Smartphones and Sunsets in the Sahara

I write professionally about the cultural changes brought about by technology, which is often smartphone-centric technology. 
 
Most American smartphone users, especially business owners, also use laptops, tablets and probably servers and other advanced business technology. 
 
I met a young entrepreneur this week who is running his entire startup from two phones. 

His name is Mohammad, and he's a Berber Moroccan who, along with his brother Said and their uncle, are building a tourism business in the Sahara desert. 
 
Before I tell you more about Mohammad, first let me tell you about his travel business. 

It's called Trips Around Morocco. Right now, they offer camel rides, camel rides to overnight desert camps, guided driving tours all over Morocco, and they're building a hotel they say should be done in six months. 
 
I love their business. And I'm not alone. They have perfect reviews on Trip Advisor

We encountered Trips Around Morocco when Amira discovered them after extensive research. We wanted to experience a night in the Sahara, so she booked their camel-ride-to-Berber-camp package. 
 
We arrived at a hotel-like Berber-style building, which was like a holding area for tourists waiting for departure into the desert. 

There were two groups. One was a group of eight visitors from China. The other group was Amira and me. 
 
At the appointed hour (they time the trip to coincide with the setting sun), we walked out over a flat gravel plain to the waiting camels, which were tied around their front legs and sitting on the ground. 

Mohammad wrapped Amira's scarf around her head and face Berber style to protect from sun and sand. They assigned a camel each to Amira and me. We straddle them, they got up, and one of the staff — a guy in his early 20s whose name I don't recall — walked through the sand in his flip-flops guiding the camels. We three humans and two dromedaries sauntered through the sand, leaving the other group behind. 
 
(Note that it was the first day of Ramadan, so these guides are walking for miles through the Sahara in direct sun with zero shade without drinking water or eating anything since 3:30am.)

We were immediately in the dunes, which were breathtakingly beautiful, a deep orange color that deepened as the sun sank on the horizon. 
 
After about 45 minutes of travel, our guide "parked" the camels, and invited us to the top of a very high sand dune to watch the setting sun. He sprinted up the dune like he was being propelled by jets. We awkwardly groped our way to the top over time, struggling mainly to avoid burying ourselves in the sand-avalanches we were creating. 

We spent probably a half hour on top of the dune taking pictures. Eventually, Mohammed showed up with the Chinese group. He posed for some pictures with us (really hamming it up). Every once in awhile, he checked his two mobile phones — one an Android smartphone and the other a tiny feature phone. (More on that later.)
 
After the sun set, we came down from the dune, mounted our steeds and rode another ten minutes to the camp. As our guide was dealing with the camels, he told us the camp was over a dune and that we could proceed. So we did, and there it was — 10 camel-hair Berber tents arranged in a U-shape. 

The camp had one Berber camp guy, who spoke no English but did speak some French. He showed us our tent and told us we should go have tea at a picnic table in the center after freshening up. (The spacious tents had showers, flushing toilets and sinks inside — not sure how they do that...)

We arrived at the table, and tea was ready. But our host was gone. It was just Amira and I in the camp, alone for about 20 minutes. My guess is that they went to a nearby place or SUV for "iftar" (the breaking of their Ramadan fast), guzzle water and wolf down some food.

Around this time we realized that we were the only guests at the camp. The Chinese group had gone to the "luxury camp," which had plastic tents and other luxury things. 
 
Our camp guy brought a bottle of cold water, and eventually a tagine, as well as some bread and fruit. 

We had brought some cherries we bought at a roadside stand outside Fez and Mohammed and the guys were gobbling them up (they don't grow cherries anywhere near the desert). We couldn't eat them all, and Mohammed took the remainder to break his fast with at 3am.

We had been eating tagines all over Morocco, and we expected the food to be bad. They were, after all, camping in the desert. 
 
But the chicken tagine (which also had hard-boiled eggs, olives, potatoes, beans, onions, etc.) we were served was by far the best tagine we've ever had in Morocco. It was incredibly delicious. 

After this amazing dinner, Mohammed, two guides and our camp host all played drums and sang Berber stuff, inviting us to join in. We then got to talking with Mohammed, and learned more about his business. 
 
He had worked for years in restaurants and hotels and saved up as much money as he could. His brother and uncle saved, too, presumably. He then went into business for himself buy buying two camels, and provided desert camel rides to visitors. 

Over time, they expanded into driving tours, camps and began construction of a hotel. 
 
We talked late into the night, and Mohammed occasionally checked his phones, explaining that when he got a booking or post on Trip Advisor, he would get a text message alert on his feature phone. 
 
By climbing to the highest nearby dune, he could actually get cell reception good enough to reply to queries, confirm reservations and so on. He told us those two phones were his only "computers" upon which the entire business was run. 
 
Amira made sure to book when the sky was clear and the moon at its least visible, a sliver in the sky. The stars were mind-blowingly clear and numerous. 

We asked the guys to set up a bed for us outside our tent so we could sleep under the stars. They actually put a full bed there, with sheets and heavy, warm camel-hair blankets. 
 
So we retired, and watched the stars. We saw dozens of shooting stars. As we were falling asleep, the Milky Way was rising over a dune to the East. Amira woke up in the middle of the night, and it was directly overhead, an awesome cloud of light spanning the sky. 

Next morning, our camp host clapped his hand from his bed (he was sleeping on a rug on the sand) and said "sunrise!, sunrise!" until we got up. 
 
We clambered up the dune, watched the sunrise, then grabbed our gear and headed back to the camels. (Most of the time, they serve breakfast in the camp, but because it was Ramadan they served it back at HQ.)

At the staging area, we were the only guests. The served us a generous breakfast. They offered us showers, but we declined. 

Our driver came out (he had been doing Ramadan feasting and napping all night). And we took off. 

Mohammed and his family are providing mind-blowing, bucket-list experiences for people from all over the world. 

They're really doing is sharing a bit of their culture and environment with visitors to Morocco, and it's a magical experience.

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