December 27, 2010 § Leave a comment
It was an unstructured trip at its finest. Though we had agreed on traveling to the mountains for some time, we were rather low on cash and concrete details. Sometimes it’s better that way. We deemed this voyage an “appreciation trip” because the cold and wet feet and lack of a plan helped us appreciate what we have in Rabat.
We shoved items in backpacks and scurried out of the Kasbah on Christmas afternoon, flagged down a taxi, and raced toward the train and a 1:17pm departure we were sure we’d miss. We arrived just in time to board the Fes-bound train. It took two stops to find open seats, near a restroom with a blocked toilet whose contents sloshed over the seat with every sway of the train. Three hours later we arrived in Fes with a light rain foreshadowing our weekend weather. Over hot harira, we weighed out our options. Our friends in Fes didn’t answer their phones, so we resolved to hop a taxi to a bus depot. We killed time first with a vegetarian tajine, most likely from the day before, then in a small café with raib (a yougurty, flany, snack) and coffee. The bus arrived. We had elected to take a bus with a rather reputable schedule, but it is more expensive than the local buses. It brought through the mountains to beautiful Azrou, but I couldn’t have known its beauty at the time. It was rainy and dark when we arrived. We were a bit like a new-age Mary and Joseph, wandering the streets in search of a place to stay. With the help of a kind woman, we found a few hotels. As we were checking in, we realized that neither of us had brought copies of our passports, a requisite for foreigners staying in hotel and hostels alike. I had my passport number written down, so my problem was less grave, but Lisa needed hers. Uhhhh. The hotel clerk was perfectly understanding and directed us to the police office where the officer seemed annoyed only at having to leave the office and escort us back to the hotel. He had no problem with it, and we checked in. Our room was minimal but sufficient; we shared a sink situated in the hallway where we used a propane tank to heat water.
When I took my first glimpse at the town the next morning, I loved it immediately. After a quick breakfast and nearly failed trip to a cash machine, we found our way to a grand taxi station. We had the driver drop us off at a “trailhead” leading to an old cedar tree we had seen in the hotel foyer. We began, following a slightly paved road for nearly 4km. The rain came and went as though the mountains were its stage and the rain was trying to practice its entrance. A few boys on donkeys tailed us before turning off-road. The road rose. We made it to a small tourist stop of fossil shops and monkeys. We continued up the road that had turned to dirt but offered no other sign of becoming the trail we had hoped for. The trees amused us for some time, but at one point I suggested we turn back but Lisa countered that we should at least round the next corner. What we saw made the rainy, muddy trek up the mountain worthwhile: snow. We explored, delighted to have found this small yet significant symbol of winter. For absolutely no reasonable reason, we decided to ascend a steep slope. As we slipped up the hill in our soaked tennis shoes, we hoped the view would reward us. We got to the top and found a white field extending into the distance. Not what we expected, but beautiful all the same.
Our return down the snowy hillside, down the mud road, past the tourist trap of fossils and monkeys, and down the winding pavement went much quicker than the ascent. We got back to the main road and flagged down a car that brought us to Ifrane. Ifrane is the lovechild of France and Austria; and a lovely place to spend the holidays for European tourists. The town seems tailored for such getaways, and though its parks and avenues were lovely, I preferred the smaller town of Azrou for its flavor and Moroccan-ness. After a quick tour of the city, we caught a grand taxi back through a mountain highway to Azrou. We collected our gear from the hotel, snagged some maqouda sandwiches to-go, and made our way, shivering, to the bus station. This time, we elected to take the local buses. Perhaps this observation is beyond obvious, but when you have time, local buses are the cheapest way to get around. The emphasis there is when you have time. It’s frustrating at times, but I really do enjoy the public transport philosophy here. There are schedules, but they are usually inconsequential because if the bus isn’t full, then you wait and if the bus is full, there’s no point in waiting. We waited for some time, having just barely missed the bus to Meknes. We finally reached Meknes, only to wait for yet another bus, Rabat-bound. Immediately after boarding, we put on dry socks and did our best to rest. I had a hard time with that. It’s not uncommon for people to blast music from their cell phones whether on trains or buses or walking down the street. It wouldn’t have been so annoying if there weren’t three such people, competing with each other and the sway of the bus.
All in all, a good trip even if it consisted more of buses than of hiking. Getting out of the city and seeing snow was enough to make Christmas a little more distinct than a regular day. I’ll post some photos and maybe even a video as soon as I get an ok internet connection.