We left Fes for a day in motion, moving into the Middle Atlas mountains for a dramatic change in scenery. Our first stop was a Ifrane, a town built by the French to give them a place more like the Alps that the Atlas.
It looked like a Swiss town. We didn’t linger. We knew the day would end at the edge of the desert, a place we were all anxious to reach.
Our first trek was in the Cedar Forest, in a park where these ancient trees are protected. We saw intricately carved cedar throughout our Moroccan trip in ancient and new buildings ranging from the Medina el Bali in Fes to the new mosque in Casablanca. Today that cedar is only harvested from dead trees and the living are protected. They were towering giants that made me think of Ents. It was a lively walk because of the Barbary Apes we encountered (they are really monkeys). They are found only in the Cedar Forests of Morocco. Used to tourist, they were interested in stealing our water bottles. Standing under the Cedars did make me feel small. The walk was a little steep, but smooth and easy. It felt like a scene from The Sound of Music. Our group was not yet jelled as a group, but we were beginning to get to know each other.
We stopped a few times to catch the view, and the wind was strong and cool. It was so green. Lunch was a treat in a restaurant in Bou Anguer and we stopped to take pictures at the gates to Midelt. With a few hours of stopping we had covered 2/3 of our journey as the sun began setting over the Ziz valley. The Ziz valley is the “grand canyon” of Morocco, and the Ziz river is the life blood of the people who lives along the journey we were taking. As we got out of our vehicles to look down on the valley, I could smell rain. Some of the darkness came from clouds, and towards the west, hiding much of the sun, we could see the storm clouds over the desert. Our guide, Omar, told us the winds had shifted from the High Atlas, and we could see snow, and early snow, on the mountains.
It rains about five times a year in the desert, and we were going to be there at one of those times. As we would learn, the rain comes and then goes, but the wind lasts longer.
I watched the clouds creating a beautiful sunset. Below me was a village along the Ziz, where we could see cook fires, people moving around, and the beautifully squared off irrigated plots that would define the careful farming of this arid, green land.
With the smell of rain we drove out of the mountains and arrived in Erfoud after dark. We were tired, hungry and excited to see what the next day would bring. We had to pack a small bag for the desert. Tomorrow we got ride camels through the dunes to our camp. Sleeping in the Sahara, surrounded by our camels under a blanket of stars. That was the image that brought me to Morocco.