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.


  1. Bardzo fajny blog. Przyjemnie się czyta :)
    Masz jakieś mobilne urządzenie do pisania czy korzystasz z kafejek internetowych/gościnności hostów z CS?
    Gdzie planujesz następną wyprawę?
    Pozdrawiam i życzę szerokiej drogi :]

    1. dziękuję za miłe słowa, tym bardziej, że piszę po angielsku i niektórych może to zniechęcać od czytania długich opisów. Obecnie powoli spisuję wspomnienia z Maroka, czego nie robiłąm na bieżąco, bo z netem tam bywa ciężko, w domach rzadko jest wifi, a jak korzysta się z niego w kafejce, to wolę sprawdzić rzeczy najważniejsze (hości z CS itd.) zamiast pisać bloga. W europejskich krajach korzystam albo z wifi u hostów, albo w jakiś księgarniach/kawiarniach, gdzie też oferują je za darmo - na Islandii np. o wifi nie trzeba się martwić nawet w najmnieiszej dziurze. Częzto piszę coś, kiedy mam czas, a kiedy mam neta, to wrzucam to tutaj. Póki co na kilka miesięcy odwiedzam Polskę, a później chyba Turcja, może kraje Kaukazu. A dalsze miesiące to się jeszcze okaże :)