Friday, 14 December 2012

The desert beckons


Monday 10th December

We left Fes quite early on Monday morning and travelled to Azrou via a very large supermarket where we stocked up with essentials.

Amazing array of spices in the supermarket

It was a fantastic drive over the Middle Atlas mountains, we were soon heading along roads bordered by snow covered landscapes, through remote Berber villages and into the French colonial town of Ifrane where we stopped to let the dogs have a run. Nigel fell over a part melted snowman and measured his length, causing much merriment to the locals!
Long and winding road

Next stop was the very ornate campsite of Azrou which indeed was better than those we have stayed at so far in terms of facilities and surface though the toilets/shower blocks were not as clean as we had all hoped. Here we had a relaxing afternoon sitting chatting and for the first time 6 of the 7 dogs all had a run about together and hit it off well. Poppy's socializing days are over now as she is 15 and almost blind and deaf so she stayed with Annette and Gary, her owners.

Doggy corner of campsite!


That evening we were treated to a meal cooked by the staff at the restaurant, we gathered round a campfire and had chicken tagine which was delicious and a vanilla slice each from the local patisserie which was a very unexpected and welcome treat.


Lunchtime tagines bubbling away

Salubrious pancake surroundings


The next day's drive was a long one, 280 kilometre over the High Atlas mountains to Meski, almost in the desert. On the way we stopped at a town to have a local speciality, a pancake with honey. There we sat, surrounded by haunches of meat hanging above our heads....bizarre but the pancake was delicious. We went to the market for a look round and I bought a kilo of pomegranates, I only wanted one or two but you have to buy everything in kilos!
The drive continued to be very interesting, we passed many many settlements, people transporting goods on donkeys. Most of today's photo's have been taken on the move so may appear blurry. We stopped for lunch in a lay by on the way down a river valley and were immediately swooped upon by a local selling camels woven from palm leaves. He would not take no for an answer, indicating that he was hungry so we offered him some bread which he would not take but then insisted that I take a camel as a present so I have felt guilty ever since!

Pancake with honey....delicious

Meski is the village where Hamid, our tour guide's assistant was born and now lives with his family and his wife and little boy and we were to stay here for 2 nights. The approach to the campsite was down a steep winding track so it was with some trepidation that we descended but all went well. It is in an oasis with palm and eucalyptus trees all around and many wild cats live there as Belle was delighted to find out! There are some gift shops as you approach the camping area and local Berbers continually ask you if you want to go “Looky looky in my shop, I have nice things for you.” It's all good natured but a bit intimidating and oppressive.

One of the men, Benni, showed us around the village the next morning. It was very interesting and we ended up in his house for a snack. He then brought out dates and olive oil for us to buy. I bought some dates. Whilst most of us were looking around the village, Nigel went off exploring on his bike and said he had a fantastic ride.


Meski Mosque
Donkeys on their way to be loaded up with carrots.
The small/oddly shaped ones are kept for the village,
 the best ones are taken to market in Ar Rachidia
















Carrots waiting to be bagged up for market











The well outside Hamid's house
which provides drinking water



Children accompanied us everywhere,
they only do half a day in school.




















Meski Halford's?
After a rest and some lunch, Benni took us up to the old Kasbah where the village originated and which was abandoned in 1956, we passed women washing vegetables in the river and higher up doing their laundry but they would not have their photographs taken. It was a wonderful walk, we had to ford a stream to get there and the view from the Kasbah was amazing. Nigel decided he wanted to stay up there till sunset so we all left him to it and although the sunset wasn't fantastic as it was a clear sky, the light was very special and he enjoyed the peace and solitude. We eventually agreed to go “Looky looky” in the shop, I bought beautiful but very very long scarf and Nigel bought a little trinket box.



Benni pours sweet green tea































Looking across fertile fields
to the ruined Kasbah














Next morning we were to set of for the desert but first we had a tour of the village primary school. Some children had already arrived and were standing outside under the trees in a semi circle, as each child arrived they were greeted with a handshake and a kiss by both teachers and then they went to join their pals. They don't have a set time to arrive as some like to sleep later than others, we were there about 9 o'clock and stayed for about an hour and dribs and drabs of children were still arriving. In the meantime the others were singing and chanting enthusiastically. The classrooms were quite well appointed and well equipped and it was interesting to see the similarities between their classroom and mine.....displays on the walls being very similar though of course in Arabic and the self registration picture name cards for the wall, though theirs were hanging on a nail and not stuck on with velcro.....health and safety!!!!





Each child greeted with a handshake and a kiss
Months of the year display




Twins















Days of the week
















Enthusiastic singing




After our privileged visit to the school we set off south again, with more remarkable views of the Ziz valley, we stopped at a fossil factory and shop, went though the frontier town of Rissani where there was another market and at last off road onto the piste which lead us to our desert stop where we are for 3 nights.


Desert bound

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