THE scorching Saharan sunshine is beating down upon me as I stumble, for 1.5 hours, barefoot, through Africa’s famed desert. Lawrence of Arabia, I am not. Just a foolish Australian woman who has decided to trek, rather than ride a camel, across this magical Moroccan land. I’m as stubborn as a mule, something I could do with right about now, as I slowly shuffle, increasingly sinking both with the soft sand and emotionally, through this starkly, stunning landscape.
The ochre sand is surprisingly cool and silky underfoot, as I curse my blatant stupidity with every step. What idiot decides to walk through the Sahara, up and over steep sand dunes, when there’s a perfectly competent caravan of camels available? Something that was not lost on the rest of my party, who at this point, are perched high above me, tossing words of encouragement, and the occasional bottle of water, down in my direction.
In my defence, while I like camels as animals and admire their incredible efficiency, I once had a bad experience on one while in Alice Springs. It was here, in Australia’s red centre, that my sexually-charged camel at the back of the pack, decided he wanted relations with a hot female at the front of the caravan, and hence proceeded to gallop past the rest of the herd, taking me flying in his wake. Another journalist colleague was once thrown from a camel, breaking several ribs. Camels and journalists get on as well as journalists and accountants. The two just don’t add up.
I am on a 13-day Intrepid Tour through mystical Morocco and up until now, things have gone swimmingly. Khaled, my Intrepid Tour Guide, a man for the traditional Berber tribespeople of Morocco, and someone who has become a friend, walks beside me for a while, until it becomes abundantly apparent he is annoyed with my antics. He attempts to show me a “shortcut”, leading me along a knife edge of dunes that are as high as 150 metres and drop away dramatically either side, but I am having none of it. We come to a standstill and bicker like lovers. “You said the sand was hard,” I protest. “No, I meant hard to walk on,” he reasons. Ah, by “hard” he meant “difficult”. Eventually, frustrated, he dumps me back at the camel caravan and disappears into the desert, his long, blue Berber robes flapping dramatically against the rusty landscape.
I clearly read the trip notes which said: “If you prefer, it’s possible to walk alongside the caravan on the sand for about an hour. But don’t worry, as it’s a gentle, relaxing walk.” Are they insane? Whoever wrote these notes has never walked beside a camel caravan in soft sand for 1.5 hours under the October Saharan sun. I trek on, caught between the first half of our caravan, and the second. I receive the occasional pitying look from the young camel herder when I ask how much further we have to travel, each peak delivering just more and more desert. I think back to the young Palestinian woman I met on the flight over, who warned me to “watch out” while I’m in the desert as “you never know what’s going to crawl out of the sand…like snakes.” And here I am, barefoot.
The more pressing issue than snakes is that the sun is setting rapidly and we are not even at camp. I have two choices. To lay down in the desert and die, or to pull myself together and keep walking. I consider the first option for a good minute, before I decide I can do this desert thing. I can make it out of the Sahara alive. The caravan and I limp into camp just as the sun sets and the night is cooling. I am so exhausted I retreat to my basic mattress on the floor and hot, fat tears roll down my face. I’m so angry at Khaled, I can’t even look at him. And even angrier with myself. “The sand wasn’t hard,” I say. “The sand was difficult.” In that cool, crude tent I give myself a good talking to, pull myself together and rejoin the group. One of the group has taken two cracker photos depicting the moment Khaled and I had our spat atop the sand hill, and the other when we made up, strolling down the dune holding hands, smiling. We all look at these perfect pictures depicting one of life’s comical moments and burst out laughing. Khaled and I are friends again. Order is restored. Yes, this was me at my desert dumbest.
Later that night we eat a simple beef tagine and lay under the stars on woven Moroccan rugs. The clear, cool, North African night sky is a belly dancer’s costume of diamontes. I crawl into my cot and fall asleep to the sound of drums, before the desert finally concedes to a Saharan silence. The next morning, I lay awake, aching, to the symphony of a snoring camel. Yet there remains one problem. How the hell am I getting out of this desert? Luckily, Khaled, professional that he is, has arranged for me not to depart by foot or camel, but a 4×4 over the desert dunes. Under a yawning saffron sunrise, the 4×4 climbs the steep dunes, pauses, and then shoots down into the valleys. I squeal with pure delight. We repeat this giddy trek over and over before I arrive back at our meeting point and I can’t help smiling. These peaks and troughs remind me of why we travel. You never know what’s over that next sand dune. And it turns out to be the ride of my life.
The Global Goddess travelled to Morocco as a guest of Intrepid Travel https://www.intrepidtravel.com/au/morocco/morocco-uncovered-100927
I’m flying to the Cook Islands today on assignment for 10 days. I’ll be back just after Easter with some more pics and words on my incredible adventure where I’ll be snorkelling and sailing these beautiful waters, interviewing the only female chief of one of their tribes, participating in a traditional bush beer ceremony with the men, staying in a brand new eco retreat, going on a cycling storytelling tour and visiting some of their most remote islands. I can’t wait to meet these beautiful people.
Photos and travel courtesy of Cook Islands Tourism http://www.cookislands.travel
IT’S a grey, old Saturday, in every sense of the word when I find out about the death of a dear friend. Worse, she’s been dead a month, and I’ve only just discovered the news. We first met 12 years ago, when, encouraged by my general practitioner and following a lifetime of panic attacks and anxiety, I finally succumbed to the idea of a therapist.
She was 64 back then, full of life, huge of heart, and big on no nonsense. I’m sure if there exists the ideal counsellor/patient relationship, we came pretty close, both of us passionate women not afraid to stand up for our beliefs. We debated, argued, laughed and cried. I’m certain there were plenty of times we crossed the line between patient and therapist, but we always found our way back. That’s what made it real. Plausible. She knew I was a no bullshit kind of girl.
A former nurse, she’d been married three times and had children and grandchildren of which she was extremely proud. She knew about life, love and loss. Some days we simply spoke about politics, travel and the parlous state of the world. Others, we delved deep, and she pushed me until it hurt. We lanced more than our fair share of life’s boils.
When I lost my job, she opened a bottle of champagne. And then rang me at home to make sure that one glass didn’t push me over the limit. She struggled with technology, often asking me questions at the end of a session about sending or saving emails. Showed me photos of her grandkids. Worried about her weight.
She had a library full of self-help books, my favourite of which has always been Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway. I still have her copy today. I tucked it into my suitcase on the day of my wedding, afraid, again, of my own self. Plagued by self doubt and anxiety.
Our real test came when the love of my life woke up one morning after 22 years and decided he suddenly no longer loved me. She was among the first people I rang. She cried down the line with me, prayed for me during those dark, terrible months, and called me every day to see that I was OK. My friends and I secretly referred to her as The Incredible Shrinking Woman. She was so incredible, I had friends begging me for her number.
She rode the heady years when I fell off the rails, fuelled by grief, bad boys and booze. She tolerated my antics because she knew they were a necessary part of my journey. She held my hand when my anxiety finally succumbed to deep depression. And she smiled knowingly when I eventually emerged from my stupor: “You’re entering the age of the wise woman,” she told me not so long ago.
We swapped small gifts and secrets. Our friendship blooming under the guise of therapy. Increasingly, over the years, I came to view her as a tribal elder. That missing link in our supposedly civilised society. This woman had lived and she was imparting her knowledge on me. It was an amazing gift and privilege.
“I’m always here if you need me darl,” she’d say.
And she was. When I lived overseas for a year, she was only a Skype call or an email away. She’d always return a phone call, so it was with mounting concern this week when she failed to return several of my messages. I’d last seen her on September 1. The first day of Spring. We’d had another enjoyable session which ended in her usual bear hug and words of encouragement. I’d just bought a new car and she rushed out like a proud parent to see it, waving and smiling at me as I drove off.
I was meant to meet her again on October 1, but she cancelled as she had pneumonia, telling me, “I’ll give you a call when the doctor gives me the all clear.” I was only mildly worried. She’d suffered from chest problems for years. And then I went overseas for work.
I returned this week and thought it was far time I’d heard from her. I called her phone number today, but it was disconnected. So I drove to her house and a sign on her door confirmed my worst fears. I rang her partner, Keith, 84, who told me she had died last month, October 5, when pneumonia had turned into an infection which had attacked her body. She was 76 years old.
On this grey Saturday I don’t know where to shove my grief. There’s guilt and bewilderment at her passing which occurred without me knowing. A little dollop of anger. Shouldn’t the universe have sent me a sign? How can we be so connected to someone, only to have them pass quietly from our lives? Selfishly, I want to shake my fist at the world: “But I wasn’t fixed yet!”
Instead, today, I clutch at the only thing I know. I write. She would have liked that. “Turn it on its head, darl,” she’d tell me often. She would have told me to “just sit with your grief”. She’d smile at my frustration at the world being beyond my control. She’d be cranky as all get out if I let her passing consume and unravel me. We’d come too far for that.
And so, Sue Cameron, I bid you a fond farewell. You may be gone, but you will never, ever be forgotten.