We had tents to sleep in, but we decided to spend the night outside underneath the incredible starry sky. I can’t tell you how much that sky twinkled. When I’ve gone camping at home I’ve looked up and said “Wow, look at all those stars. You can never see those in the city with all the light pollution. This is amazing!” Camping in the back woods of Washington has nothing on the Sahara Desert, friend, I promise you.
The view was astounding. There didn’t seem like there was enough room in the sky for all the stars. It’s like they were crowded up there, struggling to outshine each other and be the brightest. I laid there on the ground, wrapped in my blanket and reveled in the moment. Here I am, thousands of miles away from home and civilization. I’m in the desert, surrounded by strangers, and sharing this extraordinary moment.
I have to say, I don’t always take time to be in awe and inspired by Mother Nature and everything around me. But when I do… Wow it moves you.
But this touching evening was promptly followed by a hell storm with the fury of a thousand arrows.
I fell asleep with my beautiful starry night — shouts to Van Gogh. Somewhere in the middle of the night my stomach began to hurt so bad that it woke me. I had a headache and this best night ever started feeling like the absolute worst. Ahhhh… I felt like death was upon me and I was ready to let him take me away.
I needed to use the bathroom, like real bad. But we’re in the desert! Yup, that means there are no toilets here, no privacy, no nothing. All you’ve got is sand and your will to survive.
I thought I’ll hold it until we made it back to the building where we got the camels so I could use a real toilet.
Do you know how when you are in a hurry time seems to stand still? Do you know how much worse that is when the thing you’re hurrying to do is take a dump???
So I’m clenching and helping clean up camp, rolling up blankets and putting the packs on the camels. Then it’s time to saddle up, finally. I’m one of the first people on my camel and I’m ready to go. I think it’s gonna be fine. Nope. Wrong. Getting everyone else onto their camel takes an eternity. And I can’t do it.
I called over one of the guides and asked him to let me off my camel so I can use the bathroom. He looked annoyed but I couldn’t care less at the moment. I run over the tiny hills of sand and try to find a spot where I can hide away from everyone else’s view. I’m squatting in the sand with my wipes, which is awkward enough. Then I notice two Berber men are still in their blankets down the hill from me. And I can see one of them is watching me! What the hell!?! Goodness, I’m trying to go as fast as I can without getting distracted and grossed out by this creepy situation.
I won’t overwhelm you with the gory details. My business got done and I felt a lot better…for now. After my spiritual moment with the desert I felt like I was disrespecting the Sahara as I hid my poo pile in the sand. Sorry Sahara!
Back on our camels, we were finally ready to ride off and catch the sunrise over the sand dunes. Now I have to admit this was gorgeous, but my gurgling gut would not let me enjoy a single moment of it.
Imagine the worst stomachache of your life. Then add to it the unpleasant jostling of a camel hump underneath you, walking for miles. MILES! I don’t know how I survived it. But I made sure I got that picture, though.
Once we made it to base I curled up in a ball and waited for it to all be over. Okay, I know I’m being super dramatic, but this sickness hit me like a ton of bricks, in the middle of the freaking desert. I had heard about traveler’s diarrhea but no book or blog could prepare you for this crap. Nothing.
I survived part one of this terrible gauntlet. Did I mention part two? The 12-hour van ride back to Marrakech? Yes, me and my explosive diarrhea had to get in a van with 15 other people. Then we had to bump along the dusty roads of Morocco for 12 hours!
F. M. L.
The bus ride was a blur. There were moments where I swear I was hallucinating. I felt my brain and body become completely disconnected. There were definitely visions and premonitions during the ride. I didn’t know that Satan tap dancing on your intestines could do that to you!
I have to say the people that were with me were incredibly sweet, amazing people. Every time we stopped they offered to get me juice or soda to help with my stomach. They constantly checked to make sure I was alive (thanks guys!). These complete strangers were the kindest souls. And I want to say if you were one of the people in that van with me that day, I apologize.
So back to the BS… We make it to a pitstop. And I have to use the bathroom again. Now something you should know is bathrooms in Morocco are not like Western toilets. It’s not a crisp white porcelain bowl with a roll of TP on the side, and a sink with soap and water. It’s a neat little hole in the ground. And that’s it. You and the hole.
Of course I had exhausted my butt wipe situation and I forgot that I needed to come prepped with my own toilet paper. I ran around looking for paper. I found the smallest scrap of napkin, of course. That’s all I got. It never had a chance. And I was not versed on the whole squatting over a hole thing.
It was everywhere, man. Everywhere. It was explosive and everywhere. My pants, ruined. My tank top, done. My dignity, evaporated.
I did the best I could to improve the situation. Yet the combination of being grossed out by my own body, feeling sick and overwhelmed meant I didn’t do much. And after all that I needed to get back in the van.
Oh man, I can’t convey my embarrassment. Thinking about it, even now, makes me cringe. I tried to pretend like I couldn’t hear everyone whispering about the smell, and hid in the corner. Oh god. The worst four-hour ride.
I have never been more humbled by any experience in my entire life. I was five days into my round the world backpacking trip and I was already traumatized. My own body had turned on me!
So if you’re ever thinking about how horrible your road trip is, know that it could have been much, much worse. Looking back on it now, it’s one of my most hilarious travel memories and also such a lesson. Before arriving in Morocco, I thought my trip was all about me and surviving on my own.
I was “I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T, do you know what that means?” It meant I had trust issues, that’s what it meant.
But being alone in a far-flung corner of the Earth meant that I had no choice but to trust people and get help. I was sick as a dog and I had to rely on my hostel-mates to take care of me. These strangers carried my bags through the medina for me. They cared for me, bought food and drink to bring to me and waited on me to make sure I was okay. I had known these people for less than a week. We meant by happenstance, because we all arrived at the hostel on the same night. But they were my one lifeline in the world, and taught me that strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.
I'm Natasha Ho, a trained chef and avid traveler. I've studied culinary traditions from cuisines around the world, and I help food lovers learn how to cook a wide variety of meals that are consistently delicious so they can have more fun, ease and joy in their kitchen.