Continued from Moroccan Road to the Big Kid Sandbox.
By the time we reached the desert, a full moon lit the place like Johnny Depp’s smile a 20,000-watt nightlight.
Regrettably, the moon illuminated the camels’ faces. These are some of the only animals that have failed to elicit from me an, “ooo, ah, be my new pet!” response. They bulged their eyes like Rodney Dangerfield; spat with the vengeance of AK47s; and secreted a stink that shouted, “My last bath was in the womb!”
Their size was equally imposing. I have never seen a camel stand beside a horse, but I’m sure it would compare to Yao Ming standing beside…me.
We clambered aboard. Some of us fell over in the process. I had to give my camel points for patience.
How do I describe camel riding? Well surely, if every time a bell rings a fairy gets its wings, then every time a camel stands, a rider looses genital sensation. The humps have an impact. Within five minutes of bumping along, we lost our first male rider. I heard a strained wheeze and turned around to see a fellow passenger face-plant into his camel’s neck.
“Are you ok?” I implored.
“No,” he gasped.
I have never seen men so willing to surrender the driver’s seat. By the time our thirty-minute trot concluded, half the men were limping along on foot. Their smug camels sauntered languidly behind. All of us looked as though we had swallowed a jug of unsweetened lemon juice. I thought of the camels I’d drawn as a child, which bore three to six humps apiece. They would have been death machines.
We halted at a cluster of box-shaped canvases that blended quietly into the sky. The men teetering and the women bowlegged, we scuttled into these tents like sand crabs.
Inside, a rainbow of satin cushions enveloped us. We sat cross-legged at two doll-size tables like children having a tea party, and our hosts, Berber tribesman, prepared a feast. First came Morocco’s trademark beverage, mint tea–a sweet-tea mint-julep hybrid that would land the likes of Scarlet O’Hara in rehab. Next came a tantalizing curry-flavored chicken noodle soup. (I’m not kidding, it was actually good.) We finished with a Hagrid-sized tajine of smoking yams, juicy chicken and sugary dates. Everyone ignored the “dessert” of nutritious-looking citrus fruit.
The head tribesman entered. He nicknamed us by our countries of origin; critiqued our turban-wrapping technique; then invited us to gather around a bonfire outside.
There, teenage boys beat on empty water jugs and sang in Arabic. After the first song, Senegal jumped in. “Senegal” was the Arabs’ nickname for the 30-year old boy we had previous nicknamed Barracuda. Clearly no one could pronounce his real name.
We all—including the tribesman—had to admit that Senegal massively upstaged the planned entertainment. He taught us a refrain—not that any of us spoke Senegalese, but we mimicked the noises at least as well as apes trying to learn English. Senegal lowered his voice to a Shaggy-esque Rasta man gurgle and started rapping with the pizzazz of the next Akon. (Akon is also Senegalese, Senegal reminded us repeatedly.)
Eventually I ambled off with the fabulous Peruvian girl, Marcela, to find a toilet. To no surprise, we learned that the toilet stalls were dunes, behind which we were to crouch. Easier said than done. The sand was shifting and the camels were staring. It was so awkward, I am rethinking the female convention of heading to the bathroom in pairs. Curse the full moon for illuminating everything!
The next morning on the return to Marrakech, we wound through sublime, sharply cut mountains and flat stretches speckled with giant sand castles (kasbahs). In the car, our group had become a family of adventurers.
To address what you have all been hankering to know: which is better, a camel or a New York City taxi?
Believe it or not, the rides are in some ways comparable. Both are navigated by turbaned men (yes, I said it); both vehicles shine dirty yellow; and both can be bumpy to the point of injury. Yes, I would rather hail a taxi than manage a camel. But despite the fact that our group was in no-man’s-land rather than a metropolis of eight million people, we benefited from greater companionship than I have ever found in a New York City cab.