Saturday, January 05, 2008
More vacation writeup! Elisa and Steve and Youssef and I started in Fes, entering through yet another Bab and seeing a part of the medina between where Martha and Susan and Youssef and I had been and where Helen and Rose and I had been. Not that there isn’t much, much more to explore, but this pretty much covered the beaten track. We started mid-Talaa Kbira, right near the herbalist, and stocked up there. On to the Nejjarine (carpenters’) fountain, supposedly the finest in Fes – there had been a painting of it in the riad in Rabat, and now was a chance to photograph it (I had been by there before but didn’t have a good picture). We also went to the Nejjarine museum, where we saw all sorts of artisanal wood items, and to a different tannery. By the museum we ran into all of the SBD PCTs, in Fes for swearing-in the next day. Elizabeth, the new volunteer in Timhadite, recognized me, and several others introduced themselves to me, but they were a swarm so I didn’t get to meet all of them. I am not going to lament that I didn’t go to their training, nor shall I lament that a day trip to Fes was not part of our final days as trainees! Elisa and Steve’s family is very musical and we spent some time looking for Moroccan musical instruments – I had bought a few early on and now think I might buy some more! On the way back to Azrou, we stopped in Sefrou for coffee with Rose and also with Bob and Linda, stage-mates from the very southwest corner of the country, who were vacation in the area with their son. We were planning to have the de rigueur rotisserie chicken, but there was just one piece of chicken left, so we supplemented that with kefta sandwiches, another crowd favorite.
Big weather difference in one week – it was cold in Azrou. Really cold. Especially in my apartment. I don’t know if it has been that cold since – or maybe it has, and since I am holed up here in the kitchen I can cope. Or maybe it was just that the first few days of really cold weather are always a shock, no matter how mentally prepared you are. Luckily, Steve and Elisa came physically prepared, with many layers – all of which they wore to bed, along with my blankets and sleeping bags! That did not deter us though. They slept late (my first jet-lagged friends – or maybe it was so cold they didn’t want to get out of bed! I know I have felt that way on more than one morning since). We went to the Escalade for pastry and to Bilal for coffee and then to the artisana. It was not a Friday so Youssef’s family was not making couscous, but they had us over anyway, for beef with prune tagine, one of the standards – another delicious meal with that wonderful family. Back to the artisana – Elisa and Steve had gifts in mind and had brought an extra suitcase and bubble wrap – and then to see the monkeys! I don’t usually feed wild animals, but the ones we went to see are so domesticated that they practically rely on tourists for sustenance – so I did it, and we had fun giving them peanuts. We ended the day at Abdou’s, where they bought a little rug made of cactus silk; it was one of a pair, and I decided to go by the next week and buy its partner!
Tuesday began early with coffee with Katie and Lauren, on their way to Rabat for COS, and Chris, the environment volunteer in Timhadite who came along to see Katie off. Katie was a part of our stage’s training in Azrou, she was the volunteer in our CBT site, she and I had had the same host family a year apart and came over for lftur almost every night in Ramadan while I was there, she kept me informed and involved in the doings of the cooperative and invited me to meetings and to do errands with her, she spearheaded the GLOW camp and got me involved in it, she listened to my woes and gave me advice, she shared some of her frustrations and successes with me. In short, she has been a key element of my experience here, and I will miss her. I have already heard from her (and have a good friend in Park City, where she lives, so I have a strong chance to see her again) and I hope to keep in touch. Lauren I always liked but didn’t see enough of! Chris is still here and we plan to play with the full-sized Boggle set that Katie bequeathed me (since it was my teeny-weeny Boggle that inspired her to request it). Katie and Lauren went on to Rabat, and Chris came with us to have bisara, the fava bean soup that seemed just the thing to fortify us for a day in the outdoors (it’s good to know that the bisara place opens at 7:00 in the morning!).
There are beautiful places to see right around Azrou – the Middle Atlas has a lot to offer – and many of these spots are most easily seen if you have your own vehicle. It was great that Steve and Elisa agreed to another Azrou day so that we could visit them, even though if you have just one week in Morocco they might not make the standard tourist’s short list. Of course, visiting a Peace Corps volunteer who is living here for two years means you are not going to get a standard tour! Plus Youssef has done a lot of trekking and guiding in the area so we could take advantage of his expertise. First we did what the book calls the Lakes Tour – Dayat Aoua, Dayat Hachlaf and Dayat Ifrah. It’s an area known for birds when the lakes are full, but the first two were dry – we need more snow and rain! Still pretty though. On to the Valley of the Rocks – I had seen pictures of these formations at my Azrou host family’s house and at Abdou’s shop, and now I have finally seen them in person! We stopped by Mischliffen, one of the two ski areas of Morocco – I still hope there’s enough snow to go this winter, but it is not a big mountain, and maybe I’m better off setting my sights on Park City when I return! On to Lake Ifnourir, another picturesque spot – I had seen pictures of it as well, as a big lake full of water. It was dry, and Youssef had never seen it dry; he was shocked and sad. We then found some water at Ouiouane, a nice lake with some ducks that the king’s sister hunts, and we had a picnic in the car (nothing wrong with a car picnic if it’s cold outside). Then we went to the source of Oum Rbia, the beginning of the longest river in Morocco. Here the water was gushing, and we took a hike along the rushing river to the waterfall. As I had in Ouzoud, we passed a lot of empty food stalls and camping areas right next to the river – and again, I didn’t mind being there without a huge crowd of tourists. My favorite stop was the last one, Zaouiat Ifran, with caves a cliff and waterfalls and a path marked with red paint – we hiked for a little while and then it was time to go; maybe I will get back there, but if not, it was a lot of fun and the end to a fulfilling day! Well, the end of the outdoors part that is – we came back and went to the hammam, which was a wonderful way to warm up. It was so good, in fact, that when Elisa came back she talked Steve into going. Prior to the trip I asked Youssef if he would take Steve if he was interested, and Youssef said that most of the American men are uncomfortable with it, but sure, he’d go. So we didn’t think Steve would be interested, and it took some persuasion, but Elisa was so happy to be warm that she was able to do it, and in the end Steve was happy he did it as well. We then made some pasta and also some brownies and a chocolate chip pan cookie (they had brought several bags of those very valuable chocolate chips!) that sustained us on the car rides for the remainder of the trip.
On to Merzouga for our camel ride! We stopped in Errachidia, saying hello to Rachel and to some new volunteers on their way to their sites. We also visited the artisana, which pales in comparison to Azrou’s. A showroom with a display of a smattering of items but not really much to sell or visible sales staff, and no working artisans. I would like to consult for the Ministry of Artisanat as a whole, not just for Azrou! Maybe I will work on that. Anyway, we then went on to Erfoud. Unfortunately, Frank had a visitor from the states as well and was out of town; I had been looking forward to having lunch with him. But we soldiered on without him – and met Hmad, the guide he had set us up with. We climbed into his 4x4 and drove up to the fort overlooking Erfoud and the Ziz Valley (the Ziz is the third major river of the south). The Tafilalet oasis near Erfoud is the largest in – Africa? I think so. We then went to the area where the Erfoud fossils are found – an ancient sea with all sorts of creatures frozen in black and brown marble. And then we went to a “camel parking lot,” where we loaded up. For M’Hmid I had not repacked – couldn’t think ahead as to what I might need and not need – and there happened to be a luggage camel; for Merzouga, we had to carry everything with us, so it is a good thing I had downsized into a smaller bag for the overnight.
We had a two-hour ride through big dunes. Rose had shown me pictures of the shadows of her and her friends on camels; I had wanted to take such a picture with Helen but the sandstorm meant no shadows. In Merzouga I took a bunch of shadow shots and a bunch of dune shots! We stopped to watch the sunset and then rode into camp. We had tea and played some cards and then had a delicious dinner and sat around the fire talking with the other guests (there were only two of them) and the guides. They brought out drums and put them by the fire to warm up – literally! We went out of the camp to see the stars – just one week later, the phases of the moon were such that we had moonless stars and Milky Way in the beginning of the evening and moon later, as opposed to the other way around. Where the M’Hamid camp had been lit by lanterns with candles, this one had a solar panel powering some lights! I had my own Berber tent, which was cozy, and we climbed the big dune to see the sun rise. At one point in the evening (deemed Best Moment of 2007 in the annual awards that Martha and I give out), I realized that I was totally and completely in the moment. I wasn’t thinking about what time we were going to leave the next day or what we were going to do next, I wasn’t thinking about the to-do list of things to do after the vacation, I wasn’t thinking about anything at all – I was really in the moment. And I realized how rare that is for me. I mentioned it to Janeila over New Year’s weekend and she said to hold on to that moment – I will try!
From the top of the dune we counted sixteen little tent communities – it was like Grand Central Station in the dunes! We did not get a feeling of isolation in the morning, since several neighbors were also climbing the tallest dune, though we did at night. Then again, looking beyond the campsites there were dunes and more dunes and we could also see the edge of the dunes and the beginning of the flat desert, so it was still pretty remote. After breakfast, we had a two-hour camel ride back out of the dunes and Hmad was waiting (so was a shower, but we hadn’t planned on that, so we just skipped it!). He took us to Rissani, a town on the other side of the dunes. Rissani is built on the spot where Sijilmassa, an important ancient Sahara trading town, was – not much of it is left. I have mentioned a lot of ruins of palaces and casbahs as I’ve seen them, so when I say not much I mean really not much. We went to the mausoleum of the founder of the reigning dynasty. And then I asked if we could go to one of the Erfoud marble factories – we had a tour and then ended up in the showroom. I bought some fossil-filled platters – I think they are just beautiful!