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Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

A beggar, a runaway donkey, and a female police officer

We awoke this morning to the cleaning crews sweeping up from yesterday’s sandstorm.  The place was a mess – with sand and debris everywhere.

We paid the bill – which came to about $600 US dollars.  Pretty cheap in the scheme of things.  Three nights – two at the hotel and one camel overnighter in the dessert, the trip with Barak in the 4x4, and all our food for three days except the two lunches we ate in town, plus plenty of wine.

Time to hit the road again.  Ultimate destination was Fez, but Google maps indicated that it was an 8-hour drive – which makes for a long day if you want to stop and see things along the way.  And blogs we read while trip planning said not to make the drive in the dark.  That was a good call because we went over the mountains and the switchbacks would have been nutty in the dark.  Hence, we planned to stop mid-way in Midelt.

On our way out of town the hotel suggested we stop at the local argan oil shop as they had high quality stuff.  Since Melissa wanted more to take home, and was on the hunt for some gifts, we took a look.  All we found was cosmetic argan oil.  Melissa managed “argan manger” (manger is eat in French) and the shop clerk scurried off to the back and came back with a gallon container of oil and a small glass bottle.  $25 US dollars.  We probably should have negotiated, but since everything else in the shop was actually marked with prices – we just went with it.  Happy to make a contribution to the local economy.  We also bought some cosmetic argan and some saffron.

Then we needed to fill up with gas.  But they don’t take credit cards.  And Melissa had nearly spent all the cash Dave had in his wallet at the argan oil shop.  Doh.  So Dave put $12 US dollars’ worth of diesel in the car – which we figured would get us to Midelt.  After a small back and forth with the attendant, where in Dave was convinced he was going to put gasoline rather than diesel in the car – because here diesel is called gasoil.  And oddly diesel is cheaper than gasoline here.

A few miles down the road Dave says “Doh!”.  And Melissa is like “What’s wrong?!” Dave remembered he had a bunch more cash in his back pack.  Oh right.  Duh.  We outwitted ourselves yet again.  We always separate some cash so in case Dave gets his wallet stolen we won’t be without any money.  And Melissa always puts her wallet in the hotel safe, and then Dave carries his around town.  That way if his credit cards are stolen – Melissa will have hers as backup.  All part of the schemes we have developed over the years traveling in the third world where you might not be able to get new credit cards FedEx’ed overnight.

None the less, we are running low on cash, so we stop on our way through one of the towns to get some cash.  Then we stop at another gas station to fill up.  Dave pokes his head in the car and asks Melissa if she wants to get the car washed.  “YES!” The car is beyond filthy.  Between driving through the muddy clay on our way up the Atlas Mountains, and the sandstorm yesterday, the car is looking pretty sad.  And the windows are making horrible noises when you roll them up and down because there is now so much sand in the crack between the window and the door frame.

So we pull into the car washing area and a young guy proceeds to hand wash the car.  First sprays all the mud and sand off.  Melissa taps on the window and points to the sand in the window.  He grins and her and nods and points the spray right in the crack and powers all the sand out.  Then he gets out a bucket of soap and a sponge and washes the car.  Sprays it all down again.  Then gets a towel and hand dries it.  At this point we are wondering what all this effort is going to cost as Dave forgot to negotiate the price in advance.  But they charged us a mere $2 US dollars.  So worth it.

At one point we see a donkey – running like a bat out of hell along the side of the road.  We had no idea donkeys could move that fast!  He was flying along – his rope tether dangling behind him in the wind.  You could pretty much just see the smile on his face, “carry your own load from now on sucker - I’m outta here!”

Along the way we saw several Oasis’ where there is an abundance of water at the bottom of a valley resulting in lush green towns.  Though it was weird to see a mix of palm trees and pine trees.

There’s even a huge reservoir here.

At one overlook where we pulled over to take pictures, there was the usual setup of a guy with a table and a ton of fossils.  Fake fossils that is.  We’ve seen enough of them now to recognize the roughly 20 or 30 varieties of fakes because there just aren’t that many different molds apparently.

As we were driving along, we passed through a radar trap, and low and behold – the police officer with the radar was female!  Hey!  First woman we have seen in any job not cleaning or otherwise menial.  Melissa grinned and waved, and she grinned and waved back.

Along the way we stopped in a town called Errachidia for lunch at Restaurant Grillades Zerda – a popular spot that Google maps knew by name (typically the more established places).  The menu was in French and we were not sure what we wanted, but the table next to us had some tasty looking plates.  And from nowhere Melissa managed to remember enough high school French to say, “Qu'est-ce que c'est?”  (What is that?)  The waiter turned the menu to the right page and pointed.  Ok, now we just have to choose a meat.  Again we puzzle.  Then we spotted the shawarma!  Yes!  The waiter explained we would have to wait 40 minutes – but we were all in!

As we sat there we realized the reason for the wait was that the shawarma wasn’t cooked enough – they had to turn up the heat on it.  But that was fine because it was the best people watching yet.  Errachidia has a large military base and an airport.  It’s not really a tourist town.  Melissa was a bit nervous as she wasn’t wearing her scarf on her head.  And at one point a very traditional – long bearded man stared at her a bit making her a bit nervous.  She tried a smile and he smiled back.  Ok, guess it must be all right then.  More tourists off loaded from a bus and a lot of them didn’t have scarves.  Ok, now she isn’t the only one.  And then (amazingly!) a native family came in – looked like professionals – and the wife had no scarf!  And then a bit later, some other local women came in without scarves!  Wow.  First time we have ever seen that!  Interesting.  We wonder if maybe the military base has something to do with a bit of modernization here?  Or maybe in Marrakesh we would have seen a bit of it had we wandered to the more industrial parts of the city?

Then a beggar came by.  Clearly destitute, dirty, unzipped pants.  He gestured holding his hand to his mouth begging for food.  The waiter immediately went over to him, and another of the staff came running with a bottle of water.  Melissa thought for a moment they were going to offer him something to drink.  But no.  The waiter started gesturing at him – clearly threatening to splash him in the face with the water to make him go away.  Hmmm.  Not sure how I feel about that – but it is certainly a way to get rid of people without any real physical harm.

Then the food showed up.  All this giant plate full for $4 US dollars.  And oh so good!  There are apparently French fries the world over.  There were two types of ketchup.  One that was sickly sweet.  Would have been more accurate to call it tomato jam.  Ingredients were: water, sugar, tomato paste.  The other one was spicy hot.  Dave mixed them together and they weren’t bad.

As we walked back to our car, we saw a man wiping down cars on the street.  Sure enough when we reached our car, he came running over to tell us that he cleaned our car while we were gone – obviously looking for some money.  We laughed as we just had it cleaned.  But Dave gave him 1 dirham (10 cents US) and he seemed thrilled.

As we came over the last of the mountains, we spotted men along the road with Coca-Cola bottles filled with something.  Dark liquid, but not Coca-Cola.  Not argan oil.  We puzzled and puzzled.  Then Melissa put the pieces together.  We kept seeing white wooden boxes everywhere.  Hundreds of them across the fields.  Bee hives!  Honey!

As we came across the mountains into the Midelt valley the temperature dropped dramatically.  It went from mid 80’s to about 50 degrees.  Brrrr.  And it was stormy over the mountains and we got rained on.  Its almost like being back in Seattle.

When we reached Midelt we took a few wrong turns getting to the hotel.  Not because the google map was confusing but because Melissa wasn’t paying attention to it.  Ooops. 

We got to Riad Villa Midelt and found a cozy fire waiting for us in the lobby.  We started filling out the paperwork.  Hotels here are required to collect your passport info, country of residence, and such.  This hotel asked our starting point and destination.  We put Marrakesh and Tangier.  Ah no, they explained in broken French/English, your destination tomorrow.  We said Fez.  Ah then your starting point this morning was Merzouga they said.  Interesting.  So Midelt really is just the stop over point and all they need to know is where you are going to know where you started.

After getting settled, Melissa heads downstairs to see if she can dig up a bottle of wine and some glasses.  Sure enough – they had plenty on hand – but only red wine.  Ok, twist my arm.  Really tasty too.  Ahhh, and high-speed internet!  We can get a good fix!

Dinner was chicken skewers and a big pile of salads.  What we now know is very traditional.  We’ve seen these same exact salads repeatedly.  Melissa asked the waiter if the chef would share the recipes, and he said yes.  When he left, Dave chuckled, "You know there is no way he understood you, right?"

After dinner we flipped on the TV, but everything is in Arabic.  So we started watching what looked like a soap opera and making up our own story line to match the action on the screen.  Taking turns to build on the story line.  Hilarious!

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