Friday, June 02, 2006

Because I went to bed at 7pm the night before, I woke up at sunrise and started the drive. The scenery in the morning light was just gorgeous! The first day was ugly, the second day was gorgeous! The rain from the previous day made everything fresh and the air was crisp. Dry riverbeds were filled and the landscape became greener and greener the futher north I got. Purple, red, and yellow flowers lined the roads and highlighted the mosques and mudbrick buildings that dotted the countryside.

Since I was making good time, I stopped by Ifrane in the late morning and saw the Casçades des Vierges ("casçades" are waterfalls). Ifrane is a beautiful little town (it was also the place with the monkeys) that looks much more European than Moroccan; the buildings look like chalets and because it is located in the cedar forest, it is much greener than the rest of dry Morocco...

The next day I got back from the camel caravan around 9:30 am, so I took a shower and started the long drive to Fès. I decided to go the southern route, because I knew that to go the northern route (via Marrakech) would take a really long time (because of the mountains). This was the right decision, but the southern route was pretty boring. The drive back to Ouarzazate was nice (I got to see all of the kasbahs again), but the route from Ouazazate to Errachida was long, straight, and dull. Here is a picture of the one aethetic view I had on the trip.

(photo of Errachida removed)

Shortly after I got to Ouarzazate I got to learn two new words in French - "panettes de freins" and "mechanique". Yes, my breaks were making terrible sounds and I was worried about my drive through the mountains. I called the car rental company, Sixt, and told them that I wanted a new car. They told me to drive 500 kilometers (through the mountains) to Rabat to get the car fixed. I told them they were crazy!! After 20 minutes or roundabout conversation in English and French, they were unable to come up with a solution. Fortunately, the phone was next to a mechanic, so I asked them to take a look. They looked at the break pads (panettes de freins) and told me that everything was OK, that they were probably just hot because I had been using them so much in the mountains. The checkup cost me 30 dirhams; the best 3 dollars I ever spent!

So I continued on for another six hours when I ran into some very crazy weather. It was a combination of a dust storm and rain! I never would have thought that those two could exist simultaneously until I saw it with my own eyes. Unfortunately, because the ground there was so dry, all of rain caused flash floods and I had to drive across a few rivers! By this time I was near Errachida and it was about two hours to sunset, so I decided to spend the night in Errachida instead of attempting to cross the mountains in bad weather. The hotel I stayed at was boring and ugly, but I did get about 11 hours of sleep. The next morning I woke up at sunrise and continued the drive to Fès...

(photo of wiped out street removed)

Blogger seems to only be picking up two photos per blog, so I am entering a few blogs... Here is a picture of me with my camel.

(photo of me on a camel removed)

Is this a photo of a desert nomad? No! It is me in desert garb. (Note that I tied my turban myself!)

(photo of me in turban removed)

I stayed at the Fibrule de Draa hotel. The interior was a bit rundown, but they did have a nice pool area and the people there were very friendly. The camel caravan did not start until 4pm the next day, so I hired a guide (only 20 dirhams for the day!) to show me around Zagora. I went to a nearby kasbah which was still inhabited. It was funny to see a family living in a mud brick house with dirt floors watching a television! Some of the corridors were so dark that I had to use my flashlight to see the way; (My guide knew the way by heart though, as he grew up here.) I ran into several children there and I was sad that I had not brought more pens to give to them. Pens, markers, notebooks, and toothbrushes (oral hygiene is very poor in Morocco) would have been good gifts. I will remember that for next time...

(photo of Zagora hallway removed)

After the kasbah, I went to see a pottery cooperative where they decorate the pottery with henna.

(photo of man making pottery removed)

I also went to a silver workshop where I did some heavy negotiating for a silver and moonstone ring that I liked and some petits cadeaux pour mes amis, earning me the nickname "la femme berbère"!

Finally it was time to go on the camel ride! It was so hot, so I bought some traditional pants (pantalons climatisé - or "air conditioned pants"- also known as MC Hammer's look circa 1989). They were much cooler than my jeans... I also had to buy a turban; it keeps the sand out of your hair and ears (and mouth if the wind starts blowing).

I have to say that the camel caravan was actually a bit disappointing. We only walked for three hours and just got outside of the town. You could still see the palm trees on the horizon and we got to the edge of the desert but didn't see the large dunes. The tents were also much less elaborate than they were at the place in Erfoud that I wanted to visit. Plus, camels are not very comfortable to ride! I could barely sit down for the next two days! On the bright side, however, I did meet a lovely young couple from London who were kind enough to share their beliefs in Islam with me. If I were to do it again though, I would have made the camel caravan a separate week long tour so that I really would have gone into the Sahara (and I would have saved myself three days of driving.)

I woke up early today, so I have a bit of time to elaborate on my journey to date. I had to change my camel caravan plans because the place in Erfoud that I was going to stay at is no longer in business and my backup place had a problem with their camels! I spoke to the guy who ran my riad in Marrakech and he told me that they have camel rides in Zagora, so I got a reservation there instead. (Apparently their camels were in good health...)

Unfortunately, however, Zagora is much further from Fès than Erfoud was, so I had a longer drive back than I would have had from the other place. Zagora was closer to Marrakech, however, so my drive to the desert should have been much faster. Unfortunately, because the mountain roads were so narrow and winding, it took me 8 hours to get there. (Had the roads been straight and I was on an American interstate, it probably would only have taken three...)

The beginning and ending parts of the drive were beautiful, however, and I got to see a lot more of the Moroccan countryside than I would have seen if I had driven. This is a photo that I took on the beginning part of the drive. There were all of these beautiful pink flowers everywhere!

As I got closer to the desert, the landscape becme more barren...

I did stop at Ait Bennadou, a kasbah near Ouarzazate that is often used in films. These beautiful kasbahs made of mud brick are everywhere in the south of Morocco. If I had not been pressed for time (I wanted to arrive in Zagora before dark) I would have stopped at more of them.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Quick post today as I have only a few minutes before I meet my guide for Fes. I tried to post a little movie of my camel, but it didn't work; I will explore other options of sharing them...

Today I drove from Errachida to Fès. The drive was absolutely beautiful! As an added bonus, I saw monkeys! One darted in front of my car so I stopped to take a closer look and there was a whole group of them. I think this one wanted to go home with me. Hmmmm... Heather wanted a monkey if I recall...