After a lovely breakfast, we bid farewell to our hosts at Riad Ahlam this morning, who had just seen my TripAdvisor review, and were very, very grateful, indeed! There were many kisses on the cheeks exchanged, as well as lots of handshaking all around…There were also many statements of what good people we were…it was a bit difficult to swallow, but I think that’s a least partially because we’re not always convinced ourselves of our own essential goodness. We’ve got to love ourselves, deeply and profoundly, in order to be able to accept the love and praise of others with equanimity.
In any event, suitably fortified by all the praise, off we drove, very happy to be going back into the countryside, after a Fes Medina overdose. Our planned route today takes us right into the Moyen Atlas Mountains, as we head South, and a bit East, to Midelt, which is at the conclusion of this mountan range, and then further south and east to Er Rachidia, through the Haut Atlas Mountains, whose end signals the beginnings of the Sahara Desert.
Because we are traveling without a firm destination, and as slowly as we can, we aim to immerse ourselves in the landscape and villages we pass through as much as possible. So we’re not sure how far we’ll get today – we figure that we’ll stay in whichever town we’re in as the sun sets.
Our first stop is the ski resort of Ifrane…what, you didn’t know that there is a ski season in Morocco? Well, there is, and Ifrane boasts of its Alpine-style ski chalets, owned by wealthy Moroccans who come in the summer for the cool, clean mountain air, and from Mid January to March, to hit the slopes.
We had a snack and a drink at one of Ifrane’s cafes, and stolled around the town briefly – we found it to be a pleasant little town, very well kept up, with lots of soldiers everywhere, because the king maintains a summer palace here. Ifrane actually made us just a bit homesick for our hometown ski areas of Vail and Beaver Creek, because there is something of the same feel in this little, exclusive town.
We continued, after our snack break, south, into the Moyen Atlas Mountains, heading toward Midelt. The countryside was beautiful, causing us to pull over to the side of the road many times, to admire the olive trees, the date palms, the shepherds herding their large flocks of sheep and goats, and the mountainsides forested with cedar and fir trees. The sky was impossibly blue, a testament to the lack of heavy industry polluting the mountain air. Beautiful valleys alternated with mountain climbs, and there were many picturesque adobe and brick villages, as well as nomadic tent encampments.
As we neared Midelt, the Moyen Atlas Mountains came to an end in vast plains of rocky scree…a type of desert environment in which very little grows, except for scrub grasses. We found that it was already time to end our driving, so we stopped for the night in Midelt, in a tourist hotel that was already hosting a group of at least two dozen Spanish motorcyclists, but still had rooms for another 6 or so other tourists, including us. Our room, while large and equipped with nice bed linen, and a reasonably good shower, was not exactly the height of luxury…but we felt happy to find a hotel quickly that had some available rooms, since Midelt seemed to be a busy stopping point for north-south traffic.
We had a nice vegetable Tajine in the hotel dining room, and collapsed gratefully into our comfortable bed.