LIZ HARROD

A Bus Ride Worth Writing About – 4 April

In Morocco, Photo, Travel 2011 on April 5, 2011 at 2:12 am

After two days in Marrakech, I wake to a quiet hostel, leave a note with some coins for the previous day’s breakfast, shoulder my bag and head out the door. I walk through the nearly deserted square, and after quickly negotiating a fair price to the station, climb in the front seat of a petit taxi that requires a push to get in gear.

I arrive at the station in plenty of time for the 8h30 bus to Merzouga, especially since it doesn’t actually leave until 10h30. I should have known, 8h30, enshall’aah.

With everyone finally in their seats, the station master does one last check of everyone’s tickets and sends us on our way.

Nearly 13 hours to Merzouga, the last stop, and a full bus. I wonder who will be going all the way with me.

Winding through the Atlas Mountains, I see another side of
Morocco, a side covered with rocky foothills and craggy peaks high enough to earn a dusting of snow . . . Yes, you read that properly, snow in Morocco.

An englishman, well actually half English/half French and living in Spain, tells me of previous trips to Morocco during winter, when it snows so much in the Atlas that they have to close all the passes and no one can get through. I laugh at my own ignorance about what this place is really like – not quite the hot dry desert country I imagined it to be.

The road moves with the land doubling back and forth and cutting around the foothills. It doesn’t take long for the woman in front of me to start looking a bit pale. Her friend urgently demands a plastic bag just in time for her to politely expel the contents of her stomach, and despite everything there is to be disgusted by, I can’t help but marvel at the fact that Moroccan women do everything calmly and demurely, even throw up.

She is not alone. The road to Ouarzazarte claims many breakfasts and causes even the most stable of stomachs to waver, but a few rest stops along the way allow most of us to stay on track, and we reach the first major stop on our trip.

Ouazazarte is quite large and obviously still on the easier tourist path, a place where you can take trips to waterfalls while hiking and camping in the Atlas mountains. Most of the westerners disembark, the only two remaining other than myself are an older French couple who smile at me.

“And then there were three,” the man laughs in English, obviously reveling in the adventurous nature of it all.

We continue on, and most everyone moves to the front of the bus, a defense against the remaining hairpin turns that await us. A young boy climbs into the window seat next to me and offers me a biscuit. I smile and shake my head no. He shrugs and eats it himself.

His sisters sit in the very front, the littlest periodically poking her head above the headrest to peek back at me and make a face. Her half toothless grin makes me laugh and smile, which only delights her more. So she takes to doing this every twenty minutes or so, a bit of an impromptu game to make the hours go faster.

After our next stop, she and her older sister whisper between themselves, clearly plotting, and finally, the little one approaches me.

In very careful French she asks, “comment tu t’appelles?”

“Je m’appelle Liz,” I say, just as careful, and she scampers back to tell her sister.

We spend the next hour or so giggling at each other again, and finally the brother next to me asks if I speak French. I explain that I am from America so speak English with a little bit of French.

He proudly says, “Welcome.”

We sit some more, and I notice him eyeing my iPad. He’s been watching each time I type and change songs on my playlist. At the next stop, I realize there is only one logical thing to do in this situation. So I open Angry Birds.

We spend the next four hours going through game after game, taking out green pigs with kamikaze birds, snowboarding through slalom gates, dodging meteors with spaceship, and playing doodle find in French. Their favorite turns out to be the virtual piano. They delight in putting the headphones in each others ears and are fascinated when I manage to play the starting measures of Fur Elise. Despite how much fun I am having, I can feel the motion sickness creeping up on my stomach. So I leave the two girls to enjoy their new toy and settle in for a bit of a nap.

Before I sleep, the brother and I talk a bit about music. He asks me if I like Michael Jackson and Justin Bieber. I laugh and say yes, wondering if Justin knows that the Bieber Fever has spread this far.

My sweater has slipped off my shoulder, and the boy politely moves it back; then uses my jacket to cover my lap. I start to doze off, and he does the same, eventually finding it most comfortable to sleep on my knee.

We reach Elfoud, their home, and their mother asks me if I have children. I say no, knowing this is strange to her for a woman my age. She tells me I will be a good mother, and thanks me for spending time with her children.

I wish I could explain to her that it was much more my pleasure.

They each give me a hug and kiss my cheek, the little girls smiling and laughing. The boy gets to the street, and yells my name. I look out the window and he demonstrates some Justin Bieber dance moves. I applaud and wave as our bus pulls away.

The driver looks back at me, the only remaining westerner. He smiles and tells me Merzouga is next, but still an hour away; so I can go to sleep.

I settle in with my iPad, a bit of technology more useful than I could have imagined.

An hour later, “Nous arrivons.”

I look out into the night knowing it’s time to gather my things. There is a small crowd waiting for us, offering me accommodation. I explain that I already have a reservation at Chez Youssef, and that Youssef is meeting me here.

Nervously, I look around, but don’t see him. Merzouga is not a place often mapped out. So in don’t really know Chez Youssef’s location. A few men explain its location to me, about 500 meters away, and one offers his phone for me to call. There is no answer. So we wait for a few minutes, deciding that if Youssef doesn’t come soon, he will walk me there himself. Youssef does come. Having waited for the bus that was, of course late, he had had to go back to give dinner to some other guests, but no problem. He was there now.

We walk through the town, me stumbling a bit with my motion sickness and a headache from the long bus ride, eager to take a shower and have some dinner.

He makes me a chicken tangine while I unpack some things and clean up. The shower and some ibuprofen clear my head.

I sit comfortably in the courtyard and eat my dinner, finishing my night with some mint tea while breathing in the desert air. I am in the Sahara, I think to myself, and for so many reasons, tears fill my eyes.

A day on a bus is an experience in and of itself. I’m sure I can’t even begin to imagine what the next couple days on a camel will bring, but I go to sleep, and I dream, and my subconscious tries.


A pit stop on the way.

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