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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Message in a Bottle

I AM GOING TO JUMP BACK one story that I was in the middle of telling before I wrote last week‘s fall gardening tips. Mimi and I had headed to Morocco and had made it to Marrakesh, known as the gateway to the Sahara. We climbed around the snowcapped Grand Atlas mountain range, which drops down on the other side into the golden Sahara Desert as far as you can see. We were headed into an area that is very sparsely populated, and the villages were very spread out

There is not a lot of tourism in this area, and getting around puts a traveler in some pretty tight quarters. Getting from place to place was a travel adventure in itself. We often found ourselves in some unusual modes of transportation. We shared a 5 or 6 hour taxi ride with four family members in a small desert worn Mercedes. Besides the driver, two people shared the front seat and the other four of us were squashed into the back seat, literally half sitting in each other’s laps.  On another leg of the trip into the mountains, we were picked up by an open bed pickup truck with a crowd of folks headed toward Grand Atlas. We stood up, packed liked sardines, for hours, as the rocky road underneath jostled our view of the mountains. We were headed toward two mountain villages, Asni first, then higher on to Imlil.

Mimi and I were concerned about the cultural differences as far as religion, ethics and their views of women. We studied and prepared for that long before we left Ridgeland. Mimi knew that dress attire for women is very conservative. She and her mother designed and sewed some outfits that covered her arms and legs. The dresses were light and airy cotton with pale pastel colors that wouldn’t stand out too much. My description of them sounds awful but of course Mimi pulled off wearing them looking great with her wide brim straw hat. I wore no shorts, button up shirts and a cowboy hat. The hats were fun topics of discussion everywhere we went. The general consensus seem to be that I was Crocodile Dundee and Mimi was just stared at in awe. Wearing loose and billowy clothes gave us some insight into why the desert nomads are always covered from head to toe with loose fitting robes and scarves. When we would get invited to sit down with someone we were offered a very sweet mint tea. The tea was ceremoniously created with boiling water, fresh mint and McAlister’s sweet amount of sugar. The tea was steeped in a brass or silver teapot and poured from very high above the teacup, causing a froth they said to cool it just right. The nomads stop from time to time for a ritualistic tea and a rest. The tea causes the body to perspire which is part of their cooling system. The air that gets through the loose clothing evaporates the perspiration and, in turn, causes a comfortable body temperature. 

That is how they’re able to sit on their camels in 115°F during the day without passing out. We got lucky having the right kind of clothes. Otherwise, that kind of relentless heat intensity could have been dangerous. When we remember to, we usually wear sleeves on our hotter days here in Mississippi. At the end of the day we are less sunburned and experience less exhaustion from the heat. I’m not sure what got me started on the subject of desert wear, but it’s one of those things I have wondered about since I was a kid, so getting to go experience it firsthand was very satisfying to me. That actually happens to me a lot, I often find out that I’ve been singing the wrong words to songs at the top of my lungs for years… quite an awakening.

One of the reasons I wanted to go back to Morocco and take Mimi was the food. There’s good food all over the world but the spices and slow cooked veggies and meats in clay ovens on open fires have a flavor that rings our bell. As all good food, the meals were made with some of the most flavorful and beautiful vegetables I’ve ever seen, they were being grown at around 3000 feet above sea level under very intense sunlight. The produce was coming from the foothills of the mountains where there was plenty of crystal clear water from the snow melt. From there, the produce was distributed out in all kinds of ways. The farther from the mountains we got, the more beat up the produce became, until we realized we were mostly getting root crops offered in our meals… not bad, just another wonderful flavor.

There was a special place I really wanted Mimi to see that I knew she would love and I also figured it would be a little cooler there. Todra Gorges is the most beautiful place I know of. The walls of the gorges are thousands of feet tall and in some places so narrow you can touch both sides with your arms outstretched. In the gorges you can always be in a shadow, which causes a pleasant temperature, even though it’s in the Sahara. When I was there before, I stayed on the rooftop of a small hotel, the only hotel. For two weeks the owner allowed me to stay up there for less than a dollar a night. I would help pay for groceries and he would cook. We usually ate our meals together and became friends. He wrote in my journal and drew some cartoons on the inside cover. He spoke very little English, and I spoke no Bedouin, Arabic or French, so the friendship was based on a lot of laughing. I brought that journal back with me because I wasn’t sure if I would recognize him or if he would remember me. When Mimi and I walked into the hotel doors the memories came flooding back to me, and at the same time my old friend walked right up to me and said my name. I could not believe it… 11 years later like it was just yesterday. We cooked a meal together and he let us sleep on the roof for old time’s sake. We will never forget the stars in the black sky in the Sahara. We could easily see the Milky Way…so bright, it was mind blowing. 

The next day we were hiking into the gorges when I told Mimi about my biggest regret. When I was down there before, I remember having a feeling that whoever I wound up marrying would need to see this site so I knew I would be bringing my wife-to-be to this place in the desert. I knew I wanted to put a note in a bottle and hide it in some rocks; it would be a note to my wife. I got lazy or in a hurry and didn’t do it. That’s a regret I will always use to remind myself to do all the things I want to do. I know it sounds crazy, but that is my idea of a very cool moment. As I was beating myself up about it to Mimi, it went from being very breezy, to tornado like winds, to a full-blown sandstorm in about 20 minutes. The sand was hitting us so hard in these narrow gorges that it hurt. We found some boulders and laid flat on the ground with our faces covered for what seemed like 20 or 30 minutes. Then, just as quickly as the sandstorm arose, it was gone. We were covered in a fine dust. All you could see were our eyes and our teeth as we laughed about it after we got over the shock of the whole thing…another weird moment that will never leave our memories. We still laugh about it today. I’ll post some photos of the sandstorm moment and of Mimi’s stylish outfits in the email version that goes out each week to our e-club. I think a picture of me wearing my cowboy hat, standing next to the sign that points you towards legendary Timbuktu, 52 days by camel, was posted in the last article about Morocco. That will be a trip for another day.

UNTIL NEXT WEEK, I hope you will remember to make memories for yourself and your family. I believe, in the end, that’s all we really have. Making your life and your home what you want it to be, can be a memory maker in itself. Learning how to do a project and getting your hands into it, pass or fail, are always rewarding and usually good for a laugh later.

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