Sunday, 9 March 2014

9th March

Barbary Ape above our car
We left Fes today and headed south towards the Sahara.  It took a while to get out of Fes as it’s a big sprawling city and the suburbs just stretch for miles.  We headed towards Ifrane, which sounded intriguing from our guide book.  It’s described as “Little Switzerland” as was built by the French in 1929 under the “Protecterate” years and is full of red tiled chalet style properties.  We thought it was horrendous and apart from stopping watch some Barbary apes playing in a garden, moved swiftly on. 

After Ifrane, we travelled through some stunning mountainous countryside with Aleppo pines and holm oaks at the lower altitudes being replaced by cedar forests as we got higher.  We even saw some snow, but not a lot.  We made a diversion to visit the famous Gouraurd cedar which is said to be 800 years old.  What a disappointment as it was teeming with people and the tree itself was long dead.  However, there were loads of Barbary apes there and they soon made a beeline for our car as
Impressive mature cedar trees
we had thoughtfully parked under a tree so were useful as a spring board.

I took over the driving after then and it wasn’t long before I got pulled over for speeding as was caught by a speed trap!  I was furious with myself as it’s my 1st ever ticket and I’m usually very careful about speeding, especially around towns.  I was somewhat mollified by Chris telling me that he also thought it was an 80km speed limit and not the 60km zone it apparently was. Oh well – these things happen.  Apart from having to pay an on the spot fine of about €25, we had to show various documents and then wait for 20 minutes whilst various forms and bits of paper were filled in.

Euphorbia rigida
We continued our drive through the mid Atlas Mountains, which was just jaw dropping.  Huge vistas opened up continuously in front of us with crumpled mountain ranges in the background.  We got to a huge arid plateau where we passed literally hundreds of shepherds with huge herds of sheep trying to find nourishment from the sparse short grass amongst the rocks and pebbles.  I spotted a few large tussocks of grass grouped together intermittently and at one point we passed an area covered in Euphorbia rigida – in full flower.  I grow that at home and can see that it would flourish in Portugal and should be planted more widely.

Arid plateau with High Atlas mountains in the background
Although we saw the snow capped High Atlas Mountains, we skirted them and just kissed their eastern flanks.  On the final part of the drive to Er-Rachidia we came via an impressive river gorge, but apparently will see much better later in the trip.  Our hotel tonight is nothing special, but clean and comfortable with great internet access so we’re happy.

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