Highlights of Morocco – Chapter 4: Mountains, Fossils and Deserts

Day 5: Fes • The Atlas Mountains • Ziz Valley • Erfoud

Through the mountains -lower Atlas – to Iframe; a lovely town showing much French influence; it is a holiday venue for wealthier Moroccans. There is a large bronze statue of a now extinct Moroccan lion surrounded by lots of greenery and structured gardens. Desert adventureThere is another Moroccan Royal Palace which was frequently visited by Mohammed 5, but  less frequently by Mohammed VI, although his wife brings the royal  children to the snow line for them to sleigh ride and play hence the large well-marked car park! Onward through the cedar and pine forest where wild animals, such as Barbary Apes – these were sent to Gibraltar when the numbers there declined, and recently because of the low numbers in Morocco, some breeding pairs have been returned: also wolves and jackals can be found.

As we came through the pass, the highest point at 2,000ft snow was visible on high Atlas Mountains on the side of the mountain was inscribed, reading from right to left God, Country, King  (in order of importance); the Ziz Valley was spectacular.

We stopped for lunch – the superb beef and prune tagine was a speciality recommended by Graham – at Hotel Casabah Asmaa; across the road were a multitude of fossils on sale, but unfortunately they had been “enhanced” with dye and paint, so we were advised to wait as we would be visiting a fossil factory.

SnowlinesThe road along which we had travelled had been built by the French and was well maintained affording a spectacular views as we twisted first rising to this high point then dropping back down, but followed the old camel routes through the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara.

It was dark by the time we reached our hotel in Erfoud and another story by Graham led us to believe that our hotel was not yet complete, but all efforts had been made to make sure our needs were well catered for; many of us felt quite nervous after his explanation of the communal shower black and even the sceptics looked shocked as we stopped outside the large unfinished building! But no, we were a few yards further along this road at a hotel which made us really feel we were in Morocco – large rooms, Moroccan wall hanging, black metal furniture and metal cut out lamps, all leading off an enclosed garden; there was a delightful swimming pool in the communal area where seating and tables were plentiful. Once again free Wi-Fi – I was amazed that every hotel offered this service yet in UK we are often charged.

DAY 6: Erfoud • Rissani • Erfoud

RissaniAfter a well presented and plentiful breakfast we boarded the bus and settled back for another day of changing sights but within 5 minutes we were up and off the coach to visit a Fossil Factory, the Devonian and Jurassic Fossil Factory –I really had never appreciated the wealth of fossils in the Sahara; the large rocks containing fossils were brought from the desert, and they are sliced to make table tops, hand basins, (on closer inspection the hand basin and side tables in my bedroom were made from these fossil full pieces)  etc. Each piece is a treasure trove thick with fossils of all types; some are just sliced and polished, some have the rock chipped away, so the fossils stand proud and these are covered with glass as a 3D table-top.

The temperature was soon reaching 30 degrees, and we reached Rissini market which had masses of stalls selling fruit, vegetables and meat (flies were free) and some looked like our own market stalls with bric-a-brac; products such Omo were very plentiful. As we were on the edge of the desert, the flies were thick everywhere. After the sellers have unloaded their donkeys, they take them to the Donkey car park, where the attendants are paid to look after them. Goats and sheep were tethered so farmers could examine them before buying to enlarge their herd.

Fossil filled coffee tableAnother carpet shop with a different style of traditional carpet hosted us with a demonstration on the art of Mint tea making. Mint tea is very sweet and many of us declined the addition of the sweetener so we were served and those without sugar were with sprigs of Mint, the sweetened tea was without! So with sugar were the glasses without, and without sugar were the glasses with!

Back to the hotel where several guests had a swim before getting ready for a trip to the sand dunes where many would ride camels to watch the changing colours as the sun set – a spectacular sight so I’m told, as I was laid low by a 24-hour bug which affected some of us! Here I could really have felt alone but most of the group, called to see if I needed anything, the Tour Director checked several times and would have called a doctor should I have felt I needed it, and he informed the hotel staff who kept an eye on me while the group went out; I was well looked after. I was very disappointed not to have watched the sunset over the dunes and to have missed a camel ride.  Another time maybe!

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Diana Davies

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