PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Morocco Day 9

Our last day in Morocco began very early, before sunrise. We got up and walked out into the sand dunes and watched the magic as the sun peaked over the sand. I think the part that is the most indescribable is the different shades of color of sand. And how intensely and incredibly beautifully it reflects as the the rays of sun hit it. Yet another mystical experience that will ring through my mind every time I sing the song “Morning Has Broken.”

For our final day, I would say the theme was hospitality and exploration, which seems very fitting, given the incredible welcoming spirit of the Moroccan people I have encountered during my journey.

This was another day of birding, as Mohammed took advantage of the four-wheel-drive on our vehicle and drove us deep into the desert to search for a variety of desert birds. Mohammed was raised as a nomad before his parents moved to the city of Erfoud, so he could have an education, which meant he grew up in and around the desert. That was very evident in his ability to find and spot birds and take us to places to see them.

Now that I consider myself a “birdwatching pro” (cue heavy sarcasm), I actually had a much easier time spotting birds. And that is truthful. While I don’t have the same level of enthusiasm as Gretchen and Martha, nonetheless I totally understand the excitement. I really enjoyed getting out and seeing these birds that blended so much into their environment. It was astounding.

What was truly remarkable was that we were able to see every bird that was listed as a possibility. There were a few times when we were looking for Sand Grouse and did not see them and then later saw them as we were looking for other birds. Mohammed also connected with a friend who knew where to find the Egyptian Night Jar, which he searched out every morning, to take intrepid birders to see. This was essentially his job, as we tipped him, and I assume others did as well.

We also went to a farm to see some more birds. It was really lovely to see a truly diversified farm, with olive, almond, fig and pomegranate trees and so many vegetables, as well as geese and ostriches and other foul. I also was able to identify easily what is now my fourth favorite bird, the Bee Eater. The top five, if anyone cares, are: 1. The Penguin (of course); 2. The Loon; 3. The Lilac-Breasted Roller (I fell in love with him when I lived in Zimbabwe); 4. The Bee Eater; and 5. The Cardinal.

In between the birding, we experienced the hospitality that is truly the calling card of the Moroccan and Berber people. Our first stop was to visit a nomadic family. They live in the middle of the desert. The family  we visited does not move as much as nomads had previously, but their life is still very similar to what it has been for generations. The only difference is that the men go into the town nearby for work, taking their sons when they reach a certain age.

The women remain in the desert, living in huts that are very different from ones I have seen in Subsaharan Africa. They are intended to keep them as cool as possible during the heat of summer, which, with global warming, gets to 55 degrees Celsius or higher. That’s over 130 degrees Fahrenheit. They also provide warmth during the cool of winter and the desert nights and to protect from sandstorms.

There is no electricity. The people walk to a well to get water in the cool of the morning, rely on livestock for food, and the children do not attend school. Marriage occurs within the nomadic community as they continue their way of life. The women weave and make their own clothes. The huts, which are spread out over a vast area, have camel hide for roofs. It is a walk back in time. Truly, I felt a deeper understanding for the stories of Abraham and Sarah, as well as the woman at the well.

When we arrived, we were treated to Berber tea and nuts, and we purchased some of the items that the mother had made. Mohammed, being a nomad himself, was able to help us understand more about their culture and way of life. His parents left the desert so that he could have an education, but his respect for the simplicity and integrity of a way of life that goes back to the beginning of civilization helped us gain a deeper understanding of it.

We later stopped by for yet another cup of Berber tea at the home of the mother of his best friend. Martha had candy for the children, which was very much enjoyed. We were very deliberate when we took any pictures to not include their faces. The culture is such that the only man who can see their face of the women is their husband. But when they are at home, they do not wear full covering, and we did not want to take advantage of the  opportunity we had. In fact, whenever I take any pictures I always ask if it is OK. To make the assumption to do otherwise is both impolite and intrusive.

We moved on to visit the luxury dome camp Mohammed’s best friend is opening up in a couple of weeks. The design was astounding, as they are geodesic, which allows people to look out directly onto the stars at night in the desert. The attention to detail in this camp is incredible, and I suspect it’s going to be a huge success. His best friend is quite the entrepreneur.

We also stopped at a mountain, where there were many many fossils. Gretchen’s bag immediately became much heavier because she collected many many rocks. We were assured that it was OK to take them.

Our final stop for the day was a complete surprise. Mohammed took us to his parent’s house for our last Moroccan meal. We greeted his parents and his younger brother and saw their home in Erfoud to which they had moved to ensure that Mohammed and his siblings would not live the nomadic life, not that they looked down on it. They just wanted to provide more opportunities for their children. It is the give-and-take of cultural advances. What one sacrifices for the sacredness of simplicity is a hard way of life, but also a beautiful one. And what one loses with modernity is the intimacy and community created in shared challenges.

We had what was without a doubt the best chicken tangine and couscous of our trip. Because nothing beats home cooking. Mohammed was an outstanding guide and a delightful person. If anyone ever is in need of a guide in Morocco, I wholeheartedly recommend him, as well as the others who led us. It was truly great to have such a small group and to have a tour that was catered to our needs. But also to work with such fine and amazing people.

I’ve traveled all over the world, and there are many places that are special to me. I’ve always heard that Morocco was different and having spent this time here I can see why. The diversity of the landscape and the unbelievable hospitality of the people who truly are warm and caring, was utterly astounding, making going through the Paris Airport an even greater culture shock!!

I know how blessed I am to take these journeys, and I suspect this will not be my last trip to Morocco. I’ve heard about people who came here and fell in love with the place and now that makes complete and total sense.  Morocco is different. It’s a journey into the past but also a place with a vibrant present with an eye to the future. Moroccans accept each other and other cultures with ease. It’s hard to describe, but it takes the best of what it means to be Muslim and does so with acceptance and grace.

I learned so much on this trip, and I think the world would be a better place if more people had the Moroccan spirit of hospitality, a peaceful approach to the world and an openness to others.

Thanks for joining me on yet another “Travels with Paula.” God willing the next edition will be in October, when I travel to Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Sarajevo with some friends from high school. Until then, may your spirit always be open to exploring your world wherever you are and opportunity for extending hospitality  wherever you are.

One thought on “PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Morocco Day 9”

  • Stanford Edwards April 16, 2024 at 7:36 pm

    Thank you for sharing the amazing experiences of your time in Morocco.


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