Among the many benefits of writing a travel blog: making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. Me and Nicky were last together in 2007, on a group tour to Colca Canyon in Peru. Group tours are silly affairs. Everything gets colored by the other people you are herded around with. For me and Nicky, there is a lot to laugh about.
Nicky had recently stumbled upon the site and got in touch about meeting up in Morocco. It was fitting that our reunion would feature a group tour. This time there would be no llamas or modified skulls. Instead, we planned on taking a camel ride into the desert and spending a night with Berber nomads. And a Mexican couple, a German couple, a handful of youngish Portuguese, and a pair of Australians.
We spent the night before the tour searching for booze within the medina of Marrakech. Whether you consider this perverse or not, having a mission, especially a difficult one, makes things more interesting. We inadvertently enlisted the help of a hassler who led us to Hotel Tazin, a smokey, fluorescent-lit chamber of mostly men. Hafid the Hassler sat down with us and spoke complete nonsense for an hour. Initially annoyed, we became endeared to his failed attempts at speaking an actual human language. We found out the next day that he was on beer number 14 when we met him. No wonder.
Through the Atlas Mountains, to the desert.
At 7AM we left the hostel to meet our balding, mustachioed, pug-faced driver, Mr. Omar. It didn’t take long to realize that Mr. Omar was under serious duress. “On y va! On y va!” Let’s Go! Let’s Go! This was Omar’s constant refrain. “On y va” was actually the only comprehensible thing Omar said in French. Beyond “on y va,” he was just stringing words together: “camel photo plastic night.” Sometimes he accompanied these proclaimations with a drawing in the sand. At one point, he drew a camel. It was awful. His technique was embarassing. I could have helped him if he wasn’t so pressed for time. Later, he attempted to draw a picture on the floor of the van, but it didn’t have the same effect.
Mr. Omar told us he had been working with tourists for 33 years. He also told us that he was the driver in the movie Babel. Can you be more specific? No. We had no idea what this man was telling us.
**UPDATE** Holy crap. Turns out Mr. Omar was the bus driver in Babel. Photo evidence from the movie:
What’s great about his role in Babel is that his only speaking part comes when someone asks him to turn on the air conditioning of the bus. He says “no, it will use too much gas.” Mr. Omar, disappointing tourists in real life and on the silver screen.
**Back to the story**
At one particular stop, Mr. Omar said toilets and water. Everyone got out of the car and within thirty seconds he was yelling at us to get back in. Me and Nicky were amused by this. No one else was though. A “we hate Mr. Omar” mob mentality took hold.
He was driving recklessly, there wasn’t enough time to stop and take photos, and he was groping women in the front seat. These were the charges laid against him. The road itself was unsafe – barely two lanes hanging onto a cliff – but Omar honked before turns and didn’t try any funny business when overtaking another vehicle. It’s true, he didn’t offer much time for photos, but how many pictures do you need to take? Groping women in the front seat? This claim was made by Ralf, the German, and by the end of the trip, he had lost all credibility with me and Nicky. Here’s why:
Ralf The German
Ralf is the guy with the silly ass grin on his face. Despite his goofy disposition, here are a few things he was serious about:
No jokes here. Nicky can confirm this in the comments. These are things he actually believed.
- Ralf thought the streets of Marrakech smelled like semen. He wondered if people were just having lots of sex. Then he realized what was really going on: butchers were emptying out their “penis cuts” of meat and depositing the semen in the road for the cats. Because the cats like the semen so much they are happy to kill the rats on behalf of the human population. If you were wondering why there are no rats in Marrakech, this is why.
- In Germany, more bus passengers are killed by thrombosis than road accidents. He acknowledged that these “statistics” were ten years old.
- He wanted to adopt an “egg dog,” which was later revealed to be a husky.
- He told us there is a restaurant in Edinburgh that serves parrot cake. As in a cake made with parrots.
Ralf was the most vocal of the anti-Mr. Omar crowd. It was his wife that was supposedly groped and he was constantly flustered by the limited photo time. At one stop on the ride home, Mr. Omar pretended to drive away without Ralf and his wife. How did Ralf respond to this? He flung the car door open and hit Omar on the head. This was wildly inappropriate and it understandably infuriated Mr. Omar. It meant an additional stop on the tour: the police station.
That is Mr. Omar telling his tale of abuse to a sympathetic member of the Gendarmerie Royale. Ralf was clearly embarrassed at this point, and possibly scared. He denied that he hit Omar and he tried to reframe the issue as Omar, mean driver who tried to leave me behind. The policeman had the German step out of the car and apologize to Mr. Omar. They shook hands and the tour continued. No jail time for Ralf this go around.
On the drive to and from the desert, a mix of martian landscapes and mountains of green and red. Majestic scenery in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
Me and Nicky. Stop for photo. 1… 2… 3.. 4.. 5… “ON Y VA!!!!!!! ON Y VA!!!!!! CAMEL PLASTIC NIGHT PHOTO ON Y VA!!!!”
Getting ready to board the camels.
Holy shit, look at this camel.
Why does this camel look like he is fighting off a smile? Because he just took a shit in another camel’s cereal and now he is watching him eat it.
Me on my Camel, Elliot.
Exceptionally furry, my camel.
Our trip into the desert took an hour and a half. It was more like desert lite. There were no 200m high dunes and there were villages nearby. The fringe of the Sahara. A tent was set up when we arrived, complete with sleeping pads and blankets. Berber tea was served and we did what we could to relieve sore thighs.
Me and Aziz, one of the Berber nomads. Dinner was a barley soup followed by a delicious chicken tajine. Afterwards, a few billion stars and some enthusiastic drumming and singing around a fire. Hafid the hassler found us in the dark. He was in the desert with a separate group tour. Like the previous night, he was not sober. He pretended to sing along with the nomads by making cat noises.
On the way home, our mid-day stop included a visit to Ait ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was used in the filming of Gladiator and many other movies. Me and Nicky opted out of the kasbah tour and enjoyed a leisurely lunch instead, recounting the past day’s events and laughing uncontrollably while also getting a reprieve from Ralf and the rest of the group. We are admittedly bad tourists.
By nightfall, we were back in Marrakech. Nicky left the next day, but not before we each got an argan oil massage to relieve lingering soreness from the camel ride. Argan oil massage – HIGHLY recommended if you are in Morocco.
Our next group tour? 2013. Colca Canyon, 2007. Desert Lite 2010. ?????? 2013. Have any suggestions? It has to be a group tour, preferably one that will attract people like Ralf.
Nicky, please cross check and verify all information in this post. Feel free to supplement it in the comments.