Woke up in a tent in the Sahara desert. Feet cold. Wind howling. Camels barking. Wasn’t it David Byrne who once said, “Well…how did I get here?”
Threw on some clothes and raced into the dunes to catch the sun peeking out over the horizon. Caught it. Shot a dancing clip beneath it. The moment only lasts a few seconds, which is amazing cause, ya know, it’s the sun. It’s not supposed to move that fast.
The clip wasn’t great. In fact, nothing really leaped out as the perfect shot. Kind of a surprise and disappointment considering the majesty and uniqueness of the surroundings.
Part of the problem is that it actually wasn’t unique. The last video featured Sossusvlei in Namibia, which is also massive sand dunes and very similar – it being sand and all.
It was hard to find a shot that wasn’t just a rehash. I became taken with the idea of dancing with my shadow, since the morning sun casts such a sharp outline against the pristine sand.
My pursuit of that shot wasted a lot of time that probably could’ve been better spent. And we didn’t really get it anyway. Then our guide started whistling and hollering for us to get going. With the language barrier, I assumed there was some pressing weather concern that meant we had to get out of the dunes quickly – like the desert heat rising or maybe a sandstorm.
Turned out he was just sick of waiting around for us. That pissed me off. I would’ve liked to get a good Sahara clip. Wasn’t meant to be.
But I should really shut the hell up. I got to watch the sun rise over the Sahara with my girlfriend.
The long camel ride back was a picture-taking orgy.
This is how they keep the camels from running away.
Sucks to be a camel, I suppose.
Partway through the journey, our camels’ legs became incredibly long and spindly…probably from being tied up all night.
I considered sliding down to safety, but instead gripped tightly with my thighs and hoped for the best.
They soon returned to normal.
Like the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, it’s hard to take a bad picture in the Sahara.
Except when it’s of my butt.
As we neared the hotel, Melissa crashed her camel.
Here’s how the sand dunes look from the hotel; like a static, beige ocean at the end of a long beach.
The drive back. Lots of nothing. Bad trivia filled the hours.
Name eight Bruce Willis films with numbers in the titles.
We stopped at a random old Kasbah ruin by the side of the road.
I got the idea that it might be the place to get the dancing clip.
Next we went to Ait Ben Haddou. It’s another old Kasbah ruin, but much bigger, fancier, and totally restored.
It was used in Larry of Arabia, then again in Jesus of Nazareth, and later Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. If you want an old city in the desert in your movie, it’s where you go.
Tried again to get the shot. Again, no.
Kept driving. Stopped in Ouzazat. Our bags were there waiting for us. My PSP had been stolen as well as the charger for my videocamera, but I was glad just to put on some clean clothes. There were worse things that could’ve been stolen – like our secret cash stash an inch away. Anyway, nothing irreplaceable, and that’s what travel insurance is for, right?
Nearing the start of the High Atlas mountains, James made a wrong turn that led us to who-knows-where. We entered a town with another set of fantastic ruins; broken remnants of high walls reaching up like spires over a low cliff side. Again I thought there might be a clip in it. We parked and got out.
As we approached the ruins, a band of children descended upon us like ambushing guerilla fighters. They wanted money. They followed us to the ruins, at which point I started dancing badly.
The kids found this puzzling. I invited them to join me. A few of them did. And once they got their heads around it, they became very enthusiastic. It was fun. It was the clip I’m going to use.
Afterwards, I faced a moral dilemma that is very common in Africa. The kids wanted money. I agree with the notion that handing money out to kids is a bad idea, as it creates beggars. If I’d simply ignored them, there would be no issue. But I’d invited them to join me. To boot, they were great dancers. They still wanted money, and I had a little bit of change handy, so I obliged.
To keep them from pouncing once they saw what I was holding, and also to prevent the biggest and strongest kids from grabbing everything, I threw the change up in the air. It seemed smart at the time, and it sort of worked, but there was also an air of degradation. It felt icky. Melissa, standing nearby through it all, got a sudden and overwhelming dose of what Africa is like. Even the best intentions turn out icky.
She was troubled. For a moment, while it was processing, she was a little upset at me. But what, exactly, was the right thing to do?
It would be unwise of me to dwell on this subject, but yes, what I’m doing has a large commercial aspect to it. The word ‘exploitation’ hovers over everything. Whatever is going through your head right now, please understand that I have considered it. The dancing video is something very simple, but it’s also complex. It’s sort of a moral prism; you can look through any facet and see it a different way. Suffice it to say, while I’m not a religious person, I am freakishly moral. I believe this video is, ultimately, a good. And it’s only a good if that’s how I make it.
What I mean is, by way of example…let’s say that acquiring each clip required me to strangle somebody and bury the corpse. Okay. Bit of a stretch. Nevermind how that would come into play. Let’s just suppose it was a necessary step. Even if the resulting clip turned out perfect, I don’t believe the final video would work. It would be tainted. It would ring false. People would say, “I don’t know where I get this feeling, but there’s something wrong here.” And they’d be right, because there would be mounds of dirt scattered throughout the desert marking the remains of all the people I had to strangle.
I just think that stuff shines through.
And I think I have, perhaps, made other more apt analogies in my day.
Where was I?
Ah, yes. Not dwelling.
We kept on driving and picked up a hitchhiker who appeared to be in dire straits. She turned out to be a Peace Corps volunteer from Ohio on her way to visit a friend. You don’t run into a lot of Ohioans in Morocco. You run into a lot of French. Some English. Also, of course, Moroccans. Not a lot of folks from Ohio.
Our hitchhiker, by the way, was a lesbian. Which I totally called.
Once we got her story, she asked what we all did. I explained that Melissa hires people for Google, James is Brad Pitt’s bodyguard, I get paid to travel around the world dancing badly, and we were desperately looking for a Peace Corps volunteer to round out the group.
A merry band were we.
We deposited our new friend and reached Marrakech after nightfall. The restaurants were all closed and we were peckish, so James took us to McDonald’s drive-through. And so it was that I discovered the McArabia.
Actually, I discovered it a year ago in Dubai. That’s when I took the above picture. But this was the first time I’d actually eaten one.
Herb-rubbed lamb cutlets, lettuce, tomato, garlic sauce, wrapped in a pita. It’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten at McDonald’s. If it were offered in my homeland, I might actually eat at McDonald’s. It’s that good.
Back to James’ house for the night. Melissa took a mantle-worthy photo of James and his wife, Katie.
On our last day in Morocco, we took it easy. Settled up with James, then went out to the market. He took us to the same shop he took Cate Blanchett to when she was in town shooting Babel.
Moroccans make great stuff. Melissa bought a bunch of things. I agonized and then relented, for fear of the added luggage weight. Also, there’s a curio shop in Zanzibar I’m anxious to go back to and I know I’ll be stocking up once I’m there.
The highlight of the visit for me was when I picked up a particular scimitar and examined it. The shop owner, anxiously watching our every move for a milkable sale, strolled over, unsheathed the scimitar with care and whispered, “this blade…eet has keeelled.”
Melissa had trouble understanding why that detail was a bonus.
Onward to our flight out from Casablanca. Three more hours in the car, then three more for James once we left. His driving endurance is monumental and he never complained once.
We talked war movies. We talked westerns. Then we talked British TV shows. James was flabbergasted by our knowledge of Red Dwarf, Spaced, Black Adder, even going back to Doctor Who and The Tomorrow People – which once lurked in the higher digits of the US cable television spectrum. It made me feel smart and cultured, even though it really just means I’m a huge nerd.
There is a commonality, by the way, between all nerds. It crosses borders with ease. I have more to say to a nerd from Brussels than I do to most Americans. James is a nerd. We got along well.
And here we are, up to date. Flight to Mali leaving soon.
I’m a shameless liar, of course. Our flight to Mali left weeks ago. I started the post on April 6th and I’m only finishing it now.
Actually, I’m lying about that too. I didn’t even start writing the post at the Casablanca airport. I started thinking about it.
I’ve just shattered a carefully orchestrated illusion that I’ve been maintaining for years.
Devastating, isn’t it?