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Published: February 7th 2019
Getting out of bed to get dressed in our desert tent is definitely not fun. It’s bitterly cold, around or below freezing. But we have brought multiple layers to keep warm – thermal t-shirt, shirt, cashmere sweater, fleece jacket, shell jacket, hat, scarf and gloves. No thought of taking a shower, just put clothes on as fast as humanly possible and stagger up the dune to watch the sun rise, this time in perfect peace. We all head back to the main tent for breakfast, and huddle round the single patio heater, hands raised to the heat element as if worshipping a new pagan god of heat.
We opt to return by 4x4 rather than camel, as David is keen to see what a 4x4 can do in the sand. The answer is impressive, though not much to Sara’s liking, given her tendency to get sick in cars! We swoop up and down dunes with ease, except once when the vehicle doesn’t quite make it to the top. No problem, the driver just lets it roll gently back down the slope, then puts it back into gear and heads up on a slightly different angle.
Reunited with Aziz and
Hassan, we set off for today’s drive to Midelt. Many people drive all the way to Fes in one day, but it’s nine hours of driving so we’re glad to break the journey half way. We retrace our steps through the desert for an hour to Erfoud. This is a large town which is home to multiple military bases, on account of being close to the Algerian border. It’s modern and looks prosperous.
We pass a large reservoir that is not full as the snow melt has not been so heavy this year. The waters are used for both irrigation and hydro-electricity. We then head north along the Ziz valley which is home to the largest of all the palmeries, with two million date palms stretching for miles and miles along the river banks. The scenery is actually more dramatic than the gorges we visited yesterday, with huge sandstone plateaux, and mesas poking up out of the plain. The road gradually gets steeper and more winding as we head through theZiz gorge and over the High Atlas. We then drop down onto the plain between the High Atlas and the Middle Atlas.
We stop at a roadside Muslim
graveyard where Aziz explains the burial ritual. Muslims are buried on their right side, facing east to Mecca (if you were a Muslim dying east of Mecca you would be lain on your left side facing west). They are buried about 3m deep, wrapped in cloth not in a coffin. They have to be buried the same day as they day so the body does not start to bloat as then it will not fit into to the stipulated width of the grave. The graves are marked with head and footstones, the alignment of those stones being different for me and for women. There are no names on graves in a traditional graveyard though increasingly this is changing. We now also understand why cenotaphs in grander tombs are so narrow, as the dead are laid on their sides.
After driving for about an hour across this dry and arid plain, we find Midelt and our hotel. This is recently-ish built, in what strikes us as New Mexico style with heavy wood furniture, but somehow the whole thing manages to look and feel like a rather tacky Chinese three star hotel. Nevertheless, we have a pleasant couple of hours enjoying
the surprisingly hot sun on our balcony looking out over the snow covered peaks of the High Atlas. There is nowhere else to dine so we eat in the cavernous and ill-lit dining room set for 100+ diners, but the only occupants are us and half a dozen others all clustered near to the log fire.
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