Albeit well spent, we had taken too long in Telouet and managed to reach Ait Benhaddou a little after the sun had tipped below the horizon. Seeing me visibly upset, Sayeed promised to get me here on the way back in time for a sunset. (A promised he would later keep, just about.)
It was dark by the time by the time we reached Ouarzazate and having decided to not stop, zipped through the empty streets, craning our necks to see the massive statues of pharaohs lining the compound wall of the Atlas studio.
It was almost 9 pm when our 4X4 left asphalt behind and started grinding gravel. The SUV effortlessly navigated a massive ditch and landed us on a rocky stretch of land. For the next 10 minutes, Ahmed was driving back and forth in a quarter square mile taking instructions from Sayeed who had half propped himself out of the window.
“No, we are not lost,” Sayeed said firmly, ‘We just can’t find the road.”
Amidst nervous laughter, he explained that we were on a dry riverbed. A recent flash flood had washed away the dirt road and the markers to the riad. He pointed out the black silhouette of the palmerie where the riad was supposed to be.
“We just need to find the entrance!”
We peered into the dark night trying to decode the shapes and shadows in the piercing headlights of the SUV. Ahmed and Sayeed were exchanging rapid Arabic, ominous clucking of the tongue frequently punctuating the flow. Just as all seemed lost and just as I was starting to get the tingling sensation of excitement of being “safely” lost in the desert, we spotted a headlight of a two-wheeler. The driver pulled alongside us, and agreed to lead us to the riad. Following indiscernible signage, he guided us to the other bank and pointed out the opening to the palmerie. We climbed onto a mud-paved road lined with 15 feet tall adobe walls, obvious protection from sandstorm, and reached Sawadi.
Even more authentically rustic than our riad in Marrakech, the kind fellows of the riad welcomed us warmly and served us a hot dinner.
Alas, no adventure for Sunil Shinde.
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