Leaving Fez around 8:30, we had an 11-hour drive ahead through a hilly green rural area dotted with small villages, ruins, and mosques topped with minarets. Patches of yellow dandelions, yellow broom, olive trees, laundry strung up on a hillside, and pink flowering apple orchards painted the landscape. We were on the Plain of Sais, an agricultural plateau between the Rif Mountains and the Middle Atlas. Apparently this place has an abundant water table from the mountains’ rainwater.
We drove through rocky terrain, where donkeys were foraging for a bite of grass between stones. Ladies in robes and hijabs were having a picnic amidst boulders on a hillside. Hilltop views showed small gnarly trees and neat farms below. A roadside stand enticed with terra cotta pottery and tajines.
We soon found ourselves in a rock-strewn landscape of no agricultural value. Stone walls surrounded derelict deserted concrete buildings. We passed a large apple orchard and cork oak trees, the skin of which was used to make corks for wine bottles. Aziz told us the snowy season was normally November to January but not this year, and that mountain lions roamed in the hills. We passed some shepherds, alert for wolves who attacked sheep; the mountains also were alive with foxes, wild sheep and wild pigs, The latter were problems for farmers as they dug holes in their farmland, so the Ministry of Forestry came to kill them sometimes.
We stopped in Ifrane, a town of chalet houses built by the French, who tried to make it look like Switzerland. Moroccans call it the Moroccan Switzerland. It apparently has a ski resort, the Michlifen Ski Station. In summertime, people come in droves to escape the heat of Fez and Meknes. It is home to the famous Al Akhawayn University, a small university based on an American-style liberal arts curriculum that attracts wealthy students from Europe and the Middle East.
By 10:15, we left Ifrane and drove over rocky hills and past single donkeys tied sporadically to stakes in the ground. Aziz told us villagers took their donkeys to the road, caught transport into town, shopped, then came back and took the donkeys home.
We stopped briefly at Azrou to see the macaque silvanus (known as the Barbary ape, but which is really a monkey) and the cedar forest. I couldn’t capture any decent photos of them because they were too quick.
At 11:30, we left the OiLibya gas station and rest stop. We would stop for a picnic in another hour and a half. We saw sheep, donkeys, horses and goats. People here were half nomads, or transients, who moved from March or April to the high mountains and when it got cold, they descended back into the valley.
We stopped at a nomadic woman’s plastic tent house with a stove and chimney, kettle, chickens and a log fence. She didn’t know her exact age but figured she was 80-something. Her son and daughter-in-law lived nearby and brought her food. They didn’t get along, so she chose not to live with them.
It was cold and windy up in green rocky mountains dotted with sheep. We stopped at an overlook overflowing with trash. Some pine or cedar trees were on the hilltop.
At 12:09, we had our first glimpse of the snow covered High Atlas Mountains, across a dry desert with what looked like sagebrush. We bypassed the Meteorites Hotel & Restaurant and some goats, along with Restaurant Lamana Lavage (car wash). We drove through a mudbrick village built on red earth with its own mosque, situated amidst farm plots and apple orchards abloom with pink flowers. Laundry was strung on lines, and donkeys and sheep wandered through the village. It reminded me of the Navajo reservations in Arizona and Utah. This was near Parc National Haute Atlas.
By 12:53, we were in Midelt, where there was a Le Petit-Jardin Garden Center, Cafe Nice, and Turka Simply Kebab, a Pharmacie, Restaurant Paris, Credit Agricole du Maroc, Pieces Auto, and biosnack. A dry river bed cut through the town, and the minaret was a pretty turquoise and stucco. A police station reminded citizens who was in charge. Another tall minaret stood sentinel on a hill. The outer town looked derelict, while the inner part was neat and clean. On the Boulevard Hassan II was Cafe Adnane and Art de Lapidaires.
At around 1:15, we stopped in Asima at a nice new grocery store to get makings for our picnic.
As we drove on, we found a caravan of army vehicles parked along the road, with tanks and other military equipment interspersed among jeeps and trucks. Men in camouflage dotted the landscape as they watered the bushes, peeing in plain sight.
Broken glass and debris marred a landscape occupied by donkeys. It was the end of the spring holidays so people were returning home to their towns. We drove up a winding mountain road behind two oil tankers labeled Afriquia. Juniper trees lined the road.
We saw large bee colonies, honey with lemon thyme, and a forest of pine trees. The highest point of our journey was 1907 meters. Then we descended, passing a deserted animal park, with debris everywhere.
Near half past two, we stopped in Gorges da Ziz for an hour-long picnic lunch alongside a river. Our feast was laid out on newspapers: sardines, tuna in tomatoes, lunchmeat, cheese, avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, bread with a special sauce made by Aziz with mustard and chili sauce. We had fruits such as kiwi for dessert. It was lovely sitting outside along the wadi and the feast was delicious. A falaj ran along the river; the landscape reminded me of Oman and made me miss it mightily. Brown mountains were all around the wadi.
Close to 4:18, we passed through the mountains, past a lake and dam, the Barrage Hassan Ad-dakhil.
After Errachidia, we began to look for the Oases du Ziz, the land of the kasbahs. We passed through a land rich with date palms, olive trees, and figs used to make Moroccan tequila. We stopped to look over the oasis of date palms in the valley and the mudbrick towns or kasbahs.
The Ziz Valley marks the historically important Ziz River (Oued Ziz) and the passage through the High Atlas to the Middle Atlas.
We stopped for a bathroom break at Restaurant Ennakhil, and many of our group got coffee. People seemed to drink coffee at all times of day here.
We arrived at Hotel Ksar Merzouga close to 7:00. We were ushered into oven-baked tents with no electric outlets, just a dim light in a colored lantern strung from the tent ceiling.
After checking in, we showed up in the dining room for a buffet dinner. The salad selection was excellent: beets, green beans with sauce, tomatoes, aubergines, cold corn, and lentils. I also had kafta tagine. I opened the bottle of red wine I’d bought in Fez. Susan had only a tiny glass, so I shared some with Chai and Yulia. Father Anthony was about to have a glass but remembered it was Lent.
After dinner, we sat out by the pool for a bit then went into a big communal area lined with wool cushions and I drank another glass of wine. We were waiting for a belly dancer and drum players, but they never showed up so I went to bed. It got cold quickly as the sun went down, turning the fine sand icy underfoot.
I felt on the outside, which I often do in groups. There was the clique of the four young people, Susan utterly disconnected, the Chinese girls huddled together, Father Anthony keeping to himself, and Edward and Elizabeth focused inward. I felt we had such a dull group that I might die of boredom before the tour was over. Everyone seemed utterly self-absorbed and no one ever asked anyone questions about themselves. I am not a fan of cliquish group dynamics. Luckily I was able to read my book, The Forgiven, in the dim light in my tent.
I don’t know why I ever go anywhere in a group. I much prefer traveling with a single good friend, my husband, or by myself. 🙂
*Steps: 8,481, or 3.59 miles*
*Saturday, April 13, 2019*
“ON JOURNEY” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about the journey itself for a recently visited specific destination. You could write about the journey you hope to take in the year ahead. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.
Include the link in the comments below by Tuesday, March 17 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this challenge on Wednesday, March 18, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation, once on the third Wednesday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!