After Fes we had a travel day, heading south towards Midelt in the the Middle Atlas mountains, and it was a real mixed bag – some really nice bits, but also en route the place I liked least in all of Morocco.
We had a few stops along the way, and you could see the climate changing and changing again as we moved up in altitude. We stopped at a place our tour guide called “Switzerland” – basically a resort town (complete with pointy-roofed buildings) high enough up to get snow in winter, with lush green grass then (autumn) when most of the country was dry and dusty.
We also stopped at a grove of trees with a big group of macaque monkeys. After the run-in in Gibralter, we left our lunch in the van!
These ones were pretty much just hanging out, but people were feeding them, and there was rubbish everywhere, which was a bit sad again.
I really, really didn't like where we stopped for lunch – a to-me-nameless town whose main street was lined with near-identical stalls selling sad soft-looking yellow apples, clouds of dull smoke coming from grills, and persistent flies crawling over everything. Definitely the place I liked the least in Morocco.
The slow-cooked lamb tagines were apparently excellent, despite not looking like much. My tummy was still recovering so I ate my bread and banana, but I stole one of Melissa's potatoes – good veggies were hard to find!
I had a great chat to one of my tourmates in the van but after a long day of driving was still pleased to get out and stretch my legs after the last leg of the drive to our auberge (inn) near Midelt. After a bit of a rest our group went for a wander down to the small village nearby.
It's a good growing area, with apple and other fruit trees, lucerne hay (one pile rotting – they leave it outside, so when it rained, it ruined it), corn stalks; we see a woman husking a big pile of them by hand, but she isn't up for a photo.
(The locals out in the country are more traditional and the women we met were not keen on people taking photos of them, Brahim said for religious/superstitious reasons – but the kids of course loved it! Most were just interested in seeing us and entertainment, though one or two had a half-go at getting pens off us – don't think we had any.)
The village, Berrem (pop ~500) was pretty basic, boxy mud-coloured (adobe?) houses near a cliff over a river cleft, but even out here there was power – the king having set the goal of having the whole country electrified somewhere around 2010. The people who lived there seemed quite happy. Even in this tiny village the mosque had a loudspeaker on the top to call people in for prayer.
Back at the inn I got told there were some Spanish people chatting in the next room so I went in and introduced myself. They were a friendly trio of travellers, two having been to Morocco more than once before, and we had a nice chat in Spanish – though they were actually Basque so that's effectively their second language. They were kindly speaking much more slowly and clearly than most Spaniards so that I could actually understand them! Best conversation I've had in Spanish so far.
We ran into them as we were all leaving the next day and they gave us some beer-branded straw hats, which I and one of my tourmates wore around the rest of Morocco – still have mine and it's going strong! I gave them a kiwi keyring too :).
Pretty soon it was dinner time – I had a delicious dinde (turkey) tajine, with these sorta semi-raisined grapes from the vines hanging over the auberg courtyard.
I was having a really nice time, but wasn't at all keen on the evening's entertainment – a group of local musicians playing the local percussion/rhythm instruments. I really despised the resulting clatter- no groove, and every time it seemed like they were getting into some sort of good rhythm someone would change timing and fuck it up.
They had some dancers too, and tried to get everyone to go up – about 4 of us attempted to decline but the tour guide kept trying to get us to! Bonded with one of my tourmates discussing how extroverted people so often seem incapable of understanding that not everyone enjoys what they enjoy and wants to be like them!
I was pretty exhausted by the time we retreated to bed – Brahim having asked us to stay up for a too-long “special performance” at the end – which was exactly the same as the past couple of hours worth of clattering and shaking. Not thrilled.
Still, the food had been good, and it was great to sleep somewhere peaceful, quiet, and cool for the night.
The next day we trekked into the Sahara Desert!