Monday, March 26, 2012

"Stąd do ziemi dalej niż do gwiazd..."

29.01-01.02 - Hassi Labied

Mohammed's mud-brick house is about to be converted into a hostel with time, but before it happens he welcomes couchsurfers. The moment we arrive, two hippies - Sofie from Belgium and Nahuel from Argentina, together with our inseparable travel companions Ellen and Kai, are there. It really looks like a place where travelers meet - flags of different countries, postcards, maps, rugs, paintings on the walls, hand-made maps of the vicinity, beautiful rooms for couchsurfers, two with regular beds and one with mattresses, where Stevie, Guido and I will stay - Mohammed kindly agreed to host our new travelmate, even though he's not a couchsurfer. Our host is a friend from the very beginning, a friend who disarms you with his honesty and eagerness to make new connections, not to mention he's a mine of knowledge about the surrounding.

Later more people arrive - Vento from Brazil, Gabe from USA and Malina from Poland, who travel together with Sophie and Nahuel.

Malina is the first Polish I've met during this trip, but to make the situation more absurd, it turns out that we both come from Bydgoszcz, went to the same high school and have friends in common. If somebody had told me before coming to Morocco that I'd meet a person so close to my friends' circle, I'd have told them they're fools. And here the impossible happens, I'm talking to a girl who grew up in the same city, whose school memories are the same as mine, almost 4000 km from home. Verden er lille!

We spend the day frolicking in the dunes - Mohammed's house is located just on the edge of the sand. It takes around 45 minutes for the Germans, Guido and me to climb the highest dune. It's an easy hike, although sometimes it's necessary to walk on all fours when the dunes get so steep that the sand is collapsing beneath our feet. Malina, Sofie and Nahuel, who are already there, give us some support while we make our last steps to the top.

The views of the desert and the village are unrivaled. Rolling mountains of orange and yellow sand stretch as far as the eye can see. Dune fields in Algeria are also visible from here, so close yet inaccessible by land. The grandiosity is overwhelming. I've seen "small" sand dunes before but they just don’t compete.

Among this multitude of sand, fine and soft to the touch, we feel and act like kids again. We roll down the dunes, run like crazy. There are some locals in the dunes as well and one boy rolls down face first - none of us was smart enough to come up with this method, maybe it's even better, since we already have a week's worth of sand all over our bodies. Sand gets into our hair, eyes, mouths, clothes, backpacks.

Around 17 it starts getting cooler from the evening wind. The sand is cold at the surface and I guess were the terrain different, I probably wouldn't like to stay there. But underneath it's very warm from the daytime sun. I search for warm spots to dig my feet and feel warm again. The hippies have already gone back home to escape the cold. Ellen, Kai, Guido and I stay to catch the last rays of the evening and get a glimpse of the multi-hued sunset.

Evenings are skill-sharing time. Sofie is a master of macramé, the art of tying cords into knots in a way that they form a design. She has an entire bag dedicated to making macramé patterns: special waxed cord, beads, buttons, and quickly infests other people with her hobby. First Guido, then I, finally Ellen, we're all making bracelets. In the beginning it goes defiantly for me to understand these knots and loops until I finally get the hang of it. Realizing what I had been missing out on all the trip, I can't control my hands, I want to keep them busy all the time. I yearned to use my creativity so much.

Vento makes really cute creations with wire and pliers. He bends the wire forming amazing shapes. There's a ring, a scorpion, a necklace pendant. Some of them were made using only single wire. Besides, he made a flute of some lightweight wood found in Mohammed's garden.

We have talented musicians as well. While some of us are focused on making bracelets, Stevie and Nahuel are strumming their guitars. There are songs I'll inseparably associate with Hassi Labied from now: "Redemption Song," "Karma Police," "Across the Universe," "Let it Be," "Hey Jude," "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "Blackbird."

Erg Chebbi is a classic tourist destination due to camel tours that can be arranged here. However, not so much into such a touristic overkill, we all give it a miss. Instead of an overnight in a Berber tent with the locals, accompanied by food, playing drums and singing songs of Southern Morocco, we have our own night in the desert that goes a lot easier on our wallets. Campfire, tea cooked on an open fire instead of gas stove, Western music played by the some members of our team. In Sahara the nights are as cold as the days are hot but close to the fire we feel warm and cozy. What a pity that sleeping under the stars won't follow for all of us - Guido and I don't have a tent and Gabe prefers to sleep indoors if he has a chance, since Mohammed was so kind to let us stay one night more.

There's more of us tonight - one special guest came.

Just before the campfire Guido said: "While I walked in the dunes, I saw a guy play guitar on the top of a dune and I thought 'this man is crazy enough to be invited to our camp'."

His face looks familiar, his voice rings the bell, I've heard it before. I don't want to say something stupid until I'm more sure that he's the person I think he is.

The answer comes quickly and I'm proved right. The hippies talk with him about Rainbow Gatherings, Nahuel mentions roadjunky...
"Are you Tom Thumb?"

The founder of the website that was my main resource while planning this trip is here with us. He's organizing Sahara Retreat in just a week, in a place 2 km from where we are right now.

With one guitar more singing becomes the main focus of the campfire and Tom takes the lead. Most of the songs he plays are the Rainbow songs (they can be found on Tom's website); the hippies sing with all of their might, as if they wanted entire Sahara to hear their voices. Tom says it's difficult to write cheerful songs that don't sound cheesy like "I love you, you love me and we're all happy." However, he carries out this task without any difficulties.

There are also songs I know very well, among them "This Land Is Your Land,"  which makes my memories of every 4th of July I'd spent in USA revive, and which Tom sings with a verse that was removed from the lyrics because not being politically correct:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me. 

"Happy Together," "Stand by Your Man," "What a Wonderful World" and many more follow. Stevie softly plays another melody that is familiar to me, and soon he and I sing together "I have seen the others and I have discovered that this fight is not worth fighting..." Not to mention The Beatles - I could sing my lungs out to any of their songs, and so could each one of us.

Tom asks me: "teach us a nice expression in Polish." Gabe preempts me with his "cześć, kurwa!" and I laugh, but it also sinks in that most of the Polish expressions foreigners know are cusswords.

The starry night, a balm for still remembered heat of the day, brings the answer. I look up at the sky and the Moon that has the shape of a crescent in a horizontal position; the multitude of constellations that look slightly different from what I'm used to seeing in the north. A song by one of my favorite Polish bands, SDM, comes to my mind. It's about Bieszczady Mountains, but big part of it could as well be about Morocco. One of the sentences perfectly conveys the atmosphere of this night. "Stąd do ziemi dalej niż do gwiazd" - "from here it's further to the earth than to the stars."

Here we're experiencing the desert firsthand. It's our own Sahara Retreat, the Erg Chebbi of my dreams, with its serene silence, peace and stillness. The place itself is magical but the companionship is what makes everything in Hassi Labied first-rate. To say we lucked out to find ourselves here at the same time would be an understatement. All the crazy, free-spirited, creative souls from all over the world are highly responsible for making the days spent in the desert an splendid experience that can't be topped.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Humbled on the road

29.01 - Tinghir - Touroug - Hassi Labied, 203 km, six rides.

This day had many surprising moments in store for us.

First, we get a new hitchhiking mate. In the first town on our way, Tinjedad, an American guy with a guitar, Stevie, joins us. He's hitchhiked in Morocco for a week so far, is usually camping, today his destination is the same as ours - Merzouga. He's the first hitchhiker we've met here so sharing our impressions about hitchhiking in this country is obvious. Certainly we'll continue our way together. We're wondering how the fact that it's more of us will impact the number of cars that stop. In Europe hitchhiking as a couple is sometimes difficult, never mind being a group of three. Here one person more doesn't change too much - less than five minutes and another car is ours.

When later we get out of the car in a village called Mellaab, a man from a car in front of us asks us in French "do you need a ride?" This has never happened to us that without showing we are hitchhikers, the initiative comes from a driver. Amazing, we think. They're three men who speak little French, but most of the time they keep to themselves and chat in Arabic or Berber.

It seems to be an ordinary ride. But when we get out of the car by their house in a small village Touroug, they ask us if we'd like to come for a tea. There are some small kids playing football in front of the house, so we consider these people and their family safe. Moreover, it's still very early and we've never been invited by total strangers in Morocco, so why not?

Our drivers, who are cousins, introduce us to their relatives (quite big tribe), among them the mother of one of them, who is over 100 years old and remembers the French occupation. They're proud Berbers and try to teach us some words in their native language.

I show them my postcards from different places in Europe and United States that I took to share with local people. I point these places on the map, say a little more if they fancy particular view. They look at them with keen and glowing interest so they must be enjoying this exchange. Still, I have mixed feelings. Part of me thinks it's sharing our culture, small part of me thinks this rule we play by in Europe doesn't apply here and this simple gesture of kindness might not be so kind after all. The laws on visa requirements for Moroccan citizens are very strict. Obtaining a visa is linked with much bureaucracy and costs pretty penny. There are only 63 countries that grant visa-free entry to Moroccan citizens. In Europe it's only Turkey and Kosovo. Moroccans don't have it easy with neighboring countries either: Mauretania requires a visa and the border with Algeria is closed, so a short trip becomes very expensive if you want to fly. I'm in my early twenties and I have traveled all over Europe and not only. They're elderly people and they've never gone out of Morocco. What we're doing is like showing off our wealth and the fact that we're holders of EU passports who face no challenges of traveling in foreign countries.

The tea arrives, sweet as usual, accompanied by popcorn and nuts. But it's not the end. It seems that we came home just for the lunch, the big meal in Moroccan households - after a while a young girl who can be maybe 15 years old brings freshly baked bread, olive oil and scrambled eggs. They stuff us with delicious food and awash with tea. The table is never empty - when one meal is finished, another one arrives, when they see we're almost running out of tea, they pour some more. When we feel we don’t have an inch of room left in our stomachs, the girl brings tajine and the feast starts again. It's difficult to wriggle our way out; our solicitous hosts don't even want to hear we're full. "La, la, safi, no, no, partage, on partage, do you want? Safi, safi." They make the celebration last as long as possible. We get fruits for the desert and struggle to push pieces of apples and bananas down our throats.

Guido says: "Somehow it reminds me my area but this is even much more than my area. People in my area are very helpful, if they invite you to eat, they will push you to eat more, more, more. But you know, I don't think they'll invite people from the street." I say: "I don't think you'd experience it in Poland either. There's a Christmas tradition to leave one plate empty for a stranger or for a person you don't expect to arrive. But I don't think people would be so open-minded to invite a stranger just from the street if such person knocked the door." In Europe intimate relations take time to nurture. In Morocco building connections with anybody, at anytime seems to be something congenital.

That's not the end of surprises. When we're done with eating and wonder how to politely say we have to go, the cousins invite us to stay at their home for the night. Even if we didn't have any host for tonight, we couldn't accept the invitation, they've already granted us too much love and care. We turn down the offer but the wife of one of the cousins insists on showing us the rooms. We go upstairs and we gasp: some rooms are decorated in typically Moroccan style, with mattresses on the floor, some are more European, with high bed, canopy and countless cushions. This place looks much richer than some places we've been to but we still can't take advantage of these people anymore.

When we're ready to go, the girl who served the food at lunch gives me a bracelet. We still have some sweets left, so we distribute them between kids, I offer them magnets from places I've visited; places they maybe will never be able to see. We give a thank you card to our hosts, leave our addresses and invitations to visit us, inshallah. We have their address too. But they don't let us go so easily.
"We'll take you to the end of the village."
"Shukran, shukran. You've already done too much. We can walk."
"We'll take you to the end of the village."

But they don't stop just at the end of the village. They drive further and further. Any requests to stop, safi, safi, safi, are futile. We just have to say thank you and accept the favor.

We ride in silence. Sobs well up. Random acts of kindness bring tears to our eyes. These people were genuinely kind, unlike some people we met on our way their kindness came from their hearts and not from their wallets ("my friend, come for tea!... maybe you'd like to have a look at my shop?"), they gave without expecting anything in return and no requests for a favor were in the offing. We were invited for tea but eventually binged on good food. We were invited to stay at home as long as we like. And now they're driving us so far! In our countries we quite often see examples of hostility towards foreigners and immigrants. Now we would tell anybody who says they don't like Moroccans, Romanians, Turkish etc. to go to their countries and see how they welcome you not like a stranger but like a long-lost family member. What can we do to reciprocate their generosity? There are some ideas. I hope one day we all get a chance to pay back.

The cousins drive us all the way to Erfoud, the closest big town. 54 km they'll have to drive back as well. Moroccan hospitality is always incredible, but these people went above and beyond in so many ways.

We're at the Gate of Sahara, as Erfoud is also known. We've dwelt among Berber people for many days; here Arabs are the majority, but once we reach Hassi Labied, we'll find ourselves among Berbers again.

My phone rings. It's a text message and I can't believe my eyes when I read it. It's from Ellen and Kai; they're sending their belated birthday wishes and hope to see us soon. They arrived at Mohammed's (also our host's) house in Hassi Labied today and just came back from the dunes.

This country is so small. Only a few days have passed and our paths cross again. I'd rather surprise them on the spot but the hilarity of the situation makes it even more difficult to refrain from answering them with the information that we'll see each other in less than three hours.

There are some things that slow us down on the last leg of our route. First in Rissani, where our drivers (quite shy guys, but shared some Berber music with us) drop us off on right in the heart of the bustle we have to ignore countless men who, attracted by our backpacks, offer us hotels or try to sell Sahara tours. In the hitchhiking spot after a while some teenage boys approach us and start talking. They're kind, don't want to take us to the desert, but there's one drawback: they effectively deter the cars we want to stop, since chatting with them it looks as if we were together. We have to walk further to disappear from their eyesight.

The city gate of Rissani, the town of veiled women

So, where are we going?

On the top of that, police, who so far let us go hassle-free, now gives us some hard time. For the first time ever they stop our drivers and ask everyone for documentation. A long discussion in Arabic follows, we have no idea what they're talking about but we know we are in trouble. Finally the police tell us the drivers aren't allowed to give a ride to tourists.

They don't give any clarification but we can guess the reasons for saying so. Faux guides are a notorious problem in Morocco, especially on popular touristic routes, like this one from Rissani to Merzouga. Since specific training to become a licensed guide is very expensive, there's a number of unauthorized guides who illegally make a living on tourists. Our drivers were mistaken for such guides who took us for money. Long explanations in French follow: "they were very kind and we don't want them to have any problems because of us." We even search for photos that could back up the fact that we are hitchhikers - here's a family that invited us, here we're waiting for a ride, here we're with our drivers. By the way, do we look like somebody who would pay? Our travels are written on our skin and our clothes; they' re covered thick with grease and dust. We're not dressed in brand-new clothes but clothes you don't want to be too nice because they'll get dirty anyway. And we're so poor that we have to bear the discomforts of hitchhiking instead of exploring Morocco with our own rented car.

Finally, after long explanations, they let us go. We lost a lot of time and it's getting darked and darker. Our drivers drop us off along the main road from where we still have a couple of kilometers to go. We follow the main track, led rather by intuition than precise indications how to reach our host's house. The Germans say to look for a school when we reach the village. The sand dunes of Erg Chebbi pop into view on the horizon. Soon we can also see the village lights. And there are also people who know our host! One of them takes us there so we don't have to helplessly wander in pitch dark. We made it! With a huge delay, but every moment of this amazing day was absolutely worth it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

عيد ميلاد

26-29.01 - Ouarzazate - Tinghir - Todra Gorge - Dades Gorge - Tinghir, 423 km, sixteen rides.

A little about hitchhiking in Morocco... What can I say, it's a hitchhiker's paradise for us! A mixed couple gets a ride faster than a girl alone in Europe. We hardly ever have to wait more than five minutes - usually cars stop immediately, sometimes even two at once. Even if we only want to get a ride to the center, they don't mistake us for somebody who wants to take a taxi. Who cares it's only three kilometers? Every little helps. Vast majority of people react, grin, make some hand gestures that we answer back. Lack of common language doesn't drive them away from helping us - they talk to us in Arabic or Berber, ignoring the fact that these languages are unintelligible for us. But their kindness isn't. They make us believe that hearts of some people are made of gold.

Moreover, all the rides you're not very likely to get in Europe because of safety reasons/too big crowd inside, you get here. Family with two kids, more than five people in a small car, more than two passengers in the truck, van with sheep on the top, around ten people squished in the back of a pick-up - they're all more than eager to give you a hand. It's the best example of effective carpooling. Due to the low rate of car ownership in some areas, people put them into good use by taking as many co-passengers as possible.

We've heard stereotypes and opinions about unknown concept of free hitchhiking in Morocco, of being expected to contribute as a rich foreigner. These concepts are now overturned. Nobody mentions money, nobody wants to rip us off. Out trip is so far pitfall-free.

Dry and empty road out of Ouarzazate

View from a hill in Kelaat M'Gouna where our driver took us

There are people who are almost inseparable companions of ours the day we leave Ouarzazate: the Germans. First we stumble upon them in the hitchhiking spot where they arrive in a car just a moment after we get there on foot (and around an hour after we leave Abdelilah's house); then they pass us in another car they got; finally as soon as we get out of the car that took us to Boumalne Dades, we see Ellen and Kai in a restaurant sipping tea. We watch Africa Cup match and discuss our plans. They'll stay in a hotel in Boumalne for a night, we'll continue our way to Tinghir.

Our host Jamal meets us in the center and soon takes to the house of his friend. Jamal used to be a student of hotel management academy, with a focus on cooking. As befits a skilled graduate, he gives us a cooking show worth watching. First thing he prepares is - how could it be otherwise - Moroccan tea. Here it's made the old-fashioned way using gunpowder green tea made of leaves tightly rolled into tiny pellets. This makes the tea stay fresh longer. It's prepared in a metal teapot, usually beautifully adorned with some patterns. Jamal precisely explains every step on the way to receive perfect result.

You fill about 1/3 of the teapot with water and put it on a medium gas or on a stove. After around 5 minutes you put 2-3 tablespoons of tea in the pot and pour ½ glass water. When it's boiling, you discard the water, but keep the leaves - this helps purify the tea. You fill the teapot the way to the top with water and add sugar (a lot of sugar, broken off from a huge hunk) and bring it to boiling. In the summer it's popular to drink tea with added bunch of mint to cool yourself down. Now just tea is fine. After a couple of minutes you mix the tea by pouring it to the glass and then back to the pot. This has to be repeated a couple of times to dissolve the sugar. When the tea is ready you pour it from high above to the glasses (almost impossible to avoid pouring the drops all around; don't hurry!) and enjoy the sugary flavor.

For the dinner we have another tajine. We had it before, but restaurant-made, not home-made. Here we can take part in the preparation, but the main thing still belongs to Jamal. Guido and I cut the tomatoes and zucchini into slices, carrot into bars, removing the inner part. More or less, that's where our help ends. Jamal continues to mix the olive oil with spices (salt, pepper, cumin, ginger, paprika) in the clay tajine (it's the name of both the pot used for cooking and the meal itself). He adds onion, puts the chicken in the middle of the pot and vegetables on the top, so they cover the meat, pours some water. Here the slow cooking starts. Tajine has to be simmered for around an hour to provide the best taste and aroma of ingredients. Once in a while Jamal adds some water. Thanks to the conical shape of the cover all water that evaporates can drip back to the bottom.

The only drawback is that the cooking process started quite late and Guido and I are dead tired after all day on the road. Jamal's friends offer us some home-made Berber drink made of prunes and figs that has no alcohol content but smells like slivovitsa. I reluctantly take a small sip, I won't take any more. We impatiently wait for the tajine and almost fall asleep under warm blankets. Jamal assures us: "it's almost ready, we're going to eat soon." One hour one and a half two hours before tajine appears on the table.

It's the first time we've eaten tajine with our hands. To be precise we use small pieces of bread to pick our food. You should eat only from the section of the plate that is right in front of you. Hands are much more useful than spoon or fork since you can finish the meal entirely by soaking the bread in tasty sauce. Once done with the meal, we keep licking our fingers. It's so good not to have to behave like well-mannered, modern day people.

We have a great day in nearby Todra Gorge, the one that climbers take a fancy for. It's the first place where we've seen nomads - they collect water from the river, graze sheep, make laundry in the river. The living conditions in this remote area are difficult and, these people scratch out a living selling scarves, jewelry, and small Berber rugs at roadside stalls at the base of the hiking trails. Seeing white people makes them greedy for money and as soon as they realize we're taking photos of them, they run to us and in a very demanding way ask for money and food. They seem to appear out of nowhere; we walk in a place that seems desolate and suddenly we hear "bonjour! Un stylo!" But we don't meet only the people who want some gifts from us. Two little boys say "bonjour" to us and only smile, they don't ask for anything. In return for their lack of self-interest we give them more sweets than we usually give. The kindness comes back to us - they give us some dates. Another boy, when asked for a way back out of the palm grove, leads us without expecting anything in return.

Jamal introduces us to bigger part of his family. His sisters live in the same house, together with their husbands and kids. That's the striking trait of Moroccan families - even when the kids grow up they seldom leave their family home and continue to live with other family members, even when they have families of their own. We can see that Moroccan society is male-dominated - husbands (often the only breadwinners of the family) come back home late, while women take care of the kids and housekeeping. Apart from Guido, me and Jamal, also his two sisters and two nieces are present for the dinner. The husband of one of the sisters is back home around 21.

The dinner is less fancy than yesterday - only pasta with vegetables. Guido had an idea to cook something Italian for our hosts. But his favorite meals - carbonara and risotto - are difficult to make here because of lack of ingredients - no parmesan cheese, wine is forbidden, pork is forbidden. Even if the meal is not Moroccan, it's Jamal who does the cooking. There's one cute person at home we immediately fell in love with. It's Jamal's niece, Kawtar. On one hand timid, on the other fascinated with the guests, always in a playful mood, laughing when she sees Guido juggle. She teaches me how to tie a hijab, the piece of clothing that she doesn't wear at home. Her demonstration of this skill is impressive, I'll have to polish it a little.

These smiles like thousand suns...
28th is my birthday. First time I've spent it in a country I've never been to before (one more tick on my bucket list), second time I've spend it outside Poland. We'll for sure hitchhike on that day (destination Dades Gorge) and I really want to hitchhike with a sign I was tempted to use on my way to Morocco: "My birthday" written in a local language. Here some help is inevitable. Jamal writes this phrase and adds some wishes in Arabic for me ("It's my birthday and I'm in Tinghir with Guido, Jamal invited us home and I'm very happy" - something like this). My eyes are wide-gazing when I see how easily and out of hand he writes these beautiful doodles. No wonder, it's his mother tongue. What seems so difficult to us, people used to Latin writing system, for them is like cutting cake. I try to rewrite the short phrase and find the result awful. Arabic script is charming but intimidating to write for a hand that is not trained.

Jamal's wishes, transliteration of most useful phrase (aid' milad) and my feckless attempt to write in Arabic
Just before we hit the road, I make the sign. My impressions are the same - my handwriting looks terrible and my only hope is that I didn't accidentally write "fuck" or something equally offensive. To make sure, I show it to a man on the street and ask if it's intelligible for locals, he assents: "mon anniversaire, très bon!" So we roll, the sign doesn't change too much about the speed the cars stop but it makes me smile more when passing drivers smile because the sign announcing it's my birthday. There's even one gift - a small pack of cookies from an elderly driver. In exchange I offer his some candies. There are no bad moments to share the candies.

On the way back from Gorges de Dades Jamal calls us and says his couchsurfers from Lithuania came and they want to do some camping. We meet them is a shop (of course...) in the center and it turns out that more people are coming with us. There are Dovile, Eva and Lukas from Lithuania, but also Ilze from Latvia, Nadene from Australia and Christine from Denmark, who aren't familiar with couchsurfing. Ilze, Nadene and Christine started their travels in Morocco on their own, met each other in a hotel in Fes and have stuck together since then. They all say it was easy to travel on their own in this country - absolutely no unwanted attention, no cat calls, no reasons to refrain from walking alone in the street. Their stories fire me with hope that even if Guido and I have to split at some point, I won't be lonely for too long.

The "camping" turns out to be a hotel but it's the first night like this so it won't hurt our pocket if we spend 50 MAD. Since negotiating is a default mode in many places in Morocco, I try my luck and ask the receptionist if I could get a discount for my birthday. He shows the price list to me and says a double usually costs 150 MAD, so we're already paying less.

Some of us feel like drinking at night so we check the prices of wine in a corner shop. Because of the religion drinking is frowned upon in Morocco. However, it can't be considered a dry country - local Islam has smoother standard. Sale (mainly in some chain supermarkets, bars and restaurants) and consumption are allowed but the laws concerning them them are very strict. Alcohol can't be presented in plain view - the shopkeepers have to keep it in locking cases and can only show it to you on request. Drinking in public places doesn't go down very well and you should abstain from it. During Ramadam alcohol is not available in the supermarkets, though for a foreigner the rules can be bent a little. On the top of that, the taxes charged are incredible and lack of competition makes the prices exorbitant. Here a bottle of wine costs an equivalent of 8 € and it's only one kind they have in stock. We all unanimously agree it's too much (in France you can get good wine for around 2-3 €). This evening Berber whiskey will be our only "alcoholic" beverage.

I try to speak Danish with Christine and it goes fine but I'm not satisfied with my level of Danish. It's been definitely impacted by everyday conversations in French. Before I used to subconsciously use a Danish word when I didn't know the French equivalent. Now it's the opposite.

The Lithuanians turn out to have had Polish classes at high school. They also know the Woodstock Festival. So many memories are brought forth when we discuss where we camped, which concerts we went to, how good the hare krishna food was, how crazy we got.

The chef for tonight is Jamal again. He does his best - this vegetarian tajine is the most divine one I've ever been treated to. Perfect mix of spices, one that I could really call hot, and if I say it's hot, it's really hot.

Lukas, Nadene, Dovile and Christine waiting for the tajine.

Meatballs with eggplant and chicken tajine

Vegetarian tajine, this time for me and Christine

We're so hungry we voraciously devour all this good food and we don't care how dirty we get. Somebody says "here's a spoon, if anybody would like to use it" and Guido replies "yes, but who would be so spoiled to use the spoon?"

We wrap up the night with a campfire on a hill. The time spent in Tinghir and its surroundings was amazing but this night deserves extra mention. It's a memory that cannot be erased, an experience that will not fade. All thanks to the excellent international company in the middle of Moroccan nothingness!