Disaster in the Desert

Last week I went to the Sahara Desert.

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The trip I thought I was getting:

  1. Transportation from Fez to Rissani
  2. 4×4 to the desert
  3. Desert sunset on camel
  4. Two nights in the desert
  5. Two nights sleeping with Berber families
  6. Two days of riding camels in the Sahara
  7. A couscous picnic lunch with Berbers
  8. Transportation back to Fez

Simple enough.

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The trip I got:

Short version:

A series of misunderstandings lies, blaming, broken promises, lies, creepy camel guides, creepy Czech tourists.

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Long version:

  1. A ten-hour bus ride to Rissani with one stop for food after 8 hours- I realize this sentence makes me sound like a princess. When it comes to food, I have to be a princess. I eat every couple hours, otherwise I get weird, just trust me. It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for Yousef (the man who set up the trip) who had promised the bus stops every few hours for food.
  2. A 4×4 ride to the desert, and a stop for sunset (a very beautiful sunset)
  3. A rush to put my bag in a hotel room and take only my camera and toothbrush to the desert with me on the camel. This was quite confusing as I said that I was meant to sleep in the desert two nights, and would need my stuff. No, you will not, was my reply.
  4. A dark camel ride to the desert
  5. Tea and chicken tajine made by Aziz and Hamed
  6. Fire and drum circle with Aziz and Hamed
  7. Drum lessons from Aziz and Hamed
  8. Wake up sick in the middle of the night, rush outside the camp to do what my stomach was shouting at me to do. Being that it was a full moon, the desert is a clear landscape. Hamed came out of the camp as well, pacing back and forth by the camels, watched me. Watching and watching me in my private moment. When I finished and came back to the camp, I said “what are you doing?” To which he spoke to me only in Spanish (previously he had spoken to me only in English), and asked if I were ok. I said no and that I felt sick, to which he offered to give me a massage. A special berber stomach massage. No thanks, I said, more than I should have had to. As I went back into my tent, Hamed let me know that he’ll be awake and if I change my mind and want a special berber massage, I could feel free to meet him in his tent. Alone. Again, no thanks.
  9. Next morning, a sunrise and a rush back to the desert hotel
  10. Breakfast and goodbyes to my lovely Australian Morocco travel buddy, Danielle
  11. “Free day” at the hotel entailing being stared at uncomfortably by the creepy Czech, Tomas, and watched by all the men working at the hotel.
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  12. That night, I asked Mubarak- the boss man of the hotel- what time I would be taking the 4×4 back to Rissani the next day to catch my bus back to Fez. Thus began the misunderstanding of the disaster in the desert. Mubarak informed by that I would leave at 9am, as well as pay for my lunch, to which I protested, telling him that Yousef promised that what I had already paid included everything, even lunch. Mubarak laughed. I told him I would pay him, since I knew that his business and that of Yousef was different, but I explained to him all the grandiose lies I had paid for but didn’t experience. Mubarak blamed Yousef. I went to my room. Suddenly Mubarak showed up telling me it was in fact his brother’s fault, and offered to give me one more night for free in the desert, which I could not do due to time. Ten minutes later, Mubarak was back, with Yousef on the phone, repeating what Mubarak had stated- one more night. Again, impossible. So Youssef told me that I must leave to go out to the desert again at that moment (nearly 9pm) to sleep in the desert. Again, I declined. I had wanted to spend a full day in the desert, not two-night time rides by camel. Yousef then stated that he doesn’t like to make promises and not follow through and he would allow me to stay at the Fez hotel for two nights for free, and would return to me the money I had already paid for those nights.
  13. Next morning, 4×4 back to Rissani, met Ismail, brother of Mubarak, who blamed Mubarak for the misunderstanding. They gave me a gift of the hand of Fatima from their shop as an apology.
  14. Ten hours back to Fez (this time prepared with food)
  15. Yousef gets on the bus as we are nearing the bus station in Fez and sits down next to me. He blames me, but says he will pay half of my taxi ride to the airport the following day.
  16. The next day I speak to Yousef who tells me that he will no longer give back the money from the hotel since he’s now paying for half of the taxi ride. This is a difference of about 200 durhams. Also, when he told me the price I would have to pay for the room, it was 120 durhams/night. Suddenly when it was a number he was meant to return, the value of the room was 100 durhams/night. Convenient. The first day when Yousef told me the taxi price to the airport, it was 150 durhams. Suddenly when we were to split the cost of the taxi, it was 150 durhams each. Convenient. When I asked him about the sudden price differences, he was very affronted. He then told me about his five children. His attempts at guilt and manipulation are too familiar. I know these games.
  17. In the end, it’s decided that he will in fact return the 200 durhams from the room, but I will pay for the taxi, which he was to call for me. I wasn’t trying to take advantage of him afterall, I just didn’t want to be taken advantage of myself. Therefore, he was going to return to me 50 durhams, the difference of the room and the taxi. Conveniently, he did not have it on him and said the owner of the hotel would return it to me the next morning. The next morning of course, the owner had no clue what I was talking about, and I was never honored what was promised.
  18. Yousef is very interested in publicity. He is constantly begging for good publicity for his business. This makes sense. However, it is not good publicity for him that I can offer to anyone looking to head to the desert. The opposite, in fact. So if you meet a Yousef who works out of Riad Malak in Fez, please, do not trust him. Do yourself this favor.

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There is a lot more to this story, but as I’ve already gone on too long, I will not include it. Unfortunately, Danielle also had a terrible time upon leaving the desert for Marrakech as well. Her story of course includes, but is not limited to, sexual harassment by employees of the desert hotel, dishonesty, lies and more lies.

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I was not upset with the misunderstanding. I understand that happens. What bothered me was the series of blaming, the blatant lies, the cheating and most of all, the idea that the men who work there seem to think they can get away with anything. Although, I was informed by Yousef after telling him about Hamed’s massage invitation, that many female tourists go to the Sahara looking for love with a Berber boy, and because of that, they assume all tourists are all the same. Yousef told me that because I was strong and said no and put up an obstacle between Hamed and myself, it did not go further. But what if I wasn’t stronger? What if I were more naïve? What if I truly believed he would just give me a massage? What then? Alone in his tent, what then? This travel company sent two girls to the desert with two men who grew up in the desert, expecting to have sex with them. This, more than anything, is what bothers me.

That being said, The Sahara Desert is beautiful, amazing, and incredible.

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