The problem with having a creative but impulsive traveller for a husband is that it makes for an interesting, but disorderly life. Christmas was just seven days away, and as usual, I still didn't know whether to buy a turkey or pack a bag.
My husband Roy telephoned from his studio to ask if I fancied going to Morocco for Christmas. I immediately had visions of being carried off across the desert by an Arab on horseback. 'Sounds good to me,' I replied excitedly.
It was as if by magic-carpet, that we arrived at noon the following day on a cheap charter-flight to the Moroccan coastal city of Agadir. We had just two small rucksacks and instructions to be back at the airport in twelve days’ time.
|Jean quickly went native|
Roy bought a map, hired a small, rather suspect-looking Renault 5 car, and asked me to navigate a route to a point south of the Lesser Atlas Mountains – we wanted to see the Sahara Desert.
Brilliant! I thought. Other wives buy books and read about such journeys. Me, I get to go on them!
We travelled south-east across a flat plain and into the valleys of the Lesser Atlas mountains. Accommodation, though difficult to find, and basic, was always friendly and hospitable. The caretaker at one remote Kasbah fort gave us shelter for the night; our bed was a stone platform for which we were given carpets to cover ourselves as protection against the freezing night air.
|Bedded down in a Kasbah fort|
Shortly afterwards, we ran out of road, and resorted to following sand and rocky tracks, until they too disappeared. We were travellers, doing what we enjoyed most; ever curious to see around the next bend.
Using our compass and rudimentary map, we followed dry riverbeds through spectacular sandstone canyons, until we picked up a narrow trail that wound its way eastward along the southern slopes of the Lesser Atlas mountains.
From the silent, barren mountainside, we saw the stark beauty of the Sahara desert, stretching southward into a blue haze of infinity.
Within ten minutes, disaster struck. I felt a sharp jolt as the car bumped over a large rock, and we felt the wheels slip off the edge of the track. Then, as if in slow motion, the car started to roll sideways down the mountain.
We rolled three and half times before becoming wedged against a well-placed boulder. I remember thinking that I should have screamed, but I was too disorientated and winded to do so.
Roy, san seatbelt, was in a heap on top of me. He said: 'Mmm! That was different! How are you doing, luv? You alright?'
'I think so,' I gasped.
'Well, don't move a muscle, in case we keep rolling,’ and with that he reached across me to switch off the ignition.
|Jean with Berber and two wives|
We checked ourselves for injuries and found that apart from a bruise to my elbow, we had escaped unscathed. The car, however, would take some explaining to the rental company.
'Well!’ said Roy. ‘No one is likely to find us here, so let’s grab our backpacks and start walking before it becomes totally dark.'
We followed the cold, moonlit track for almost an hour before stumbling upon a hamlet of seven houses. We called out the Arabic greeting of: ‘Assalam o alaikum.’
Low, hesitant voices could be heard murmuring. A door scraped open to reveal a tall Berber tribesman in a jellaba and headgear; he was holding a flickering oil lamp. ‘Alaikum Salaam,’ he replied, in the traditional Arabic manner.
|The Manger Inn|
He quickly organised two of his three wives and five children to clean out an animal shelter. They laid matting for us to sleep on, provided a lantern, and fed us almond paste and unleavened bread. Lady Luck had smiled kindly upon us!
Later, as I snuggled down in our sleeping bag for the night, I heard the rustling sound of goats fidgeting in the stone corral outside.
'You know where we are, don't you?' Roy said.
'I haven't a clue,' I replied.
|Goats fidgeting in the coral|
‘I should be so lucky.’ I thought, as I drifted blissfully off to sleep. I was quite happy to settle with a Christmas gift of new Arabic friends, without the prospect of a newborn babe as well.
I wonder if I should buy a turkey next year …Written by:- Roy “Jean” Romsey