mountains beyond mountains
January 13, 2011 § 2 Comments
Exactly one week ago, Annea, Nicole and I tumbled onto a platform and made our way to the McDonalds, the most prominent landmark outside the Marrakech train station. My mother and aunt were waiting, my mom rushing to greet us like we were war heros. Indeed, our separation of two days- while they left for Marrakech and the three of us stayed in Rabat/Kenitra- was a bit like a battleground. We emerged unscathed, but my sisters gained the knowledge that a trio of unaccompanied women are seldom unnoticed. By Wednesday evening, we were looking forward to the double barricade of safety-in-numbers and having a male present. We spent three nights in the Palm Court hotel and our days exploring the Yves Saint Laurent garden, sampling all sorts of pastes and creams at the argan oil cooperative shop, and sipping on freshly squeezed juice the medina.
At 6:30am on our fourth morning, we met our driver, Mustapha, and burdened a van with luggage like it was a pack mule. We raced the rising sun and plunged straight into a 6-hour feast for our eyes: the High Atlas Mountains. After an appetizer of rising slopes and cream-colored stones, the road dished up a main course of snow-glazed mountains and a side of aged villages, then finally a dessert of desert. With a few hours before sundown, we saddled up on a half-dozen camels and headed into the Sahara. I’m not kidding. We went on a guided camel trek to a large dune and a makeshift oasis where we spent the night. Our guides provided large carpeted tents and a few candles, a delicious meal cooked on the fire, and after-dinner entertainment of drumming and dancing. Bundled against a cold not usually associated with the desert, we passed the evening dreaming of warm clothing we wished we had packed and wondering why we even bothered to bring toothbrushes and facewash at all. The beauty of a clear night sky, each vivid light a distinguished guest at a heavenly banquet, could be surpassed only by what our eyes beheld at sunrise the next morning. A silent desert spread before us, consoling us in its vastness after having tested our loyalty with the cold, cold night. The slowly rising sun made heating the sand a secondary priority after setting the dunes ablaze. Even if sand dunes could speak, I’m sure they never would. The curved half circles of the dunes are like enormous eye lids of a dreamer, fluttering ever so slightly and wrapped in deep slumber.
All too soon we were back in the van, this time zig-zagging through the Middle Atlas mountains. We were turning the pages of a book as we rounded each corner in the winding road and a new scene unfolded on the horizon. I tried my best to dogear the scenes that were so unusually varied. I was sure we crossed through parts of Washington, Northern California, Mars, and the Canadian tundra all in half a day’s drive. Sometime after nightfall, we arrived at the edge of the Fes medina. The Fes medina is the oldest and largest in all of Morocco, and motorized vehicles are not permitted within its walls. We spent two nights in a ryad tucked deep within the labyrinth. On our first full day we were guided to the major mosques and ancient universities, the world-famous tannery, the weavers, and various sections of trades and crafts. A highlight was the view of the city from the roof of what my sister aptly deemed a carpet mosemleum. That afternoon we wandered past shop keepers poised with tables of merchandise, tentacles to catch tourists drifting along in the sea current that channels through the narrow passages. The second day, my aunt and I woke early to wander the nearly deserted streets, with the objective of losing ourselves in the maze. After our morning crash-course, we people watched over coffee before returning to the ryad and the rest of our group for lunch and our drive to the airport.
Now the Morocco leg of my family’s trip to this hemisphere is over. We will be in Spain until the weekend. I probably will not be posting anything until I get back to Kenitra Sunday night, but I promise to make the wait worth it by uploading lots of photos. In the meantime, my sister Josie has been blogging about here time here as well. Please visit http://josieisinmorocco.tumblr.com/ and help convince her teachers to let her off the hook for missing school to come visit.