Since we landed in Istanbul we have been privileged to see and experience so many wonderful things. But the last two days have left us speechless. Hamou from Morocco Explored picked us up from the Bab R'Cif, the gate of the Fes medina that had become our familiar porthole to the medieval labyrinth that had been a our temporary home for nearly a week. It was 8am. In the 10 hours that followed, until we mounted camels last night (see Johanna's blog), we encounter breathtaking scenery and saw people going about their ordinary lives in circumstances that defied our imagination.
Firstly the mountains: I have never considered gravel especially attractive. But imagine driving for hour after hour and seeing little else. Sometimes formed into the massive Atlas Mountains which form the barrier between the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean. Then we drive through gorges of similar scale and form as the Grand Canyon, then onto plains, flat as flat as far as the eye can see .... All dust and gravel.
As the hours go by, into the late afternoon sand dunes begin to appear on the horizon and sand drifts encroach onto the road. We swing offload. About 10 kilometers across rocks and sand and we drive into a sand storm. For a few minutes the bonnet of our 4WD is not visible. Our experienced driver, somehow knows which direction to drive in. There are no landmarks. It is just rocks and gravel. He explains ... You have to fix your eyes on the point on the horizon where you know you are going - and don't deviate. Easy to say when every 100 meters he is swerving to miss dips, rocks and obstacles. Miraculously, as we drive on, a kasbah style building appears through the dusty air on the horizon ....
The landscape is one thing, but that cities appear out of nowhere in this harsh environment is another. Infact some of the oldest cities in North Africa are down here. Just mindblowing.
Hamou, our driver has become our tutor on all things Moroccan. All along the way he answers our bewildered questions and slips into tour guide mode as he explains in detail the history and peculiarities of every town and landscape we drive through, diverging frequently into explanations of Moroccan culture.
At the end of the day, words, and slightly less so, photos, will simply be memory triggers for us on an extraordinary encounter with Morocco on the south side of the Altas Mountains. I will however encourage you to click on Maria's photos (twice) to get an inclining of the countryside in which we have found ourselves privileged visitors.