Last minute changes . . . oy vey!
For months we had been planning on a day or so shooting in the soft sand dunes of Erfud, with a tribe of bedouins who would be doing a camel cookout with us. We would spend the day and night in this incredibly unique and stunning locale with nomadic tribespeople who live the same way their ancestors have for thousands of years. No such luck.
While we were in Madrid a major sandstorm wiped out the oasis and put four feet of sand all through the neighboring village, so now there is no Erfud for us to see. But we have a theme for our next few days—we need to find some camel to chow down on!
Now, camels are the most efficient animals for domesticating in the desert, so getting some folks to part with one for a cookout is tricky, but Mo says he can make it happen and at this point we trust him, despite our best instincts. Shannon re-works our shooting dates at the eleventh hour and we set off across the Atlas mountains to Ourzazate, a hard rock desert town that Mo swears is not only a great place to shoot some tagine and a traditonal Berber meal in a local inn, but also persuades us that the local casbah (fort) is going to be a great location for some beauty shots.
We leave behind the olive groves and hustle and bustle of Marrakesh and head out for our eight-hour schlep across Morocco. As we leave the city, we pass the Palerais, the Beverly Hills of Marrakech. Everyone from Sean Connery to Adnan Kashoggi have residences here, the homes are INCREDIBLE, and the idea of sitting poolside for a few weeks, being fed fresh oranges and pigeon pie, is a powerfully attractive intoxicant—but duty calls. Mo is celeb-crazed and won't shut up about late '70s French film stars he knows. Apparently he once drove Alain Delon around, and escorted David Hasselhoff through Marrakesh, and keeps pictures of them in his briefcase. Trippy!
Now we have our fate in the hands of the two Mos . . . . a frightening thought. Do you know what a mahari is? It's an old male camel that has loads of desert experience, and bedouins will tell you that you always keep a mahari tied up inside your tent so that if a sandstorm comes and wipes out everything and all your camels run off in the night and everyone dies, you can lash yourself to your mahari and it will save your life since invariably he will head directly to water/food and a female camel, not necessarily in that order. Mo is our mahari, and the idea that I have lashed myself to him is petrifying. I don't trust him and my internal radar is sounding an alert. Vigilance!
The ride to Ourzazate is awesome. Oases at 3,000 feet that have some of the most incredible orchards on the planet since the mountains refelct the sun into these hundred-mile-long notches where snow runoff guarantees plenty of water. The citrus, apricots, melons, tomatoes, and other vegetables are some of the best I have ever tasted and every few miles there is a stand with a few farmers selling their goods. We bump into a weekly market in a little mountain town called Zerten and we stop to check out the fruit vendors, the raw goats swinging from the open air stalls, and the tagines, and Mo assures us that his buddies in Ourzazate have some camel for us to check out when we get there. All the goats in the market are skinned except for the heads and feet so prospective customers can see what type of animal it is, that way you know you're not buying someone's doggie when you want some lamb, goat, etc. All the testicles are left attached to the carcass because the Moroccans believe the boys taste better than the girls and the vendors want to assure the shoppers that they are buying little fellas not little ladies. Apparently the last customer of the day gets his portions lopped off the haunches and they throw in the balls. Very fair system, I think.
So back into the van and off we go, stopping in medieval little mountain towns along the way, farmers working their donkeys do the roads, women and children wash laundry in the rivers made swift with the snowmelt, and the jacaranda trees are in full bloom for a hundred miles. Waterfalls cascade from the peaks and Berber villages are camouflaged into the sides of the mountains, a stunning scene if ever there was one.
We pull into Ourzazate, sliding past the largest film sound stage outside of Hollywood. It's surreal. Every Sand and Sandals epic ever shot has been filmed here, from Liz Taylor's Cleopatra to Raiders of the Lost Ark to Gladiator—it's quite surreal. We pull into the town proper, check into our hotel, and learn two things:
1.) The off-road Trans-Morocco road race is in Ourzazate for the night and the town is packed with race teams. Imagine the Indy 500 going from town to town and you get the idea. Other than the Paris-Dakar rally, this is the second biggest race of the year, and it shows. The stuff is being broadcast live all over the globe (except in the USA) and seeing all the rally cars and their teams up close is really cool.
2.) Mo's buddies have no camel, but we are going to make lemonade with our lemons and shoot there anyway. The search for camel meat continues, and Mo insists that he can find someone who will be harvesting one from a herd and we may have to pay big bucks, but we can eat one for sure. His bravado and self-confidence is scaring me, but all the preproduction research shows that camel is available, so who knows . . . I would feel better if I had a more convincing mahari to rely on. Being around Mo I feel less and less like a savvy bedouin and more and more like the goat at Zerten, waiting for his balls to be cut off.