After all this excitement, we finally staggered back to camp, only to realize that now we had to find some way to relax enough to actually fall asleep on a blanket in the desert. Yup, that's right. No tents for us. We slept out on a blanket, with a pillow so grubby I wouldn't put my head on it until I had covered it with my fancy new blue scarf, nothing between us and the spiders, scorpions, and assorted desert bugs that lived large in my imagination. Actually, "slept" would be a bit of an exaggeration, since I mostly lay awake all night worrying about the bugs and our old friend Ali the tour guide who spent most of the night slinking quietly around the camp in a suspicious manner that left me incredibly uneasy.
Every time I opened my eyes, I would find him in a different location. Up on the dune behind us smoking a cigarette. Walking surreptitiously around the perimeter of our little camp. Banging around with the pots and pans in the cooking shed. I didn't sleep all night long because I wasn't sure what would happen next. Until I, unfortunately, found out... at about 4 AM, I rolled over onto my stomach to survey the horizon, and to my utter horror, discovered Ali lying on his side in the sand facing us, about 15 meters away. He was looking right at me and having a... ahem... date with Palmela Handerson. I knew I should have kept driving way back in Merzouga.
I wish I could say that overnighting in the Sahara Desert was beautiful and peaceful, that I communed with nature, had epiphanies, woke up clear-headed and enlightened in the morning, that it was an amazing, larger than life experience, but when morning finally came, I felt.... well, I felt a lot like a powdered doughnut. I found a beetle in my pants, and mostly, I just couldn't wait to get the hell out of Dodge.
Back on the camels, I realized just what a rough ride it had been the night before and profoundly felt every excruciating bump in the road in my sore bottom. On the way back, we encountered lots of other, larger groups who were also returning from a night in the desert. One poor fellow was standing on the ground looking terrified as his camel laid down in the sand and had an absolute tantrum, bellowing and thrashing about. It sounded like an angry Tauntaun from The Empire Strikes Back, and I decided a little jog downhill wasn't so bad after all.
We were back in Merzouga by 8:00 AM, and not a moment too soon. Of course, we couldn't fully escape without a sales pitch. What were you thinking? We halfheartedly browsed around, looking at carpets and jewelry but the prices were totally outrageous and about 200% higher than what we'd been seeing in the cities. We tried to gracefully make our escape, but it was not meant to be. When they realized that we weren't going to buy anything, the shop owners started to get angry. They took turns delivering a stern lecture about how hard they have to work to make a living, how awful life is in the desert - you don't have to tell me! I'm the one who endured an unsolicited peep show last night! - until they realized that we weren't going to be swayed by guilt either. Then the fun began in earnest.
Despite the fact that we had negotiated the blue scarves into the price of the trip, they tried to tell us that we hadn't paid for them and they wanted 100 dirham each (about $12), apparently for allowing us the privilege of turning blue overnight, since they were awful quality and the dye bled everywhere there was even a hint of moisture. We walked to our car, followed by the shop keepers and our guide haranguing us the whole way, and slowly, the entire village began gathering around to view the spectacle. We had tried manners. We had tried patience. We had tried diplomacy. All were highly ineffective. Finally, we just decided to make a getaway. H had the keys and was planning to drive out of Merzouga while we were still in the middle of nowhere and the traffic was light.
We jumped into the car and locked the doors as the crowd began to close in. The noise grew and people started banging on the car and rocking it back and forth. She started the car and immediately stalled. Started it again and stalled. I started to giggle at the absurdity of it all. She stalled again. I giggled harder, and she turned to me and said, "I don't think I can drive right now!" "Get out then," I said, opening my door against the crush of people. "What? You're kidding?" the panic started to creep in. "Nope, get out. We have to change places." And change places we did - we ran around the car and I hopped in the driver's seat. I don't know if it was the glint in my eyes at this point or just pure surprise at our actions, but the mob parted a bit and I stomped on the gas, popped the clutch and sprayed everyone with gravel. It was a bit of a dramatic exit, but we did manage to leave Merzouga safely and I can't say that I'm in a hurry to return either. The desert is just not my jam. I am more of an ocean or mountain kind of girl.