Snowboards in the Sand Dunes

Me walking in the dunes with a snowboard

Here’s my hook: trudging barefoot over sand dunes the color of saffron and cumin, snowboard and snowboots slung over my shoulder, and the turbaned Berbers behind singing along to their cell phone’s ring tone: Justin Bieber’s “Baby.”

Still being serenaded by Bieber, we reached a dune that looked big enough to ride down. A light breeze pushed thin wisps of clouds across the blue, blue sky. Once at the top, I strapped in and hopped to my feet. The cameras came out, and I swallowed as the lenses focused in. I didn’t say anything cool, not even a “Fuck yeah!” before hopping down the dune, which was just as well because I went nowhere fast. I gave it another hop and started to slide down the dune, slowly. The board was a dud.

Starting the long hike back up the dune

Luckily, our other board was a lot faster. We still weren’t exactly flying down the dune, but we were still in the desert on snowboards. Pretty badass. Everybody was more than willing to trade off – one ride down meant having to pull the board back up the exhaustingly soft slope of the sand dune.

Up to that point, our experiences with the Berbers had left us with mixed feelings towards them. Our first morning in the desert, we were woken up early to watch the sun rise over the desert. Upon stumbling blearily out of camp, each group was cheerfully greeted by a traditionally-dressed Berber. We assumed they were all somehow related to the camp and didn’t think twice about letting them lead us to a dozen different “best spots” to sit. They were very friendly and their conversation made for a fitting soundtrack to a slow, graceful sunrise. When the sun had cleared the dunes and its orangey hues were draining from the sky, each and every group was greeted by their Berber’s mobile souvenir shop – a selection of fossils, carved camels, and necklaces spread out on a blanket.

A Berber spreads souvenirs out on a blanket

With the snowboards, though, all they wanted was a turn. They waited for a turn patiently… more or less. When they went down, they often doubled up, riding the board like a toboggan. Watching a pair of turbaned Berbers scoot down the dune, I couldn’t help but think of Cool Runnings. One of their more interesting styles was the Backwards Berber. This maneuver is accomplished by crouching on the board backwards, hopping a little to get some momentum, and then squinting furiously to avoid getting a double eyeful of spraying sand.

Backwards Berber

Photo cred: Michael Misner. More pics at his Flickr*

While in the desert, we were constantly accompanied by Berbers. The camp was run by a group of them – they played along with our touristic ambitions by wearing long, light-blue shirts with embroidery around the collar. After our first night’s dinner, they kept us entertained with a hand-drum improve session. There were over a dozen hand drums and a pair of qaraqib players. A few ISA drummers hopped in throughout the jam session, and the Berbers willingly redistributed to drums to accommodate everyone. The rhythm and volume were both impressive. It felt like a night in the desert, even when one of the younger Berbers pulled his cell phone out of his jeans pocket and recorded a portion of the performance.

ISA students drumming alongside the Berbers

Back to Morocco.
*Michael Misner’s Flicker

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