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Avoiding International Incidents and Other Noble Travel Goals: Part 2

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 4/11/2015 Erika Lafrennie

This is Part 2 of a 3-part story. If you missed it, you can read Part 1 here.
We headed out early in the morning to drive the final hour to Merzouga. At this point, we needed to find a guide for the camel trek into the Sahara, but we need not have worried, because as we were driving through the tiled medieval arches into the town itself, a guide found us. A man wearing the traditional blue robe and turban of the desert nomads jumped out in front of our car and held up his hands. Unsure whether this was a new version of the parking mafia, we paused long enough not to hit him, and unfortunately, long enough for him to peer into the open window and announce "I am camel man." with a single emphatic thump to the chest. He continued with the hard sell to persuade us to choose him for our desert trip.
You know, by this point in my life, I feel I should certainly have known to be wary of aggressive marketing tactics. There really is no substitute for word of mouth referrals. But, against our better judgment, we were swayed when he told us he worked for the Hotel Ksar Bicha, where coincidentally enough, we were meant to stay the night before.
He promised us that first, we would see a lake in the desert -- more of a giant mud puddle, really, but true story -- and then we would go to the hotel for lunch and tea before heading into the desert in time for the sunset. So, we negotiated a price and -- this detail will be relevant later -- it included the corny but apparently requisite blue scarves that tourists wear while riding their camels to give the illusion, if only for a few minutes, that you are playing Tuareg.
So far, so good, except instead of bringing us to the hotel, he brought us to his house where we met his entire family, including aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses, and a few family friends, and had a bit of a glamour shoot. Within minutes, they plunked a 6-month-old baby into my arms and wandered off, having apparently decided they were taking the afternoon off from child care and that I would make a suitable substitute. They brought us tea and made us lunch, and we spent the afternoon speaking in Frenglabic (what we finally dubbed the mélange of languages we have been communicating in) and watching the Hezbollah Channel on the very day that Beirut was bombed and it was knocked off the air. This was the summer of 2006, and I couldn't dream this shit up if I tried.
Just when we were starting to get really antsy, Ali (our guide) announced it was finally time to leave. We walked outside to find two of the biggest beasts I have ever seen double parked in front of the house. No time for reconsideration, the next thing I knew, I was sitting atop a veritable mountain of camel, and we were off. Not exactly a smooth ride, camels. I was a little bit nervous because one of my roommates had done the desert trip with the school a couple of weeks before. On her trip, one of the camels actually tripped in the sand and rolled down a dune, taking some poor girl with him. That was all I could think about as we sauntered out of town and into the Sahara.
To make matters worse, my camel had some serious runway swagger going on, and a penchant for jogging downhill -- note to self: pack a sturdier sports bra next time. It was at least 45 minutes before I got comfortable enough to let go of the handlebars on the saddle with one hand to swat at the army of flies around my head. As we approached a series of camps and oases, I was reminded of a little phenomenon I have experienced many times while traveling. I like to call it the Goldilocks and the Three Bears Syndrome. We came upon a beautiful camp in the desert with large tents on wooden platforms, plush cushions everywhere, lots of vegetation, and ceiling fans being powered by generators. It was everything I had ever imagined a glamorous overnight stay in the Sahara would be -- but that wasn't our camp.
2015-11-03-1446559541-4947758-Sahara2.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-11-03-1446559541-4947758-Sahara2.jpg
We continued on to the next camp. It was smaller in scale and there were no fans in sight, but it was still quaint and charming with some vegetation and tents, blankets, and cushions galore. That was not our camp either. Several hours after leaving Merzouga, we finally arrived at our camp. There were no tents. There were no blankets. There were no cushions. There was no vegetation. There was one dilapidated shed, although I use that term loosely, that was somewhat open on three sides and contained cookware and utensils. Ali spread a blanket out on the sand, and said "Voila!" My relief at arriving was short lived when I remembered that we would have to ride back out the way we came in the morning.
We watched the sunset, had dinner, and had a major epiphany in that the Sahara Desert is actually cooler than the city of Fes. And then Ali turned into a total creeper as the sun started to go down. "Can I take you for a walk?" he asked me. "No." "Can I give you a massage?" he tried again. "Uh, no," more emphatically. "Can I..." a third time. "NO," I was forced to bust out the death look. Le sigh.
And then, it was time to use the little girl's dune before bed. Our "tour" was pretty basic, and as such, there were no lanterns, no flashlights, no foreseeable way of making it to the little girl's dune in the dark. But, not to worry. With a little Berber ingenuity, our guide crafted a lantern for us. Unfortunately, it posed a couple of problems. He used the bottom half of a water bottle filled with sand and stuck a candle in it. Great, except the wind kept blowing the candle out. So, he used the top half of a water bottle as a kind of cover. Great, except it was actually still so hot out that the wax wouldn't stay hard and the candle kept bending in the middle and lighting the plastic bottle on fire.
So, it was with this contraption and a roll of toilet paper that we set out to find a little privacy. I was just finishing up when I heard H shrieking. As I tried to help get the lantern sorted out and blow out the flaming plastic, I inadvertently dropped the toilet paper and never noticed. When we finally got the lantern straightened out and it was her turn, she said "Where's the toilet paper?" I looked down to see a white line in the sand stretching all the way to the Algerian border. Whoops. She went chasing after it, trying to catch it before it completely unrolled -- an effort in vain, I'm afraid -- and it was then that the lantern caught on fire again and some drops of melted plastic water bottle landed on the back of my hand, where I now had some lovely blisters and a second degree burn.
Check back when this story concludes with Part 3!
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Erika Lafrennie is the Founder of The Wanderlust Trunk, a gift box containing locally sourced, unique handmade goods from a new country each month. She would love to hear from you on Twitter or her blog.

MOROCCO © kasto80 via Getty Images MOROCCO

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