Home to maybe 80,000 people and busloads of tourists bound for that giant Saharan sandbox to the west, Ouarzazate (say War-zazat, a.k.a. The Door of the Desert) has served as a stand-in for movie cities real and imagined. Its peach-colored skyline and brilliant green foliage are instantly recognizable from miles away. The peach-colored Berber Palace Hotel, however, is a little harder to find. At least until French-speaking Booth has a short tête à tête with a similarly fluent security guard. In minutes we're washing down all that joie de vivre with bières froides. Three days down, one to go.
Another day, another epic buffet breakfast-I could get used to this. The fourth and last leg of the expedition takes us north over the High Atlas range to Demnate before turning southeast for Marrakech. Our guides call this rustic roller coaster through the Tassaout Valley a road. CalTrans and I beg to differ. The map calls N307 a scenic route, but there's more to this story. Years of erosion have undermined what was once good pavement to bad pavement or no pavement at all. Morocco Survival Strategy #58 says treat the entrance to every blind corner as if there's a 40-foot divot at the exit, or a medium-sized landslide, or 18 spastic goats. There may be a broad swath of mud across the apex, gravel, a '63 Chevy dump truck, a peewee soccer game or maybe a smiling lady doing her best to rein in one very large, very panic-stricken palomino stallion. I got around all that and a whole lot more thanks to MSS #58.5: Absorb the view from a dead-stop or risk a ride in the tiny ambulance that nearly took me out when I tried it on the fly. Sphincter says Tinififft. Gazuntite.
Then the valley opens up and so does the GS, until a looming reef of black clouds slows our post-lunch tempo. We still have some rough real estate to cover, and binning it on the last day is magnificently bad form. Flying home in a cast is worse. Aside from avoiding the sort of ninth-inning error that could throw the whole game, these last 60 kilometers give me a chance to deliberate. Morocco wasn't on my bucket-list of inter-national destinations when I left Los Angeles 100 hours ago, and it still isn't. But in spite of the baby-poop-yellow Peugeot 206 taxicabs, smoking mopeds and fatalistic pedestrians welcoming us back to Marrakesh, I'm grateful for the experience.
Finding a flight out of Madrid-Barajas while the Eyjafjallajökull volcano's ash cloud parked everything with wings was a problem I could have lived without. But if all those kids back in all those little villages can smile and wave in the face of circumstances that would crush the average first-world resident, it's like my friend Mr. Booth said: We don't have problems. For that bit of perspective, I'm eternally grateful.