My Kingdom For a Mule

Bert, this one is for you.  It’s our version of the Sunday puzzler on NPR:

What do rich people need, poor people have, is stronger than God and weaker than the Devil, and you’ll die if you have it.

This riddle was given to Hans by our taxi driver on our drive up to the Atlas Mountains, an hour outside of Marrakesh.

As we drove the very long, dark and quite windy road up to Kasbah Toubkal, where we were scheduled to stay for 2 nights, our driver mentioned casually that we had a short walk from the drop off point to the actual hotel.  When he stopped the van and announced that we were in front of the office, he noted that usually it wasn’t dark inside the office.  “But wait, I know this man here,” he said, quite suavely, rolling down the window and starting a conversation with some fellow on the street.  It began to rain.  He pulled the to the side of the road and started to unload our bags.

I felt a bit like I was being left by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, to tell you the truth.

But there was a man, with a donkey, who was lofting our bags and cinching them, with a help of a friend, onto the back of the poor animal.   He told Anders that we had a 15 minute walk, and handed each of us a flashlight.  I didn’t question, I just strapped on my backpack, turned on my flashlight, and followed the guy and the donkey and our bags.

(Our bags making the return trip, during daylight.)

I mean, what else was I supposed to do?

To paint the picture, this was not a neat and orderly path we were on.  There were rocks and holes and it was steep.  I think I heard water somewhere.  It was pitch black out, and as I mentioned, raining slightly.

Of course, the story ends well, with mint tea served by a very nice young man at the hotel, and a wonderful rustic and candle lit dinner of cous cous and chicken tagine on the world’s most uncomfortable couch.

In the morning we can see the view, and it feels a lot like Tibet, which makes sense as to why Kundun, the movie about the Dalai Lama, was filmed here.  Because Anders wanted to hike somewhere high with good views, and Hans wanted to ride on a mule, and I didn’t care what we did I just wanted to be outside, we hired a man and his mule, installed Hans in the saddle, and walked the zig zag roads up and into the mountains for a spirited 3 hour hike.

Before dinner, we tried the traditional hammam, the wet sauna, where you rub a petrochemical-like (but supposedly natural) black goop all over your sweating body, then rub yourself down with a rough cotton mitt, and then take a bucket of boiling hot water, temper it with cold water straight from mountain run off, and rinse off.   We had experienced a wet sauna in the French Alps, but that was all beautiful tile work and big fluffy robes, and the wet steam came out every 4 minutes from a pipe in the wall.

This, on the other hand, felt mildly Soviet-esque, complete with chipped paint and buckets made out of old tires. The heat of the room came from a giant fire that was built directly under the room, and had been going for a few hours.   I dug the “realness” of it, but the price of the room here suggested a less tired version of what we were experiencing.

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