So here’s the story of how I lost and found my phone in the Sahara desert. This is purely a story and contains no practical tips on how to visit Morocco, other than my sincerest recommendations on a tour company. But it’s a story I felt absolutely compelled to share.
DAY ONE & TWO
Dylan (a college friend) and I went to Morocco on sort of a whim – he had some vacation days to spend and flights to Casablanca were as reasonable as any other. And I can never say no to a trip. A co-worker told him about a tour he’d done with an awesome guide named Hicham, through Morocco Happiness Tours, and we thought we should check out his recommendation. We booked a 3-day 2-night tour from Marrakesh to Fez with Hicham through the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert.
We have an incredible first day. Hicham is an amazing, enthusiastic, and knowledgable guide and we’re having a blast. We end day one knowing we made the right decision to travel on a tour, but the details of day one are another story for another post.
On our second night, we’re staying in a desert camp in Merzouga. Upon our arrival in the afternoon, Hicham drops us off with a desert guide whom Hicham affectionately refers to as “Camel Man”. He’s supposed to lead us a short distance from where Hicham left us and through the Sahara desert, Dylan on camel with myself and Camel Man walking alongside. (I’d decided not to partake in camel rides after my experience in Mongolia, though I wavered in my decision later, as I’ll explain. Karma catches up nearly immediately.)
Anyway, Camel Man doesn’t speak much English and we don’t speak any Arabic or Berber, and so we set on off on a pretty quiet walk/ride into the desert. We probably spent nearly an hour on the dune and eventually realized we were supposed to be staying for sunset. Which was maybe another 40 minutes to go.
We didn’t realize we were going to be there so long (nearly two hours) and I was not dressed for the cold winds whipping around the dunes. Or really the temperatures in any of Morocco. My preliminary research said the temperatures would be in the 80’s, but I didn’t take into account winds or high altitudes of the Atlas Mountain where we traveled through. And so I sat in the Sahara Desert, thoroughly enjoying every minute, but also fighting the elements entirely.
I’m literally lying on a blanket in the fetal position at one point, scarf wrapped around my face in a vain attempt at keeping the sand out of my eyes and ears and mouth. (I later realized sand was accumulating INSIDE my scarf and just blowing around my face because it was so fine and my scarf too thin. Oops.)
I finally look so miserable that Camel Man gestures to see if we want to leave. We confirm and make preparations to carry onward toward camp. I can barely see at this point with so much sand in my eyes and mouth, a little disoriented from the chaotic and consistently intense conditions on the dunes.
Dylan doesn’t really want to continue riding the camel, but Camel Man keeps gesturing between us trying to figure out who would be riding the rest of the way to the camp. I decided that it might be quickest if I just obliged and rode the camel home, deciding that I also felt better about the condition of the camels than I did in Mongolia. I should have listened to the little voice inside my head telling me not to go against my original choice, but I regretfully did not.
We set off. Five to ten minutes later, Dylan turns up to me from beside the camel I’m riding and asks “you have your phone and everything right?” And I start feeling around and realize NO I don’t. My phone is gone. But the wind is blowing the sand so heavily that it seems a lost cause, and the language barrier between our guide and us made it hard to communicate the issue.
I’m like “screw it, it’s gone, let’s just get home”. I almost immediately accept defeat. It seemed a terribly expensive mistake, made worse by the fact I’d just lost all the photos I’d taken on my phone so far. But it was my own stupidity to drop it in the sand, which I suspect occurred when the camel was standing up with me on its back. Like I said. Instant karma.
Fortunately for me, Dylan was not so quick to give up on my phone.
When we got to our desert camp a short while later, he made me use Find my IPhone to track it. We see that the battery is dying but it’s out there on the dune! We can almost track the exact spot. And then Dylan realizes the photos from his new iPhone come with geotags. He goes back to his photos from the dune where we sat for so long and tracks the exact GPS coordinates where we suspect it dropped.
We tell Hicham what’s happened and he makes plans to set out early the next morning on a search mission, accompanied by Camel Man. A four-person team. After a much needed dinner and a bit more detective work creating a geotag map of our route through the dunes, there is nothing left to do but sleep.
THE LOST PHONE SAGA CONTINUES
Through the night, sleep is barely possible for me because the winds are SO STRONG AND LOUD. We wake up to sloping mounds of sand against our tent a foot or two high, the winds still blowing sheets of sand around. The camp staff are like “It’s windier than normal.” Dylan and I exchange pointed glances. Surely the intense winds and ever-moving dunes won’t prove problematic in finding my phone!
We set off anyway with Camel Man in the lead, and Dylan calling out whether the our blue GPS dot of his phone is still moving toward our estimated coordinates. Eventually, we do find the exact spot where I thought the phone must have fallen. But to nobody’s surprise, we can’t find the phone. I’m elbow deep in sand, digging my heart out, but nothing. So we go back and take off on the rest of our tour, driving 8 hours onward to Fez.
I’m disappointed but not surprised. But Hicham is mega bummed. He keeps apologizing, even though we’re like “we’re so happy still! It’s 100% my fault.” The rest of the day, he’s pretty quiet and reserved. I assumed at first he was just irritated with me for the delay and effort to find my phone (and understandably so!) But we carry on an eventually part ways with hugs, assuming our paths had crossed for the last time.
That night I open my laptop and have a notification that my iPhone has been found. It’s tracking to a small town right about 20 minutes outside the camp where we stayed. I’m baffled. How did it get there? Was it stolen? Did I drop it earlier than I thought? Does it even matter at this point if I can’t get it back? Either way, it’s ALIVE, and Dylan and I decide we have to try a rescue mission. So we message Hicham to give him the latest update.
Hicham is also like “WHAT!” and immediately calls the staff from the Merzouga desert camp. They’re like “We’re on it,” and literally send someone from the camp to the town to retrieve it – with only the general GPS guidance narrowed down the space of roughly a block where the phone was supposed to be. Hicham asks if there’s a photo of my phone and I’m like “nope,” but Dylan looks through his pics from the day before and finds this photo:
It could barely have been more perfect. All the while we’re growing more hopeful but still skeptical that the camp staff will be able to find it with the loose info we gave them. And so we wait.
Anxiously. But we wait.
An hour later, Hicham sends Dylan and me a Facebook message that the camp staff found my phone. Our jaws drop. For all the optimism we tried to project, we both knew it was a still shot in the dark to find it.
As the story was relayed to me, another guide found my cellphone in the dunes walking a different tour group along. It was likely dead at that point, or at least soon to be according to Find My iPhone. He brought it home where his brother knew to it needed to be charged to be tracked and potentially found. They either had or found the exact charger that my phone needed, charged it, and turned it on. Which is about when I must have turned my laptop on and tracked it.
I don’t know about you, but that seems like more luck than I could have ever hoped for. What are the odds? This thing should have been long gone, buried in the sand to be discovered my archaeologists in the future. But it’s been given a new lease on life!
Then we remember that we’re still 8 hours away from where the phone is currently, with one full day left in our trip before we fly home the following morning.
But Hicham is already on it.
He coordinates with the camp staff to see if there are any other guides staying there that might be coming to Fez the next day. And as the universe would have it (at this point “luck” just doesn’t feel strong enough) there was a guide bringing three guests along the same route to Fez who agrees to bring my phone along.
The next day we’re trying to coordinate and see how we can pick up my phone from the new guide, keeping in mind we need to leave at 7:30 pm on the last train to get to Casablanca so we can fly home the next day. Someone at the Riad says they believe there is a later train to Casablanca, but we can’t find proof online.
Hicham says the guide will be there at 6 and that he’ll come to help coordinate. He wants to see this magical moment.
So around 5:30 we get our bags packed and talk to our riad staff and let them know the situation. The streets in Fez are hard as hell to navigate if you’re unfamiliar with them and you can’t drive through them so it’s quite a walk through the maze to the roads. To get to and from our riad, the staff arrange a porter for you who guides you through the maze and pushes your luggage in a cart. Dylan timed it on the way in and it took about 15 minutes from the street where Hicham first dropped us off to our riad.
The Riad staff tell us to let them know where we need to be dropped off, so we wait for Hicham’s message. We try not to notice the clock ticking closer to six, then past.
When Hicham messages us that he’s here, we call him and immediately hand the phone to the riad receptionist so Hicham can explain where he is going to park. The riad receptionist then calls us a porter and we set off, an hour to go before we our train departs.
We get to the street where Hicham is supposed to meet us, he’s no where to be found. Dylan doesn’t have service, or even Hicham’s number for our porter to call, so we can’t get ahold of him. So we wait. The guy transporting us is like “You sure he’s coming?” growing more doubtful by the minute. We pass the time as our new porter friend tells us about the time Hilary Clinton came to Morocco and stay in a place where he was working, and how he got to meet her.
Growing nervous, Dylan sets off to find WiFi in a restaurant and gets ahold of Hicham. He comes back five minutes later with news. Hicham is on his way. But the clock to the 7:30 is ticking down. Our porter mentions he also thinks there is a train after 7:30, but still, we have no official confirmation.
Around 6:50, Hicham finally arrives and we get in and drive to the place where we’re meeting the driver with my phone. Ten minutes later, the guide rolls up and hands is the phone through the window. I’m in shock that it made it back to me. And utterly grateful for the 9+ Moroccans who went out of their way to help me. Like digging-through–Sahara-Desert-sand-dunes-in-a-mild-sand-storm out of their way.
We all do a happy dance and I send up some major thanks to the universe.
(At this point, the phone is found but the craziness of this story continues).
After the celebration subsides, we set off for the train station and check the clock. It’s about 7:20, and the traffic is thick. We realize we’re definitely not gonna catch that 7:30 train. Upon arrival, we find out there is no 9:30 train either. The next train is at 2 am – and completely booked.
Dylan and I have an “oh f**k” moment because we really need to get to Casablanca or else miss our flight home. Hicham spends a few minutes talking to the woman at ticket booth in Arabic, seemingly trying to negotiate, or at least confirm that there are really no open seats anywhere and then eventually he turns to us and says in English, “I’ll drive you to Casablanca”.
Casablanca is not the direction he was planning to travel, so we protest and argue with Hicham for several minutes, but he continues to insist and we eventually agree. Hicham pulls us to his car and we set off.
During the first half hour of the 4 hour car ride, Hicham starts talking about how happy he is that I found my phone. We find out that we’re the first clients of his new tour company, after he spent years working for another person’s company. It’s been his dream to start his own tour company (among other things – like starting a preschool in his village which we got to visit briefly on our tour!).
Hicham explains that he was so sad I’d lost my phone because he had worked so long to build his own tour company. Here we were, his first personal clients, who’ve had a frustrating experiencing losing something. Though we tried to ensure him we had a lovely time throughout, he was discouraged feeling like it was a bad omen.
He tells us about this book that he’s read ten times or more and changed his life, about following your dreams and listening to the universe. How he’s read this book throughout the years when he’s needed encouragement. How it’s helped him believe that if you want something enough, and work and dream for it, the universe will conspire to make it happen for you. He’s applied those principles to his life and now is watching his dream come true – and me finding my phone turned a bad omen into a great omen.
Cue me feeling like a spoiled idiot at this point.
An hour later in the drive I remembered the book I grabbed randomly off my bookshelf at my apartment, one of my roommates. I mention it to Dylan and Hicham with something along the lines “Hey, I grabbed a random book and it’s actually set in Morocco and I had no idea! It’s about this young Shepard boy in Spain who sets off in search of the pyramids to follow his dreams. What are the odds it was set in Morocco?!” Dylan gives me an eye roll. We’ve annoyed him enough, he’s thinking, we don’t need to pester him with our random stories during this long drive.
But Hicham goes “Wow,” and starts reaching into his car console. Dylan and I look at each other like ? What’s going on?
And then Hicham pulls out the EXACT SAME BOOK I’M READING. The Alchemist by Paulo Cuelho.
I have chills at this point. We’re all freaking out.
This book that motivated Hicham to follow his dreams and start his tour company and preschool and changed his life is the same book his first tour group clients happened to have started reading, without knowing what it was about, on the very same trip. Get out of here! That is crazy!
SO WHAT IS THE UNIVERSE TRYING TO SAY?!
That is the obvious question. Or at least the first one I was asking. But not to set you up for disappointment – I don’t have any great answers yet.
Had I not lost my phone we wouldn’t have had any of these chats with Hicham and realized the impact of our experiences the past few days on each of us. Whatever else it means, I’ll be damned if that’s not a sign from the universe that we were all exactly where we needed to be that day. Hicham, me, Dylan, we were all following our dreams in Morocco in different ways and seeking these adventures that crossed our paths in this way.
Some people might think I’m being dramatic and that these are just coincidences. Maybe those people are right. But I believe those people are also haters! I believe there was magic in that day and in these friendships. And it’s serendipitous moments like this which pull me to travel and make my heart beat with anticipation at the idea of new adventure.
Of all the crazy travel stories I’ve acquired, this is probably the top. But it perfectly encompasses the magic of travel; no matter who you are, where you go, or why you’re there, you can connect with strangers in ways you’d never imagine if you open yourself up to the chance.
Anyway, thanks to the best guide in the entire world, Hicham, the wonderful crew of people in Morocco, and Dylan’s support, I found my phone and had the most epic adventure that I could imagine.
I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t give Hicham’s company, Morocco Happiness Tours a shoutout.
If you’re looking for a tour company in Morocco, please hit up Morocco Happiness Tours. There’s some magic going on there and Hicham will take care of you – even if you’re a dipshit who drops their phone in the Sahara desert. And I don’t know many other people you can say that about.
And thanks to Dylan for joining me on this adventure, providing the emotional support I needed to keep tracking my phone, and for serving as my photographer on many occasions throughout the trip. Many of these photos and videos are from his so photo credits to him as well.
THANKS FOR READING HOW I LOST AND FOUND MY PHONE IN THE SAHARA DESERT!
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