Northwest Africa 482

a meteorite from the moon

Specimen SALES of this exquisite meteorite.

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Many times you don't realize the full extent of an adventure until it is over. This was to be the case with our trip to Africa which began on January 2, 2001……….

 

Adventure in Northwest Africa

by Kim Farmer, B.A.

 
Stepping off the plane in Marrakech was like stepping into another world. The airport was bustling with Muslims wearing turbans and their traditional pullover robes called Jawa. It certainly was not a sight I see every day. Mike, Jim and I made our way through the crowd and waited to clear customs, which took quite some time considering Mike chose the slow line. I stood nervously in line waiting for it to move. The surroundings were so strange and foreign to me that I could not help but be nervous. My nervousness was lessened after a small boy that had been repeatedly bumping into my suitcase managed to get his pant leg caught on a paper clip that was hanging from one of the case’s zippers. I looked down at him and he looked up at me as if I were a blonde monster about to stomp him for his carelessness. In a moment the encounter was over and he scurried off to stand closer to his mother. The humor of the situation had sufficiently distracted me from the bizarreness of my surroundings. Soon we would be through customs and on our way into Marrakech.

Our driver, Aid, met us at the airport. We followed him, walking through puddles and being drenched by the rain that was falling steadily, to the Defender that would be our vehicle for the trip. We piled in and soon were off to the Hotel du Pasha where we would spend our first night. Once there, we were greeted by Mohammed and shown to our rooms. Then it was off to the famous Djema‚ El-fna, the great ancient square of food and entertainment.

 

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Djema‚ El-fna is much more than a market square. It is a myth to see, experience, listen, and smell. By it’s self, it is one of the "places to go" in the world. It is a place where you are proud to be able to say " I have been there." The square bustles with activity that increases as the day wears on. There are small circles of people surrounding snake charmers, storytellers, henna women, acrobats, and scribes all vying for attention. They work to please the crowd and earn a few Dirhams. jemaaoverhead.jpg (57965 bytes)

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As night fell, the next assault on the senses came from the stench of the smoke from the food cooking in the square. Eventually you become accustomed to the strange new fragrances but the initial waft turned my stomach. I couldn’t imagine that we were going to eat there. Mike, on the other hand, was making his way to his favorite booth, number one, that served a variety of foods cooked right before your eyes. There were olives, potato cakes, kabobs, fries, fish, yellow curry chicken, and a few things I couldn’t put a name to.

That first night I limited myself to fries and olives and even they had the taste of the smoke that filled the air. Other booths served escargot, orange juice, nuts and dates, as well as the strangest of all that served sautťed sheep brains.

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After finishing our feast of foreign foods we wandered into the Souqs. The Souqs consist of a maze of shops that one can easily get lost in. You just wind your way around until you pop out into a street that is recognizable. The only way I could orient myself was by looking around for the Katoubia, the main mosque in Marrakech. Once it was in sight I could determine the direction back to the Djema‚. We wandered the maze for some time not really taking a close look at the merchandise. Our main focus was to avoid the puddles that filled our path from the rain, a task that proved impossible. Filthy and tired we sought out Mohammed and headed for our hotel. Tomorrow would be a long trek over the Atlas Mountains. souks.JPG (52862 bytes)

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We arrived at the Todra Gorge around 9:00 p.m. The drive from Marrakech took nine hours. We traversed the mountain roads of the Atlas and made our way down into Ouarzazate where we stopped for a lunch break. Tagine was on the menu once again, this time it was chicken. For those of you who are unfamiliar with tagine, tagine is similar to stew and is made with lamb, beef or goat, and whatever vegetables and olives are in season. Usually it is made with potatoes and carrots but it became apparent that these were scarce commodities when we started having pea and green bean tagine as the norm. It is not all that bad but the problem is that it is one of your three options for dinner or lunch when you are out in the country villages. Our other available options were couscous (a stew of lamb or chicken garnished with vegetables and served on a bed of rice), and brochettes which are chargrilled chunks of lamb, liver, or kidney on skewers.. Hunger was dreaded, at least on my part; Mike seemed to enjoy the local flavor, and Jim seemed to tolerate it.
 
We sat outside on plastic patio furniture and ate while scrawny cats begged for a bite of chicken at our feet. We finished lunch, and after a couple of detours, we were on the road again. I was under the impression that we were going straight on to Erfoud but we detoured to the gorge for the night. The gorge was an impressive sight. The cliffs jutted upward overhead in the darkness. The moon was nearly full and the stars were brilliant. We had only a small window on the sky due to the surrounding cliffs and one could fall over backward trying to take in the view overhead. todra.JPG (54093 bytes)

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After checking into our rooms we made our way to the restaurant for some more tagine. The restaurant was decorated in Berber style, full of colorful carpets lining the floor, walls, and ceiling. We sat at our table surrounded by chairs on one side and cushioned benches on the other. Dinner arrived and we ate the mystery meat reluctantly. Our guide, Mohammed offered Mike, Jim, and I a bite of the meatballs that Aid and he were eating. He told us that it was beef kebda. We all enjoyed the wonderful flavor but Mike had a bad feeling about the word "kebda". Mike looked in his Arabic translation book and found that kebda means liver. After discovering that the delicious dish was liver we all refrained from eating kebda the rest of the trip. We finished our meal off with a dessert of the sweetest tangerines I have ever tasted. At about this time I was glad to see dinner coming to an end because we were all freezing and I was ready to call it a night. But the night was far from over. todra2.JPG (43871 bytes)
 
Two swarthy men approached our table. I was unsure of who they were or what they wanted but Mohammed had arranged the meeting. It soon became apparent that they had come to sell meteorites and trilobites. Akmed appeared to be the one wanting to sell while the other man was more of a sidekick. The two sat for a while drinking mint tea and smoking cigarettes. Mike asked Mohammed to translate that we wanted to see what they had for sale. The men began the process of unpacking the two boxes they brought with them. I was unsure about whether I should leave the table while they were doing business or if I should stay. I chose to stay but I sat back a little and didn’t dive into the process like the men. I chose to be a quiet observer of this deal in the gorge.
 
Mike and Jim casually examined several meteorites with little enthusiasm evident. Akmed reached into his coat while they were going over the stones and pulled out an object wrapped in cloth. They stopped what they were doing and waited for Akmed to present them with the next stone. When they saw this stone I knew something was up. So much for their poker faces! I could easily see their excitement. They were both focused on this stone which was the size of a large potato. I thought the scene was a little funny because they would put the stone right up to their faces for a close examination. Jim whipped out his key chain light and Mike his flashlight for a closer examination in the dimly lit room.. They looked at every angle about ten times and muttered back and forth. Mike explained that this was a good stone and pointed the flow lines out to all those who were at the table. The language barrier was broken by the demonstration of how the stone fell from space and melted as it entered the atmosphere. The demonstration consisted of acting out the fall complete with the appropriate noises that a stone from space makes as it hurtles through the air! One black stone with squiggly lines had transformed two grown men into excited boys. Their eyes gleamed even in the dim light of the restaurant. I knew by the looks on their faces that they wanted this stone. But, it was not to be on this night. meeting.JPG (59497 bytes)

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After pondering the meteorite for quite some time Mike must have thought that he had better play it cool. He actually put the stone down and tried to keep his attention off of it for at least a few minutes. Akmed continued to show the treasures from his cardboard box. He unpacked at least twenty examples of trilobites he had for sale. They were really well prepared and very interesting to look at. Mike and Jim focused on them only half-heartedly, their minds I’m sure were still on the magnificent stone that lay casually amongst the tea glasses and ashtrays. Jim asked Akmed if he had any problem going across the border into Algeria. Akmed casually replied that he went there all the time and told Jim that he got nearly all of his meteorites in Algeria. Mike and Jim were itching to go across the border into the closed country of Algeria. I told them later that if they intended on going to Algeria, I would wait for them to return in Morocco. It was getting late and we were all very cold evidenced by the crossed arms and hunched over positions everyone was in. We decided to call it a night and arranged to meet Akmed at his home the next day near Alnif to purchase the stone and see what others he had to show.

We said our good-byes and made our way up to the roof where our rooms were. It was freezing cold but even that couldn’t put a damper on Mike and Jim’s excitement. I found myself excited about the meteorite as a result of the energy they were exuding. We rehashed the evening and the stone as we stood under the massive cliffs, moon, and stars. We all felt good having seen such a beautiful meteorite. They both felt that based upon the appearance of the outside of the meteorite that it was a relatively rare type called a howardite. Things looked promising. Now Mike and Jim just needed to purchase it and they would feel better. Tomorrow they believed the stone would be theirs.

We each headed into our frigid room for the night. Jim had the bright idea of running hot water in the shower in order to take a bit of the chill off. Mike said that we probably shouldn’t do this if we wanted a hot shower in the morning. With that in mind he decided to turn the water off. While in the process of preparing for bed the electric unexpectedly went off. The generator sound that broke the silence of the night had fallen silent and with it all the lights had extinguished. I now realized that the candles in the room were not simply decorative. With the loss of light it was evident that it was time for some rest.

The room came equipped with the heaviest blanket I have ever experienced. I pulled it up over my face with some effort and tried to sleep. It was a restless night. The air could find a way in under the blanket no matter how hard I tried to prevent it. I awoke in the morning still freezing and without power. The floor was tile and very cold. Mike and Jim were already up and moving. I was a little slower. The weight of the blanket made me feel like I had a bad hip and a sprained ankle. I really appreciate my feather comforter now! Once I began moving I showered and had to accept the fact that my hair was going to be wet when I went for breakfast. The breakfast room was also freezing cold. Everyone was pretty bundled up and some were crowded around the small propane heater that had been set up near the tables. Poor Aid’s feet must have been freezing because he wore only sandals.

 

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We left the gorge that morning feeling good about the meeting that would occur in the evening. We drove on to Erfoud and visited several homes where individuals had meteorites to sell. At each place you must go through the ritual of the tea. Before any business is conducted the guests are served mint tea. The tea is usually brewed on a hot plate right in the room business is conducted in. The brewer of the tea pours a glass then pours it back into the pot three times prior to serving everyone in the room. I never learned the significance of this act but I witnessed it almost everywhere we went. The tea is good but too much of a good thing can be bad!

The whole process of doing business is incredibly time consuming. Finding the locals that we needed to meet with proved to be a bit of a challenge. Often they were not home. Time is not something that this culture takes very seriously. They seem to have all the time in the world. I suppose not much of excitement happens. At one place we drove up to we found ourselves greeted in an unusual way. Mohammed knocked on the door and the noise that emerged from behind it was a resonating Bah from the goat that lived in one of the rooms. You just don’t hear those things back home!

When you happen to find someone at home you must do things on their time. And after at least one glass of tea and possibly a snack such as nuts have been consumed, business can begin. Usually, meteorites are brought out for viewing a little at a time. They show you one pile then they leave and come back with more. I was fascinated with the speed with which Mike and Jim could sort through a box and pull out what they deemed worthy of purchase. Once the meteorites have been chosen,  the dealing begins. It is never easy. Calculators come out and prices are tallied per gram. Raised voices, shaken heads, and muttering of disgust over the price is the norm. Usually a deal is not struck until we are all outside and loading into the vehicle. At that point the seller will make his last offer and if Mike and Jim feel it is reasonable Mike will go back into the home and finish the deal. The deal with the meteorite from Akmed was similar but even more time consuming and frustrating than most.

We were to meet Akmed at his home near Alnif in the evening. Mike and Jim were getting anxious because we were running late. We had what we thought was an hour and a half drive from Erfoud to Alnif. The drive took quite a lot longer. We made our way slowly down the narrow road. We pulled over at a rock and fossil shop that appeared to be set up in the middle of nowhere. It was dark and appeared to be deserted. Aid gave a couple of honks on the horn to rouse the residents who inhabited the dark and frigid structure. To my amazement out came a couple of men who had meteorites to show us. Mike and Jim examined what they had and turned down the sale. They were anxious to get on to Alnif and purchase the stone they had seen the night before. We were running late.

We drove on into a tiny village that had settled in for the night. Aid stopped and spoke to a young boy on the street. He must have been asking for directions in Arabic. When he finished his discussion we turned and headed back the way we came. A few kilometers down the road Aid turned the vehicle onto an even rougher dirt road that headed out toward hills that could be seen in the distance with the moonlight. We drove on in the rough terrain for another half hour it seemed until we hit another village. Aid once again spoke to a villager on the street. I could see that Aid was getting frustrated, his words were coming faster and his gestures were more animated. We turned and headed back the way we came. We were lost in the desert in the dark. We drove about halfway back when Aid took a fork in the road. Two villages later and a couple more villagers giving directions that were unintelligible to Mike, Jim, and I we found ourselves headed back into the initial village we had stopped at. Once again Aid beckoned for a villager to give us directions. The man just kept his head down and picked up his pace. He wanted nothing to do with us. Aid followed him slowly with the vehicle trying to get his attention to no avail. Finally, another dark figure was apparent on the opposite side of the street. He responded to Aid and motioned for a young man that was going by on a motorcycle to stop and join the conversation. After a few moments of words exchanging in Arabic we were off again and this time guided by the young man on the motorcycle. He led us out into the foothills. We followed slowly behind our headlights providing light to the cyclist ahead. After a few kilometers the motorcycle stopped along the road. He attempted to give Aid directions from that point on. Aid was still unsure of where we were going so the young man led us further into the middle of nowhere. After what seemed to be forever we were at a point where the young man decided we could find our way. With a few Dirhams in hand the young man on the motorcycle left us.

We continued on over rough terrain that required that you grab a handle in the vehicle so you could avoid falling out of your seat. Eventually we pulled up to a structure that was Akmed’s home. We thought we were really late because it was around 10:00. We were led upstairs into a large rectangular room with baby blue walls. The room had two small tables situated at one end. The floors were covered in thick carpets. After removing our shoes we were seated around the tables. There were cushions up against the wall to lean on and we were each given a heavy blanket to ward off the night chill. We sat for a few moments before Mike asked Mohammed if Akmed was home. He wasn’t home yet. Apparently he had left the gorge the night before and driven all the way to Tata where he was gathering more meteorites to sell. The trip was at least a twenty-hour round-trip drive over rough roads. We all sat shivering in the dimly lit room waiting for his arrival. As usual we were served mint tea that had been brewed by the men sitting at the other end of the room. There was a whole group of them. Who they were we will never know but they had the job of serving us tea.

We all drank a couple of glasses of tea. Usually I try to drink as little as possible due to the limited bathroom facilities but it was cold and the tea warmed me. Around 11:00 we heard a car pulling up. Finally, Akmed had arrived and I thought we could get business over with and go back to our hotel. He came in and casually sat down for tea and a cigarette. Once he had relaxed for a moment he disappeared into the darkness of the house. Akmed's sidekick came into the room with a pan and some water for washing our hands. We all went through this ceremony. Mike, Jim and I looked at each other in disbelief because we were about to be served dinner so late and our night was sure to be a long one. Next thing I knew we where being served brochettes with Lord knows what kind of meat. They were tasty and just kept coming. After two I was sated and ready for the night to be over. Next came the couscous. We ate slowly and I tried to avoid scooping up any of the mystery meat which I was later informed was lamb. Mohammed ate by grabbing and handful of couscous. He would make a couple of quick circular motions with his hand and as if by miracle the couscous would be rolled up into a perfect ball which he would cram into his mouth. I have never seen such a thing and don’t think I will any time in the near future. We eventually all sat back up against the wall showing that we were full. The couscous was removed from the table and around the corner came another man carrying a tagine pot. We then had to eat another course. My effort to avoid the meat was thwarted by Mohammed who insisted on giving me the finest cuts of meat. It was good but I wasn’t too keen on the idea of consuming so much mystery meat. Afterwards we were served a desert of delicious oranges, dates, and tangerines.

The clock was approaching midnight by the time business was even considered. Akmed passed the meteorite to Mike and Jim for further examination. Akmed had brought more stones, some were hematite but none were overly impressive. Mike asked Mohammed to ask what price Akmed wanted for the stone. Akmed is very quiet and takes an inordinate amount of time to respond. When, after some time, he finally gave a price that was outrageous. Mike gave a frustrated sigh and slumped back on his pillow. Jim exclaimed that we may as well just give him the Land Rover we had arrived in!!! Mike had Mohammed explain that the price was insane and that Akmed must be crazy. Everyone around the table appeared tense and I know that I was. We needed to purchase this meteorite and now it appeared that the outrageous price was putting an end to our hope. After some time of explaining that the price was way too high we decided to leave. Mike and Akmed came to the agreement that we would meet in the morning at our hotel after Akmed had slept a little and had time to think about it. We left around one o’clock in the morning with a long drive still ahead of us. The meteorite was not with us and we were all disgusted and disappointed.

 
The next morning came too soon. Mike and Jim decided to go looking for other people selling meteorites because Akmed had not come as he promised he would. I stayed in the room for a little relaxation while they went on business. Akmed had Mohammed’s cell phone number so he could call when he got into town.

It must have been afternoon when Mike and Jim came back and told me that Akmed was on his way. We sat outside and drank a soda awaiting the deal. I decided that I did not want to be in the room when business was being conducted. I told Mike and Jim that I felt uneasy in Akmed’s house because when he talked, he never laid eyes on me. Mike agreed that it was a wise decision to forgo this final negotiation process.  Akmed arrived and I wished Mike and Jim luck and headed into the sanctuary of my room. Business was to be conducted in the room next to mine. I opened my window so that I could hear a little of what was going on.

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I felt tense and I was a room away!!! I could only imagine what Mike and Jim must have been going through. I could hear Mike raising his voice and Mohammed trying to translate. The noise level just kept getting louder. I could hear things banging around and at one point I wondered if everything was ok. There was a long pause in the noise from next door and then my door opened. It was Jim, pacing the floor looking worse for the wear. He was talking fast and all I got out of him was that he needed some chocolate and that he didn’t think they were going to get the stone. A few minutes later Mike entered my room and told me that this whole process was a pain and he was really getting frustrated. He looked pained. He still believed that he would be able to buy the stone but it was not going to be cheap. The big problem was that Akmed had not even brought the meteorite with him to the hotel. He had to send his sidekick back to his house to pick it up which meant a three-hour drive. This really frustrated Mike and Jim who couldn’t understand why he just didn’t bring the meteorite with him. They just wanted to get it over with so their stress level could go down a bit. They felt that this one meteorite would make the whole trip worthwhile.
 
Akmed was not quick to decide anything. After a couple of hours of arguing Mike and Jim decided they weren’t getting anywhere and that it was time to leave. Mike stormed into my room and said we were going and that they didn’t buy the stone. I grabbed my backpack and followed him out the door. We made it down to the truck and I nervously smoked my cigarette while Akmed and Mike haggled over the price again with the help of Mohammed, as Jim paced around Akmed's car muttering.. I finished my cigarette and climbed into the Defender disappointed and not looking forward to Mike and Jim’s frustration and disappointment. Just when I thought all hope was lost they all agreed on a price. With handshakes and a smiles the deal was done. The stone would be coming and money would exchange hands later in the evening. I really hoped that Akmed would honor his handshake and show up with the stone. Mohammed explained to us later that a handshake is a binding deal with Arabs and we need not worry. hotel.JPG (50211 bytes)
 
With that finished we were on our way to other homes to do some business. We went into a nearby town to find more meteorites. We stopped in the marketplace so we could use the teleboutique (phone) and buy some drinking water. Market day is an incredible sight. On one side of me I had a man selling his goat. When interested parties stopped he would stretch his goat out and pull up its tail to show it off. I felt sorry for the goat. The street was alive and bustling. Bicycles whizzed by loaded with a cargo of carrots strapped on the back. Wagons carrying cargo and burros with kids wielding sticks filled the street. It was almost dark and the dust visibly hung in the air. I was a little nervous in this town. Kids were begging for Dirham in Arabic and French, neither of which I speak, but their eyes said enough to communicate what they wanted. Almost everyone who passed me took a moment to gawk at my long blonde hair. It was apparent that not too many blonde women come to this village on the Algerian border. I was fairly used to the stares but at times it got a little unnerving. I was grateful when Mike and Jim made their way back to the vehicle. We went from there and looked at more meteorites but found nothing of decent quality. We all agreed that we had had a long day and that we should go back to the hotel and relax.
 
On our way back to the hotel darkness had settled over the land. The full moon was absolutely incredible. I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenery. The silhouettes of palms and Kasbah's were a beautiful sight to see in the bright moonlight. I hadn’t really noticed, but Mike and Jim saw that what I thought was just a cloud blocking the moon was actually the beginning of a Lunar Eclipse!!! (Jan 9th). Jim proclaimed it as an omen that the meteorite that we had bought from Akmed was something very special (What an understatement this would turn out to be!!!). When we made it back to our hotel Jim and I set off to try and find a good angle for a picture of the eclipse through the palms. Afterwards we all converged again and watched the eclipse swallow the moon little by little until it was eventually blotted out from the sky and turned red. eclipse.jpg (14895 bytes)
 
After watching the eclipse for some time Mike, Jim and I went into the restaurant to order dinner. Our table was set up beautifully with rose petals strewn all over it. Jim began plucking them off the table as if they annoyed him! Personally I enjoyed the petals as well as watching Jim gather them up. We ate and chatted but most of all we wondered if Akmed was coming with the stone. Mohammed came in and said that Ali, a man with whom they had attempted to do business with earlier, was outside with a meteorite for sale. Mike told Mohammed to send him in. Ali came in and he was wearing the traditional dress, turban and all. He was really quiet. Right around the same time Akmed’s sidekick showed up with the meteorite. He sat down at the table with us and Jim offered him his desert, which he eventually accepted. Mohammed translated for us and told us that this man had been traveling almost nonstop for days. He was a schoolteacher and taught in a village far from where we were. At that point Mike realized that they had better finish the deal so the man could get home and sleep before he had to work the next day. Mike, Mohammed, Jim, and the other man left the dining room so they could give him the money. Ali and I were left sitting alone. I ordered him and I a cup of coffee and settled in for a cigarette. We tried our best at communicating but mostly our communication consisted of gestures depicting that we were cold and to pass the ashtray. I hoped that Mike and Jim would not take long. They eventually came back and finished business up with Ali. The day was over and what a long one it had been.  The meteorite was ours and finally we could relax a bit.
 
In the morning we packed up the Defender and headed to the village of M’hamid to camp out in the Sahara for the night. We stopped a few kilometers out of Erfoud to meet up with Akmed again. We met just off the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. It was a good place to keep me entertained while Mike and Jim conducted more business. The entertainment was fossil hunting. The rocks in the area were made almost entirely of fossils. As with our prior experience with Akmed the deal was not to be a quick one. Mike and Jim argued with him in the dirt for well over an hour before we finally left empty-handed. Akmed would not sell just a part of what he brought, it was all or nothing so we chose to leave with nothing rather than have to tote a large quantity of average meteorites back across the world. We finally drove off leaving Akmed looking after us in disbelief that we actually left him standing there. I was glad to leave and to be through dealing with Akmed. hoteltk.JPG (55140 bytes)

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We drove for several hours some of which were through the beautiful draa valley and the route of a thousand Kasbah’s (forts). The scenery was incredible. There were date palms and terraced fields along the whole valley. Berber women with their jewelry and beautiful garbs and men wearing their "Jawa" coats (full length wool coats that have a pointed top resembling the desert creatures in Star Wars) as well as goats, burros, children, women carrying heavy loads on their backs, and people walking and on bicycles filled the road before us. A few honks of the horn warning of our coming were usually sufficient to clear the path for our passage. Prior to this I did not fully appreciate the use of a horn, now I realize that it warns all in the road that they could die if they don’t make way for something that is bigger than them. We also had to heed this warning in the Defender when we approached a vehicle that was bigger than ours. On these rare occasions we would play chicken up until the last second and at that moment our driver would dive off the side of the road just narrowly missing a head on collision. My heart skipped at least a few beats a day just from driving around the countryside! draa1.JPG (27307 bytes)

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This night we were headed out to camp in the Sahara. We stopped in Mohammed’s hometown of M’hamid so Jim and I could dress up in the local attire. I felt ridiculous and more like a tourist than ever. From there we drove over an hour through terrain I would never attempt to drive through. Mohammed was skilled at driving through deep sand and dodging the roaming camels in the trail that was supposed to be a road. We stopped at one point to take in the sight of the full moon on the desert horizon. Then we were off again with our next stop being the Oasis. Jim was looking a little pale from the bumpy ride and he mentioned that the loud music Mohammed was playing was grating on his nerves. I have to admit listening to the same tape ten times in a row was getting pretty old. Once at the Oasis Mohammed honked the horn to announce our arrival. Shortly after this two men emerged from the dark buildings and engaged in conversation with Mohammed. In the meantime a goat was attacking Jim, well, at least Jim perceived the goat as threatening. He gave out a yell and jumped in the front seat to rid himself of his attacker. It was a great sight in the full moonlight seeing Jim flee the menacing goat under the palms of the Oasis. It gave me just the laugh I needed to be revived for the evening.

 

On we went for another half and hour until we arrived at the camp where we were to stay the night. Our camp was snuggled amongst the dunes. There were three tent type structures set up. One was for dining, one for sitting around in and another for sleeping. After a short hike up a dune we decided sitting in the tent was the place to be. Mike, Jim, and I sat once again covered with blankets and surrounding a round table. We were served mint tea and some of the best olives I have ever eaten. Meanwhile, in the small room that was separated from ours, Mohammed and the other men that lived at the camp were preparing our dinner of bread, kabobs, and tagine. We ate, drank wine and listened to Mohammed and the others play drums and sing their folk songs in Arabic. Mohammed tried to play guitar but it had been stepped on and broken almost in half. Its usefulness was limited to one string and the sound that could be made from beating on it. It was wonderful listening to them as they sang and played in a Berber tent in the Sahara. It was a surreal experience that only now I can truly appreciate.

 

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It was after midnight when we decided to make our beds for the night. We toted a thin pad and several heavy blankets to the top of a small dune with the help of the men of the camp. It was cold and sand permeated the blankets we used. I made the mistake of pulling one over my head and my face was immediately showered with sand. After some struggle all of us settled in for the night.

The moon was so bright that the dunes were lit up like it was daylight. Jim and I talked for some time rehashing the events up until that point. I was in the middle of recounting an experience when Jim drew my attention to an invader in the camp. I looked over towards camp and saw the humorous sight of a scrawny mule being chased out of camp by one of the men wearing a turban. The interruption put an end to our story telling. We all just lay on our backs staring up at the small, disjointed clouds that were approaching and would soon block a little of the moons brilliance. The sight was incredible.

 
In the morning we were all anxious to get going because we faced a long drive back to Marrakech. We loaded up and drove to M’hamid where we rented a room for a nice cold shower. We left M’hamid after Mike and Jim had purchased a few more meteorites from one of the locals. The drive took over nine hours from M’hamid. We revisited the Draa valley and traversed the steepest canyon I have ever seen and ever hope to see. It may have seemed steeper than it was due to its lack of guardrails and the narrowness of the road. It was a treacherous drive that had us all gripping safety handles and repeatedly telling Aid to slow down. Mike spotted a tour bus that had gone over one of the steep embankments. It was covered with large boulders. Our initial conclusion was that the covering was a ritual for those that must have died in the crash. Mohammed set us straight by telling us that wreckage was covered up so that it was hidden and passersby would not see it and be frightened. Well, that didn’t work.

We made it through the canyon area safely and continued on over the Atlas in the dark. We were fortunate to make it over because a storm moved in and covered the route with snow soon after we passed. We would spend the next day touring Marrakech and preparing to leave. The first thing we had on our minds in the morning was the Pizza Hut. I really looked forward to eating something I recognized and that was not goat, lamb or mystery meat. Pizza never tasted better and we all stuffed ourselves. After that we were off to the Djema‚ El-fina to peruse the souqs where we made our souvenir purchases. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel where we could rid ourselves of our goods we had purchased. We would go back to the Djema‚ in the evening. Jim had declared the previous day that since he had not gotten sick on the trip as Mike had warned, he was going to have a couple of bites of the sheep brains that were prepared in the square. Mike said that he was stupid and would give him $100- if he even took one bite. Jim was true to his word but did not make Mike pay up.

After dark, the Djema‚ fills with a large crowd. The cooks are busy at their stalls, preparing delicious food for people who gather on benches and eat under the glaring light of lamps. On two sides of the square are several dozen booths offering nuts and dried fruit, as well as freshly squeezed orange juice. We were loyal to eating at booth number one so we did so once again for the last time.

Our time in Morocco was soon coming to an end. We spent our last night and flew out in the morning. It was an end to our adventure in a foreign land. Little did the three of us know that the adventure was not to end in Morocco. The meteorite that Mike carried in his bag was to become an adventure in itself. We had no idea of how rare that meteorite was. We arrived back in the United States on January 14th. I had to get back to graduate school the next day and Mike and Jim needed to prepare for the upcoming Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

 

Epilogue

Jim Strope

Once arriving back home, I only had a week to prepare for my trip to the Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson. I planned on flying into Las Vegas to visit with friends for a few days before the show. The seven-hour drive from LV to Tucson is long but scenic to someone who lives in the eastern US. I landed in Las Vegas mid-morning on January 22nd, picked up my rental car and headed to my traditional first stop in Vegas for lunch…… the IN-N-OUT Burger on Tropicana Avenue.

Then it was off to check into my room at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino. After dumping my bags in my room and dropping a few coins into the slot machines, I headed out the door to drive to my friend’s house.  I was looking forward to spending a few days relaxing with my friends.   As I approached the parking lot, my cell phone rang. It was Mike calling from Tucson. Nearly a week earlier, he had sent a sample of our suspected Howardite to Alan Rubin at UCLA for analysis. We were anxious for a preliminary guess so Mike had called him to get his thoughts. The first words I heard on my cell phone were - "IT"S LUNAR!!!!"   I recognized Mike’s voice and assumed he was kidding me. We bantered back and forth for a while from my disbelief to his reassurance that he was telling me the truth. I finally believed him when he suggested that I drive to Tucson the next morning to begin the process of photographing and cutting the meteorite for distribution to the other collectors who had financed our trip. There are eleven owners of this meteorite and it was like a group of co-workers or friends hitting the lottery.

For the next week, I still could not believe that the meteorite was in fact lunar. But every email and phone conversation with UCLA and the University of Arizona confirmed that each test was just a verification of the initial analysis. We had the freshest lunar meteorite found to date and it is the crowning jewel to our great adventure in Northwest Africa.

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Mike and Jim show off their new lunar meteorite....NWA 482.

 

NWA 482 also has other unique properties which make it stand head and shoulders above other Lunar samples, including the belief that it originated from the DARK SIDE OF THE MOON !!! 

The Washington University of St. Louis has a website giving information on all Lunar meteorites at Lunar Meteorites

Also from Washington University is a list of all Lunar meteorites found on earth.

 

The following two references require an Acrobat Reader (it is free), to view as they are PDF documents:

Warren P. H. and Kallemeyn G. W. (2001) New lunar meteorite Northwest Africa 482: An anorthositic impact melt breccia with low KREEP content (abstract). 64th Meteoritical Society Meeting, CD-ROM no. 5453.

Nishiizumi K. and Caffee M. W. (2001) Exposure histories of lunar meteorites Dhofar 025, 026, and Northwest Africa 482 (abstract), 64th Meteoritical Society Meeting, CD-ROM no. 5411.

 

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