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Africa

  • Sahara Sunrise Breakfast

    I stood outside my tent after waking up from a night in the desert and noticed the camp staff scurrying about with tables and chairs. They were moving everything from the dining tent to a nearby sand dune. Unlike previous mornings when the air was a bit cold and breezy, today was warmer and still. It was a spectacular day to eat al fresco.

    When the desert sky is cloudless, the sunrise and sunsets seem faster, as there are no clouds to catch and prolong the glow. Still, it is an amazing sight to see the yellow-orange glow just before the round edge of the sun pops over the horizon. Once the sun was fully risen, breakfast treats appeared. Besides coffee, my faves were hard boiled eggs and Moroccan bread with fig jam. What a great way to start the day!

  • Riding a Camel

    Camels are too tall to mount while they are standing—either by flying leap or stirrup as you would mount a horse. The camel has to be seated. Then you must hop on as quickly as possible because some camels stand up as soon as they feel pressure. 

    A camel first gets up on its front “knees”, then it works on raising its back half, which turns out to be a two-step process given it has two bendable joints in each back leg. Then it fully extends each front leg separately. From the rider’s perspective, you rock forward, backward, and forward in rapid succession. Although it feels as if you are getting tossed about, most people in our group did a great job keeping their body perpendicular to the ground despite the forward and backward motion of the rising camel. 

    Riding is a different experience. Camels tend to rock side to side. They are also wide. During my first ride, I felt as if I was stuck in a weird yoga pose designed to widen my hips at the same time it pulled apart my vertebrae. Unlike most yoga poses, which end after about a minute, I held this “pose” for over an hour. I kept wondering: Is this good for me? 

    The view from a camel is spectacular. Perched high on the hump, you can see far to the horizon—red dunes, fossil rocks, scattered plants, and blue sky. The camel plods forward, its padded feet impervious to the hot sand and rocky surfaces. It’s easy to see why camels were key to trade in arid regions. 

    When I finally dismounted from my first ride, I was ecstatic to feel the earth beneath my feet. All that hip widening and spine jingling caused me to walk oddly. I now understand why a camel trek includes the option to hike next to the camel. 

  • Sleeping in the Sahara

    After almost a week of touring Morocco and sleeping in wonderful hotels, I arrived at camp on the edge of the Sahara desert. This would be the first of five nights of a camel trek.  I dropped my dusty bag and bedding into the white canvas tent our crew had set up already, and crawled in. What a change from the hotels! I was delighted to see a mattress, but decided it was best not to inquire about the dark stains on it. I hoped they were coffee. The pillow had no pillowcase. Had it been washed? The sleeping bags most likely had not been cleaned because our camp crew gave us a sleeping bag liner and advised us to use it.  

    The liner was designed for a person of beanpole build—narrow and very long—so it turned out to be a bit constraining for me. I opted to make sure I was completely clothed when I slept. That way I didn’t have to concern myself with stains, unclean pillows, and sleeping bags of questionable origin. 

    I heeded our guide’s warning about snakes and scorpions and zipped up the tent completely before setting out for the dining tent. After a delicious meal I took a short walk to see the camels and camel handlers arrive. The sun set, the Milky Way glowed, and I slept well in my little tent despite the dicey bedding. The silence of the desert was divine. This was the first of five nights.

  • A Moroccan Medicine Show

    Traveling medicine shows became popular in the United States in the mid 1800’s and continued in popularity into the 20th century. The “Medicine Man” would bring a variety of entertainers with him to attract a crowd. Once the crowd assembled and was enjoying the acts, the Medicine Man would step up and entertain the crowd with his storytelling ability and his pitch for an elixir with a miracle cure.

    The Medicine Man was not a doctor, although he often referred to himself as Doctor or Professor. He claimed his product would cure everything—from baldness to arthritis to physical disabilities. Unbeknownst to the audience, Medicine Men had sidekicks posing as audience members who would step forward with an ailment, like a limp, ingest the medicine and be cured instantly. 

    As I was sitting in a spice shop in a Marrakesh market, I couldn’t help but to think of traveling medicine shows. The elixir—Argan Oil. The Medicine Man—a very articulate sales person in a white lab coat. A small group of us were seated  in rapt attention as he described the curative powered of the oil. He passed samples around for us to rub on skin spots. Yes, this will make then go away. Arthritic pain? No problem. And on and on.  While I don’t dispute the benefits of argan oil for dry skin (it really is a nice oil), the pitch was a bit over the top. He was a great storyteller—quite entertaining. 

    I later learned that the traditional method for making argan oil is to collect the feces from goats who eat the fruit of the argan tree, pick out the indigestible seeds, and crack the seeds to get oil.  Modern production of argan oil is turning more and more to collecting the seeds directly, thus bypassing the goat. If you want to try argan oil, you don’t need to go to Morocco. It is widely available in the US and Europe. However, Morocco is an amazing place, so you might want to get your argan oil at the source!

    More reading: 

    The Luxurious Poop From These Tree-Climbing Goats Produces Argan Oil

    Liquid Gold in Morocco