[ Taliouine, Morocco ]
To say I’m miserable in this moment would be understatement. To pass the time—and there will be hours of it—I imagine my current predicament as a film scene, and opening:
Deafening sound of WHISTLING, violent WINDS and WHIP-CRACKS of flapping fabric. Gusts spray SAND and RAIN against fabric like a SANDBLASTER. Chaotic WHITE-NOISE.
Winter. Somewhere in Morocco.
CUT TO EXTREME CLOSE UP of TRANSGLOBALIST’s face, reading GLASSES covered in a layer of SAND, a scarf over his mouth and nose also covered with SAND. Beard? Brown with SAND.
CUT TO INT. SMALL TENT – STORMY MORNING. Claustrophobic AERIAL VIEW reveals Transglobalist on his back, surrounded by gear beneath fabric tent walls, arms stretched above his head, STRUGGLING to prevent the tent from collapsing in on him. He’s singing a song about warm beaches, climate-control, and an enchanting Desert Goddess.
OK, that last part, the song bit, isn’t true. The truth is he—I—am lost in thought, wondering how I got here, and what the hell to do next. I’m running through options.
This setting is only ten miles west of Tazenakht, a half-mile off Highway N10, where I pitched camp mid-afternoon the day before. I quit riding early—an act of defiance against stiff headwinds and the local authorities who were following me, as usual. It was a spectacular campsite next to gravel tracks disappearing into nearby mountains, evocative of Mongolia. There was a village visible in the far distance, a couple of homesteads, and a concrete pump-house perhaps a quarter-mile away. My bureaucratic shadows—two men from the local commune in a small white minivan—were forced to remain on the highway, a half-mile off.
It made for a great evening, with great views and a simple meal: instant noodles, hors d’oeuvres of stacked sausage, hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers, and cheese. Afterwards there were fresh local oranges, black tea and a Snickers bar for dessert. Pure back-country bliss. Even the minivan had disappeared. Solitude at last!
The night was cold, but I slept warmly and well. During brief moments of consciousness I’d take stock of the weather conditions—always windy. I awoke to light, steady rain, but no winds. As I climbed out of the tent to relieve myself, I saw storm cells tiny and scattered; the rain stopped almost immediately. It was mostly cloudy, and bracing, but things seemed headed in the right direction. I crawled back in the tent, hoping for the smallish bands of black clouds to clear out.
Be careful what you wish for, because now? I get mine. The sky clears.
As I sit warmly in my sleeping bag, checking the night’s messages on my phone, the winds return—slowly at first, mild gusts. Within fifteen minutes they easily double or treble in force, and a sustained onslaught bows the tent poles to within inches of my face. I’m enclosed in a nylon sarcophagus, sand blasting the outer tent in relentless waves while I instinctively reach out to support the straining poles. A thought appears:
Sh!t. Could this be a real-life, honest-to-goodness, straight-outta-the-movies sandstorm?
My heavier panniers—stored inside the tent to help divert the cold night-breeze—now serve as an anchor. The outer vestibule flaps wildly, crackling as downwind stakes are ripped from the ground. No choice now but to go outside, into a world of zero visibility and stinging sand. It’s worse than I’d imagined, but I make my way methodically around the tent. On the windward side, I add extra guy-lines, using my bike as an anchor. This helps, but the gusts still radically deform the tent—the poles can’t take much more. I MacGyver an anchor for the outer vestibule with my remaining panniers and a bungee cord—the wind is just too strong for stakes. And getting stronger. An educated guess puts yesterday afternoon’s winds at 12-15 mph; they are now sustained at 40+. The gusts? Better not to dwell on it.
I crawl back inside on my stomach—the tent is too deformed to unzip the vestibule flaps. The inner tent isn’t much better. Sand is everywhere, a thin layer forced directly through the fabric, and alarm bells are going off in my lizard-brain. How long will this storm last? How long will I last? What are my options? Can I get out of here somehow? Halfway inside the sleeping bag, there’s no choice but to hold the tent poles in place, hands above my head, frozen in mid-Jumping Jack. If I let go?
I remain relatively calm: there’s no immediate physical danger to me, only the gear. The best scenario? This is just a front moving through and will subside as the boundary passes. But no. Time passes. Lots of it. The fly pulls the bicycle out of position. I climb out, move it back, stake down the bike, crawl back in the tent.
And this, more or less, is where we came in: with me, splayed horizontally on the floor of the tent, doing Xtreme Camping Calisthenics. But my cinematic distractions aren’t going to cut it. I’m looking at a full day of this, perhaps longer.
Enough. I make up my mind to head for the pump-house. Between gusts its silhouette is visible, the wind mercifully over my left shoulder, my down jacket acting like a sail. The walk goes quickly. The structure’s wind-shadow is a shocking, anti-punch in the gut: after hours of incessant pummeling, the beating stops instantly. I can breathe.
The two commune officials from yesterday have returned in the night, joined by a third. They have made camp in the small building, with blankets, tins of sardines and mackerel, chips, a teapot and glasses, and scattered cigarette butts. Warm and cozy. The oldest shakes his head in consternation, likely flashing back to my tantrum yesterday afternoon when I tried to chase them away. (Another story for another day.)
In broken French I convey what they certainly already know: I want help—to head back to town to wait out the weather or hitch a ride to the next town. They make phone calls. I wait, watching: from time to time the outline of my camp is visible, and seems to be holding. Two of the men drive off, direction Tazenakht.
An hour passes before a truck emerges from the storm near the tent, apparently intending to strike my camp themselves. No! Running through the storm, against the wind, I’m screaming uselessly, waving my arms for them to stop. In the eternity it takes me to arrive they try un-staking the fly and part of the main tent, resulting ini a snapped pole and sliced wall of the inner tent. Bad? Sure. But it could have been much worse.
Under my direction we stow the panniers, strike the tent, and load the bike. Their plan: have this driver—in a truck-sized petite taxi—take me to the province border, where someone from the next province will meet us to take me the rest of the way.
And that’s what happens, more or less: riding with a group of strangers into a horrendous, unrelenting sandstorm to the border of Souss-Massa, then waiting for another stranger’s arrival. While we wait it begins to…snow. Snow!
To sum up:
Wind, sandstorm, snowstorm, rain.
Ripped tent and snapped stake.
Huge servings of Humble Pie.
You asked for adventure, right?
The rest unfolds as you might expect: the other driver arrives, I say my good-byes and sheepish thank-yous, and off we go. The descent into Taliouine is steep, long, visually spectacular, and would’ve been amazing on the bike. There is a roadblock for credentials, and inquiries into cheap room options—no camping today. A friend calls a friend calls a friend calls a friend until I get a $5 room at a closed-for-the-winter hostel.
Perfect ending. The room is basic but warm, and clean enough. There is no hot water, but the proprietress offers to heat a bucket in the kitchen so I can shower. Sounds good, but I am way too tired. “Tomorrow,” I say.
Tomorrow is supposed to be worse.
Stay warm out there,