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Published: October 30th 2011
The road you should take......
A journey to Morocco takes most people to the bigger cities of Casablanca, Rabat, Fes, and Marrakesh among others. This is all well and good, but there is so much more to this country than just the large cities. This statement is true of most countries of course, but the emphasis here is on the magical countryside of Morocco, where there is so much to take in with limited time. In our case, it really helps to have a wonderful guide who is very familiar with the entire country and it’s history. It is even more helpful as he also does the driving, freeing us up to take in all the beauty. The perfect plan…..
Casablanca and Rabat are both on the Atlantic coast and rather close to one another. We took a main highway to get to Rabat and saw exactly what you would expect to see when you take a major highway……not much. No worries though, short drive and plenty of time to walk in the rain in Rabat and take in the outside of the King’s palace (one of 20!), a beautifully designed mausoleum, and the waterfront. This turned
out to be the “rain day” of the trip, and we certainly took in as much rain as we could!
The weather in Morocco in late October and early November is not unpleasant, but you do run the risk of some rain and wind. After all, it is a somewhat sub-Mediterranean. Our days have been warm and the evenings cool off. Mustafa refers to Morocco as “a cold country with a hot sun.” We would love to stay a few more weeks because the olive harvest does not start until later in November. This event is undoubtedly not to be missed.
Just before arriving in Fes we stopped to explore Moulay Idriss a sacred Islamic town and Volubilis, some Roman Ruins. As we travel around the world we are always surprised how far the Romans traveled and are always happy to see another site preserved. The photos will speak for themselves and tell you the story of an ancient culture that had some amazing architects. They had it all, beautiful mosaic tile inlayed floors, huge homes, spas, vomitoriums…. ah, the life, except of course for the bulimic-themed rooms. We’ll pass on that.
Americans deserve the bad
rap they get about supersizing everything but let us tell you that Moroccans can give us a run for our money. Bread is a very important part of the meal, at times it almost seems as if the meal is designed around it—which for bread lovers like us is just fine. We’ve learned to order one meal and share. One night we have a chicken, vegetable couscous that could easily have fed a family of eight. All the meals are three or four courses. Last night we had a zucchini pie, a meatball tangine in an amazing sauce and éclairs flowing in a chocolate topping. We then gloriously waddled back to our room, stuffed again.
As we mentioned in our Fes blog, donkeys and burrows are used not only for transportation but hauling all manner of items. As you drive along the countryside you can’t go more than a mile without passing a donkey loaded down with olive branches, sacks of flour and the like, or pulling a cart full of wares. They are truly beasts of burden and still widely used here in the 21st century. A good donkey will run you two to three hundred dollars,
depending on size and mileage.
Halfway between Rabat and Fes we had a dramatic change in landscape. All of a sudden we had rolling hills, rather tan color and it reminded us of Northern California in summer. The difference is the numerous fields of olive trees. The topography continues to change the closer one drives to Fes as the Rif Mountains appear. This is a smaller mountain range and somewhat unusual at that. This one contained a university at the upper elevations, along with another one of the king’s palaces, and a ski slope. It also had European mountain-style architecture to boot. We weren’t expecting to see this and it was rather strange.
The morning we pulled out of Fes we were excited because we were eager to see the Atlas Mountains. They are divided into three zones, the Middle Atlas Mountains, the Anti-Atlas Mountains and the High Atlas Mountains—all are lovely and unique in their own way. Morocco is a geologist’s heaven as the terrain, topography and rocks formation change every few miles. In the U.S. moving from east to west or west to east there is a slow, subtle change but in Morocco it is quite
A hearty brew
dramatic. We explored mountains, valleys, canyons, buttes, and deserts. For a country roughly the size of California, it has an almost unlimited variety of geologic and tectonic-induced rock formations, striations, and mineral deposits.
Even though one might think they remind them of parts of Montana, Wyoming, Texas, Utah, Arizona and California they don’t because the colors of the soil is different. The colors are deep and rich, they must be full of minerals that we don’t have in the U.S. because the colors of rust, rich browns, deep tans, some have a pink hue and others a green hue. We need to study some soil samples to find out what causes the green soil. It is lovely. The Todra Canyon, Dades Canyon and the fortified village of Ait Ben Haddou are well worth a visit.
Driving along the road from time to time you will see a tent set up with a couple of camels and a Moroccan man in a turban. Yes, even in Morocco they offer the cheesy tourist trap if you want to stop and pay for a photo op. Who knows what else they may push on you if they can get your attention
long enough. We’re never surprised anymore when some kid tries to tell you the beads he is hawking are “authentic Berber gems” or the like and the beads are only 5 dirhams (about 65 cents).
Oh well, back to the road. During one part of our drive towards Ouarazazate, we drove past home after home after home. Mustafa said it was the “road of a thousand Kasbahs.” FYI, the word Kasbah has many meanings depending on how it is used in a sentence. It can refer to a home or a military garrison and many things in between. And if you’re “Rockin’ the Kasbah” you’re listening to the Clash, of course.
Oarazazate is also famous for having three motion picture studios where many movies have been made. Lovingly referred to as “Mollywood,” a surprising number of quality films have been made here, including Lawrence of Arabia, Patton, Jewel of the Nile, and The Man Who Knew Too Much among others.
We spent two nights out in the desert. One night is Erfoud and one night in Ouarazazate. Both evenings as we walked into our Kasbah we were surprised by what was behind those plain earth-tone walls.
A modern-day oasis in the desert, with pool and cabanas, bars, restaurants, spas and steam rooms. All of your needs can be met in these places so we scurried off to take a massage. There aren’t too many things more satisfying than a massage after a hard day of riding and looking.
We have posted a few photos of signs we saw along the Atlas mountain roads. Yes, the roads twist around the mountainside. The locals drive fairly quickly up and down these narrow mountains roads and could cause some to become a bit car sick. (MJ) One phenomena that we still cannot explain is how the mountain goats can climb straight up the side of a mountain. They are amazing creatures. Nomads wander the desert plains moving their goats and sheep from one location to the next.
A half-day’s journey and we are safely ensconced in our latest domicile, a ryad in Marrakesh, where the living continues to be good………
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