Friday 13th April (unlucky for some…)

Friday morning came around, and Mark went off for breakfast, while i decided to fart around in the room, before we had to get to the coaches. I waited for Mark to return, then we met our new tent buddies in reception, before joining the carnage that ensued outside as we all tried to pile on to coaches as quickly as possible. I managed to get a seat right at the front of the third coach, behind Doc Trotter staff ‘Alexis’ and a wizened French bloke (i’ll call him Brian), who’d staffed on three previous MdS experiences – 7th, 10th and 13th. I sat down next to a guy with an Ironman t-shirt on and thought ‘that’s all I need, an ironman, he’ll be way fitter than me’. Can’t remember when we introduced ourselves, but his name was Peter, and I was to meet him again a number of times in the next week, but more on this later. We had a few good cracks on the journey, as well as with others on the coach. We left the hotel in convoy, only to pull over near a load of 4×4’s after ten minutes, there was much scurrying around as every coach was loaded with bin bags, cardboard boxes, and crates of water (turned out that this was our packed lunch – Moroccan style). The scenery was pretty spectacular, except the bit just outside Ouarzazete where the hills for miles around were strewn with plastic bags due to the open rubbish tip there. The coach pulled over after a couple of hours for a toilet stop – the sight of hundreds of people piling off the coach was pretty amazing, all to pee into what turned out to be the local towns irrigation system (nice). Shortly after that stop, the coach in front of us stopped, then got going again, eventually stopping again. Brian’s walkie talkie made lots of noise in French, some of which i understood ‘Coach 2 is not working’ and then a few bits i didn’t. Alexis translated ‘the gear box is knackered’, or words to that effect. In awesome French-style, all the other coaches overtook it, and we carried on! Shortly after (a few hours) we pulled over for our lunch, which was pretty lush – massive chunks of Moroccan flat bread taken from the bin bags, cheese, baby salami things, couscous, crisps, peanuts, chocolate filled pancakes, stewed fruit and yoghurt, along with what would become the obligatory 1.5-litre bottle of water. More spectacular scenery followed, Moroccan villages and towns, as well as numerous oases, all of which made us wonder when they would finish building, what people did for a living, and where the hell the water came from (bearing in mind the annual hose-pipe ban down South in the UK). After only around 5 hours of travel (or so i remember), the coaches went off-roading, and we started along a dirt track through what seemed to be a town under construction, with future roads and estates laid out in grids of stones. Then the coaches swung off to the left, and arced round before stopping with a load of trucks in front. It seemed then, that we were told to get off, grab our bags, and pile into the back of what looked like cattle trucks.

We helped each other on along with our kit and suitcases, then the Berber driver/assistant put the back of the truck up and we waited for the other trucks to fill. Once they’d filled, they lined up, and it was like the start of a rally as we revved off through the desert to our first bivouac. After a tense ten minutes hanging on for dear life, the trucks pulled up, we piled off with our bags, and the sprint to claim tents started. I must admit to fannying around at this stage, taking some nice pictures while I did so, and it was only much later that i realised the error of my ways. I then walked, dragging my suitcase through the sand, to try and find a tent. Bearing in mind the Brit tents started at 61, I walked as far as 78 before finding one that was vacant, for me and my tentpals. Shortly after, Mark arrived to ask me why I hadn’t taken the first tent, which was still apparently vacant at that time, bugger

Slowly over the next hours, we sorted some of our kit out (again), found out when dinner time would be (we were to be fed by the organisers for the first two nights), and sorted our bedding out on the awesome Berber rugs in our tent. It was at this time that we were first introduced to the crap bag – a lovely brown bag that we were to take into a small cubicle in the distance, put over a stool with a toilet seat attached, and then poop. Once we’d pooped, we disposed of it in the bin by the “toilet”, then it was anti-bac gel and off we went. These toilets were to get pretty grim over the next couple of days, mostly as a result of (I think) bad food at the hotel. This was outlined when big Mark arrived and said he’d had a close call with the squits on the coach after having omelette for breakfast– recounting the fact that he thought eggs would be safe (followed by wry smile). Mark had a gurgly gut a short time (an hour i think!) before the coaches pulled up. He’d managed to hang on until the coaches pulled up, and had then sprinted round a wall and got his kecks down before his world fell out – this was to become a pretty familiar story over the next few days particularly, but seemed to calm down a bit as the week went on. Warning, there’ll be more rank stories to follow.

At dinner time, we went to the organisation tent en masse to be welcomed by beer, wine, or coke as our choice of drink, and then an awesome tagine with couscous as main course, and some lush dessert, but i can’t remember what it was. I was sorely tempted by the booze, but after a big drinking weekend watching the rugby at the 6 Nations in Scotland, I’d promised no drink until after I finished, so coke it was. We sat on the floor, with small tables, and nattered with each other in the middle of the desert as the moon rose and the sun sank. This experience was pretty amazing throughout the week, the moon came up, then it started getting dark and then the sun plummeted and it was pitch black moments later.

The first night in camp was to be a good test of kit, as well as of our patience, and resilience. It was bloody freezing! I was fortunate to have the Oryx jacket that my kit sponsors Montane had provided, and this would prove to be essential nightwear despite the down sleeping bag that i’d bought, which probably didn’t cope well with the night-time temperatures which I reckon got down to about 2 degrees C. I recall more terror in the night, but think managed to sleep ok all things considering, and think we were up pretty early. …

At some point during the day, I’d been bitten on my right arm just above the crook of my arm and it was bloody sore. Not only that, but it seemed really sensitive to the sun despite a liberal coating of sunscreen. I took to wearing one of my buffs wrapped around my arm to cover it and prevent any burning. This seemed to work for the next three days, after which it wasn’t too painful