to decipher what he was trying to show me. He seemed like a nice old man, always smiling, regardless the language barriers. He was to drive us for the next 3 days into the mystery of another face of the desert I was about to experience for the first time in my life. I was complacent.
I started paying attention to our new group. There was a girl in the van that seemed to speak French and German as well as English.Her name was Nadia. I was fascinated by her. Every now and then I would observe her speaking to the group in German and then turn around to talk to the driver in French. I realized most of my group spoke German and I started to feel like I was the uncultured minority.
We spent the rest of the day driving in the van, through breathtaking landscapes and beautiful places and at sunrise o’clock, our driver parked the Van on the side of the road. He turned around in the Van and said “Sun” while signaling us to get out. I thought it was really nice of him to let us watch the sunset. I got out slowly and not paying much attention to where we were since it seemed the middle of nowhere. I slowly walked towards the side of the abyss by the road. Everyone seemed to be looking in that direction and I got curious but what a surprise to see the amazingly breathtaking view of a beautiful valley, the beautiful green had taken on the golden shades of the sunrays, and the river flowing in the middle of the Valley looked like a painting. It was a beautiful sunset, different, unexpected. The night fell upon us like a surprise and somewhere between Ouarzazate and Merzouga, we stopped for the night. Outside of the hotel, we stopped at there was a sign that read “Dades Gorges”.
We all got out of the Van and everyone paired out with someone for the night. I was alone so I got an entire room for myself, which was nice. It was really dark but I was able to notice the beautiful layout of the hotel. It was a typical Moroccan “Riad”, covered in beautiful tiles, with open ceilings and beautiful gardens.
We were told our dinner would be served at 8:30pm, so we had some time to shower, decompress and get ready. The dining room was big and was full of round big tables, where people sat down and shared meals. Of course, we had “Tajin” and we also shared a bottle of wine and introduced ourselves and talked about our countries, why and how long we were traveling for and many other things that you would normally share with a stranger, when in the other side of the world.
The next day, we woke up renewed and met with our driver, who was always smiling. We got in our Van and continued our route until we got to the beautiful Todra Gorge, where we met a new guide. His name was also Mohammed and he walked us through one of the most spectacular Canyons in the world.
Before this day never had I heard about Todra Gorge or never had I imagine the powerful feeling of walking through its implacable walls. How beautiful! I could not stop looking up admiring the top of the canyon that resembled a huge throat that was coming out of the floor. I was speechless.
After our walk, Mohammed got us together and sent us to the other side of the gorge, where our driver was waiting for us. He told us we were going to meet at the Oasis of Tinghir to do a walk through the fields and the city in ruins, where the Berbers lived. The land of the “Free People”.
After a brief drive, we arrived in Tinghir, a small town that had flourished in the middle of the desert and was a temporary home to many Berber merchants that lived the nomad life. I hurried to get out of the van to start walking right behind Mohammed. We walked through the red city walls, and in every door, there was a sign drawn in red. A vertical line with two lines horizontally drawn cutting the vertical line in two places: on the top and on the bottom. The horizontal line in the top was curved up, and the horizontal line drawn in the bottom was curved down. Mohammed pointed at one of the doors with the drawing and said “the symbol of the Free Men”, talking about the Nomads of the desert, the Berbers. After that, we were taken to a merchant’s temporary home and they showed us how Moroccan carpets were made and the different kinds of patterns and materials. There was a long uncomfortable silence after the merchant asked if anyone was interested in buying a carpet. “ I already bought one in Marrakesh and I already regret it” – I thought. I only regretted it because the carpet weight was 5 pounds and I had to travel around Africa for 6 months with it. After we were finally released from the merchant’s house, we waited outside for Mohammed and he came to meet with us shortly.
We continued walking and crossed a street that separated the city walls from the fields. I was still right behind Mohammed and he took us through the fields by beautiful palm trees and canals in the middle of fields. There were women harvesting crops, and little girls and boys walking around us. Mohammed warned us to not to give anything to the children. “They have to go to school. If you give them money, they will keep doing this instead of going to school” and he continued walking. The entire time, he kept talking about the life in the Oasis and warned us not to take pictures. Someone in the group accidentally took a picture from afar to a group of women washing clothes in the river and one of the women infuriated stood up and walked towards us screaming to Mohammed. Mohammed calmed her down and then, smiling, he turned to us and told us about the complex culture of the people of the desert. “The women in the desert are scared tourists will use the pictures to publish them online, and then if someone in the town sees them, they get shown to their husbands, who will divorce them. Last year a few women were left by their husbands because of this. Now nobody wants to get photographed because they are scared that will happen to them”.
We listened perplexed while putting our cameras away. How little we understood, and how ignorant I felt by believing I could just take a picture of anything without thinking. Free will is not real, is just part of my culture. I stayed in silence meditating about how entitled I felt to take those pictures and how aware I was suddenly becoming on the reality outside of my western bubble. I was an ignorant. An ignorant waking up slowly.
After our little trip around Tinghir, we said bye to Mohammed and continued traveling, this time to Merzouga. Our trip got interrupted for lunch and for one or two stops at amazingly beautiful places that our driver would pick. He would stop the car and turn around to say “Bathroom” and he would get out of the Van and smoke a cigarette while talking to the establishment attendants, wherever we would stop in. I never learned his name, but I still remember his kind smile and his peaceful demeanor. His eyes were not Arab eyes. They were Berber Eyes.