After a last fabulous breakfast in Fez, we hit the road for our 340 mile trek to the Sahara. Doug says there’s snow in the mountains but the roads will probably be clear. At least he hopes they will be clear …
We climb into the Middle Atlas Mountains and reach Azrou, in the heart of the Forest of Cedars. Doug tells us to start watching for monkeys, and no sooner does he say the word “monkey” than we start seeing them come down out of the trees. We pull over and park, and are soon surrounded.
These are macaques (also called Barbary Apes) – indigenous to the mountain forests of Morocco and Algeria, and with only a few thousand left in the wild. They are twice the size I was expecting, and docile, except for the Leader of the Pack, which the locals point to, with a warning to keep clear. A young guide comes up to me with a handful of broken up crackers, and motions to me to hold out my hand and wait for the monkey to come to me.
He snaps a few photos and then leads me to his horse.
The horse – a beautiful white creature with an ornate saddle, is standing next to a boulder, a convenient aid for mounting. The guide again says “photo” and I climb up onto the horse.
He snaps a few more shots, and then unexpectedly grabs the reins, and starts to lead the horse into the forest
“Oh…. NO… !”
After several frantic minutes of thrashing and yelling “I MUST GO BACK,” the guide slowly turns the horse around. I ask Doug to negotiates the price of this escapade while I retrieve my wallet. He talks the guide down from 300 dirhams ($30) to about 70 dirhams ($7). I give the guide an extra 20 dirham, which brings smiles to faces all the way around.
And now I know what “photo” actually means…
A few hours later we stop for lunch in Midelt, the City of Apples – a gigantic red apple sculpture at the edge of town tells us so! As we depart, we are barraged by men selling fossils. Morocco was once a sea bed, so ammonites and other fossilized sea life are a pretty big business here.
We drive through several hours of increasingly rugged landscape.
Well after dark, we reach Mergouza, and the Kasbah Mohayut.
OH MY! Even in the dark, this mud brick oasis on the edge of the desert is beautiful, and I cannot wait to explore it in the daylight. I find my room and walk through a tiny door and into a room that rivals the size of my Seattle apartment.
I wake the next morning in time to see the sunrise and to explore.
I’m the first to arrive for breakfast at a buffet that offers whatever you want to eat – as long as it’s some form of bread! The mint tea isn’t as sweet here, and it’s poured into glasses with a fresh sprig of mint in the bottom. I drink several helpings out of an ornate tea glass.
I wish I could capture the sounds and smells of this place, as I sit at the edge of one of the fountain courtyards, tea in hand, incense wafting over me… above my head an iron chandelier, with palms and birds… waitstaff wearing the blue and gold caftan that the men wear here, smiling at me as they light incense in the four corners of the courtyard.
I do not want to leave. But leave we must. The Red Dunes await …
- For my full recounting of this leg of the trip, please see August Phoenix Hats.