Priceless Smiles

by Rui Monteiro (Portugal)

The last thing I expected Morocco


Today is my birthday and I'm traveling solo. After a freezing night’s sleep I decide not to stay another night. The desert is mysterious and, at the same time charming, but two days are enough for me. It's 5 am. I run to the camels to ensure I get one to return to the nearest village. Yesterday there were no camels for all travellers. Today I got one and finally I can wear my new blue Berber scarf to avoid swallowing endless amounts of fine orange sand and to protect myself from the burning sun. Riding a camel does not turn out to be a comfortable experience. I feel awkward on the saddle and this experience quickly becomes very painful. Two hours of mixed feelings between the slow torture of the ride and the indescribable beauty of the desert sunrise. I just met Dino, Bianca, Andrea, and Gabor. We discuss where to go next: Fez and the world famous labyrinthian medina. Dino is already familiar with the Moroccan way to do business and tells us “Let’s walk! The price is too high!". I don't have a whole week to walk as far as Fez, and I'm not sure I would survive either. It is my birthday and I decide not to worry and go with the flow. A taxi appears out of nowhere. We know that in Morocco there are no coincidences. Five of us (and the driver) in one car. We arrive in Midelt after crossing several oasis adorned with green palm trees and golden camp fires, deserted and inhospitable areas, small houses made with mud covered with blue plastic. We will sleep in a 5 euro room with Wi-Fi and hot shower. Today is my birthday and it would be expected to sleep in a luxury room. But no, I'll spend these last hours with four people that I just met and that I’ve no idea how special this day will be for me. After spending more than four hours squashed in a taxi we decide to visit the old kasbah before going to bed. Several children follow us. They aren't like those in Marrakesh. These are sweet, humble and are surprised to see foreigners in their village. On the way back to the hotel, I decide to buy a bag of sweets that costs me less than 50 euro cents. Suddenly the news spreads across the village and I have dozens of children around me. Dino tells me: "Rui, what have you done?! This will be a nightmare. They will eat you alive!" Today is my birthday. Nobody knows. My travel mates don't know. Dino helps me sharing the sweets. The smiles of these children, their big dark and happy eyes, they are the best birthday gift that I have ever received.