It was magical to lie back after a lunch cooked for you in the open air, drifting off into a dreamlike state, with only the occasional grumble from a camel to disturb the peace. All basic human needs were satisfied, and there was no pressure to continue with the journey, which would only be a few more miles inland through the enormous dunes to the overnight camp.
I watched Jess for a while, who must have been sleeping because now and then she would snore quietly for a few seconds, before lapsing into a period of gentle breathing. I felt lucky to have established a good relationship with her in a fairly short time; life was much more fun with an attractive companion, and someone to have a laugh with.
I gazed into the dying embers of the fire, even hotter than the hot day we had been trekking through, wondering if there was any kind of real threat in the bustling markets of Essaouira. It was hard to believe bad things could happen, most locals were so friendly, despite the lack of English being spoken – they were much more inclined to use French after Arabic, because of the colonial history.
‘Are you awake Jess ?’
‘I am now; what do you want ?’
‘Well, thanks for disturbing me. I was having a lovely dream about Hugh Laurie.’
‘What ? The comedy actor.’
‘Apparently he’s quite a heartthrob in France.’
‘They’re a peculiar nation, despite being so close to our own geographically.’
‘I couldn’t imagine life without a hot croissant and strong coffee.’
‘We’ve had some lovely breakfasts at the riad – very much French influenced.’
‘I remember once staying in Paris; the so-called Continental breakfast was so insubstantial I nearly fainted in Pigalle.’
‘I trust you didn’t visit any of those sex shows ?’
Jess laughed, and turned away to resume her snooze.
The only problem about going on holiday is that while you can leave most things behind that are familiar and perhaps dull about your life, it’s not really possible to leave your entire self behind as well, which means you’re not just carrying the baggage for the aircraft cabin.
Perhaps though there is a much greater chance of breaking familiar patterns and rediscovering a sense of childlike joy in the world and people around you, and even some delight in your own jaded personality. This appeared to be happening, as each day in Morocco brought new experiences and a different perspective on daily existence.
In England it is only possible to sunbathe outside for a few days every year; our expectations have been raised far too high by cheap package deals to Spain or Greece, which inevitably brings a feeling of deep disappointment when we experience a chilly and damp Easter long weekend of too much chocolate and persistent drizzle.
Now, I could start to imagine myself as a ‘blue man’ – a member of the desert Tuareg people - so distinctive in their customary blue clothing that forms such a strong contrast against all the sandy colours of the endless dunes. One of these people took us down another back alley in Taroudannt to look at their wonderful hand-woven carpets, yet there was none of the hard sell or rip-off tactics used by some other cheating locals – only a quiet dignity and modesty that spoke of so many years battling the harsh elements of the vast desert, sometimes with only the strange and ugly humped beasts as their companions and means of survival.
After a long and shaded rest we left the lunchtime encampment, with both of us trying to ride side-saddle, which did offer a greater degree of comfort, but also the danger of falling more easily from a great height, and then experiencing the Moroccan health system. It’s easy enough to injure yourself riding a horse, but it feels so much higher on a camel, and the abundance of sand is no guarantee of avoiding serious injury.
‘It’s good to be back in the saddle !’ Jess shouted.
‘You sound like you’ve been with camels all your life.’
‘It’s waking-up and staring at your face every morning that reminds me so much of these delightful animals.’
‘I’ll remember that later, when you need a hand getting down.’
I was certainly glad to be wearing a hat as we snaked through the baking afternoon dunes towards our night under the stars, occasionally responding with a smile to a look of concern from our guides, as they observed our lack of skill in adopting the correct travelling position when riding one of their forever jerking camels.