Into the Middle Atlas
Trip Start Apr 01, 2010
21Trip End Apr 18, 2010
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We spent the day today making our way slowly from Fes to Midelt, winding through the hills. The landscape looked sort of how you'd imagine the surface of the moon; small shrubbery, cactus plants and a few trees, but mostly barren.
We first stopped for breakfast in Ifrane, which is otherwise known as the "Moroccan Switzerland". It's a ski resort town that looks European and - needless to say - attracts mostly tourists and a few well-heeled locals (including, we were told, the King, who loves to ski and maintains a palace there). Ifrane looks nothing at all like the rest of what I've seen so far of Morocco. It's quiet and orderly and has chalet-like structures, and while it's postcard-pretty, it doesn't really feel authentic.
From Ifrane, we drove for a while through a few small towns that most definitely were authentic, including one named Zaida (doesn't mean the same thing here). We stopped in a wooded area to see some wild monkeys. Yes, really. They have monkeys here. They were entertaining.
Lunch was eaten picnic-style along the side of the road, sitting on some rocks and doing our best to avoid the cactus shrubs. I'd gotten a little too much sun at breakfast in Ifrane, and was feeling a bit dizzy by then. The sun is deceptively strong in the mountains. But some time in the shade and some water soon had me feeling good as new. While we were eating lunch, a few local Berber children came to beg for food, which we shared with them and did our best to have a bit of a conversation, language barrier notwithstanding.
After lunch, we drove into Midelt, and stopped off at Kasbah Myriam, a local cooperative project run by the Franciscian nuns for women to do embroidery and weaving and sell their handicrafts. The women and girls working there were all very cheerful, though their crafts were very expensive comparatively. Seventy-five percent of them are the sole income-earners for their families. The French woman working at the project was explaining that they offer school for the young girls, but by the time they're teenagers, they no longer want to go to school; they don't see the point.
The guesthouse here is a locally-run establishment, and is very authentic. After checking in and having a glass of mint tea, we headed out on a short walk to the nearby village of Biddem. The local kids followed us around, greeting us enthusiastically, kicking a soccer ball around, and the like, while the adults mostly went about their business. It felt a little strange, staring at them like they were some kind of tourist attraction, but then, I suppose they were doing the same to us. We had been warned not to take photos because the people there don't believe in them, but some of the kids were very keen to jump in front of the lens anyway. The village was very simple, but it had an amazing canyon along the edge (think Grand Canyon, just about a thousand times smaller) with an incredible view.
We had a a home-cooked dinner back at the Auberge (more tagine, of course) followed by a Berber folklore performance that had everyone drumming and dancing along. They even got us dressed up in traditional dresses - some more reluctantly than others - and the party lasted for a few hours before winding down. Good times.