The Road to Morocco (Part 4)

The long and winding road

If you have access to Google maps, or if you’re Luddites like us and have an actual World Atlas, you can trace our route through Morocco. Remember, we started at Rabat, then headed northeast to Meknès and Fez. Now we were going southwest, taking the long and winding road through the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech. That would be a tedious journey if we were to do it all in one shot, but our tour was better planned than that. We left Fez Thurs. morning and arrived at Marakech in time to get ready for Shabbat. What took us so long? Lots of stops along the way, including a moonlit night on the shores of a lake perched on top of a mountain.

Our first stop that Thurs. morning was at Ifrane. This is what our booklet said, and I couldn’t do any better if I tried: ‘As foreign tourists head for the cities, Moroccan tourists flock to places such as Ifrane. Neat, ordered, and modern, it is like Switzerland relocated to North Africa. Its clean air, scrubbed streets, and leafy outlook make it popular with tour groups.’

That’s what struck me, producing a wave of nostalgia, a longing for autumns past in places far away, the ‘leafy outlook.’ We had arrived between ‘seasons,’ and the place wasn’t that crowded; in fact, many of the shops were closed. But what could be more beautiful than autumn in Ifrane with its array of leaves, red and gold, falling from the trees? I could have been in a car, driving through the countryside in New York or New Jersey on a Sunday in early November. Heck, I could have been in my own backyard, spending precious hours raking my own leaves, lest they get soaked in a rainstorm and become glued to the soil. (The raking part I don’t miss.)

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Falling leaves in Ifrane

That dose of fall foliage would have to last me for some time to come, since we were back on the bus, driving and driving, finally stopping at a restaurant for lunch. Things are more relaxed in Morocco than other places I’ve been. A busload of tourists can stop at some random eatery, everyone ordering some sort of hot or cold drink while eating the lunches they brought with them, and nobody thinks anything of it. Try pulling that stunt in your local establishment.

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Lunch break

We took the opportunity to sit by a window and look out at the stream flowing by.

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I need to chill….

I needed time to chill. Too much getting up insanely early. Too much time on the bus. Too much having to go up to Cindy to find out how long it would be to the next rest stop because I needed one NOW. Too much of too much. I could have sat there all afternoon. But it would have to be a lickety-split chill session, because we were starting again.

Neither Barbara nor I remember the name of the park that was our next stop, but it was there that I composed an Open Letter to the King – Mohamed VI, that is – which went something like this:

Dear King,

            We’ve been advised of your goal to bring 20,000,000 tourists to your country by the year 2020. Now I know that you are not another Yisrael Katz (that’s our Transportation Minister back in Israel), all talk and not much to show for it. I assume that you have every intention of meeting your goal. If I may make a modest suggestion, made in the spirit of friendship and good will: Fix your toilets, especially the ones in the rural areas. We are now at a beautiful public park, lush, well-maintained, but your toilet facilities don’t cut it. Western women are not used to squatting over a hole in the ground, and that’s a fact. So do us all a favor, and provide your guests with lavatories that your Queen would be willing to use.

Your friend,

Fred Casden

Needless to say, I did not commit this to writing, and the king won’t get to see it. But he ought to. Think of all the ladies he would make happy.

There was another part to the park, some kind of fortress or castle that was way up high, involving a climb that some of our group declined to consider (including my charming spouse, whose knees were acting up). My knees were just fine, so I joined the rest of the group making their way up the uneven stone steps. I made a final turn, looked up, and this is what I saw. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3c0bWhat a view; what a place to take pictures of each other.

The sun sets early on a November day in Morocco – the way it does where I live and where you live. Time to gather the troops, do another head count on the bus, and drive to our next hotel, where we would spend the night. I think it was on this drive that we began to fully appreciate Said’s skill as a driver. We were going up, up, up into the mountains on a two-lane winding road, the only illumination (besides the bus headlights) coming from the light of the moon as it ‘rose’ over the mountains and through the bank of clouds. As Barbara would say, not a place to be driving if you’ve had a drink or two. Then on the top of the mountain, by Bin El Ouidane Lake, was the Chems Du Lac Hotel.

You’ll notice that I haven’t said a word so far about our different accommodations, because I’m not doing Trip Advisor. However, I did look up the hotel’s website two days ago to see what they had to say for themselves. Oooooooh, such fibbers! They claim that their ‘entrance’ is handicapped accessible. OK, I’ll give them that. Technically, you can reach the service desk in the lobby in a wheelchair, but that’s about as far as you can go, because all the rooms are down one or two flights of stairs (the hotel is built on the side of a mountain), and there’s no elevator. Repeat: there’s no elevator. Most of our group depended on the service staff to lug their suitcases down to their rooms. I, with my usual lack of patience, did it myself. A 4-star hotel? Imagine a ski resort in Vermont in 1950; very quaint, but it’s 2018 and the facilities could stand a little upgrading. In the hotel’s defense, it is smack dab in the middle of nowhere, and it would have to do for one night.

Another thing I haven’t mentioned was the weather. Every time it rained, which it did with some frequency, I was hoping that some of the precipitation would head eastward to The Land, because we sure do need it. (If you look carefully at some of the photos I’ve shared, you can see that it had been raining.) Most of the time, it didn’t matter that much. But Friday morning, it sort of did matter. We were heading to the ‘famous’ Ouzoud Falls. (Admire one of Morocco’s natural wonders via travel into the Atlas Mountains and witness the stunning 360-foot (110-meter) waterfalls as they plunge down rugged cliffs.) UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3c1bAs you would expect, the area around the Falls is as outdoorsy as you can get, and, after standing in the rain for a certain period of time at the lookout, everything about you becomes more than damp. That’s when we had a choice. Either go to another spot where there would be a better view of the falls, and where we could get to see some of the indigenous ‘Barbary apes’ (actually Macaque monkeys), … or go to a local establishment where we could get warm, have some Moroccan tea, and – most important – find a rest room.

Nine times out of ten, given this choice, I would have been with the monkeys. But I was cold and wet, needed a pit stop, and the sad truth is that I’m not as resilient as I used to be. Besides, the monkeys are smart enough to seek shelter from the rain.

So I let you down. The monkeys were out and about, climbing all over those of our group who braved the elements. As a consolation prize, here’s a video that somebody else took, in case you’re into macaques.

TGIF. Shabbat would be arriving; we needed to get going. Off to Marrakech.

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