Sahara and the Camels – Merzouga – May 10, 2017
We left early from Fes to go through the middle Atlas Mountains. Ifrane is a charming French-inspired wealthy town about an hour or so outside of Fes. It is much cooler than Fes, so many people have summer homes there. In the winter, there is a lot of snow and two ski areas. You could easily think you were in Tuscany with the red tile roofs, beautiful cherry orchards, rows of vegetables and flocks of sheep.
Interestingly, the gas station bathroom stops are very civilized. In the middle of the mountains, there are cafes inside that serve mint tea (very popular in Morocco), cappuccino, croissants and pastries. When we crossed the Middle Atlas, we stopped along the road to see dozens of monkeys, ready to enjoy the peanuts that a local vendor was selling. As you can see, Jim was very popular.
The landscape crossing the high Atlas plateaus reveal mountains with snow on them in the distance, while the ground is dotted with small shrubs, like New Mexico between Santa Fe and Taos. It is dry and brown. We stopped for fruit and bread to add to the meat and cheese we bought in Fes for our picnic lunch.
The picnic venue was a charming palm tree shaded area. We enjoyed our lunch and continued through canyons, which looked just like the Colorado/Arizona southwest. The next few stops took us to a few valleys that are known for delicious dates. With Ramadan coming soon, dates are an essential part of the feasting. Otherwise, the landscape view is pretty desolate, obscured by blowing and drifting sand. Hopefully, by the time we get to the hotel in the desert, the wind will abate, so our camel ride in a couple of hours will be calm.
We stopped in the middle of nowhere to get a bottle of frozen water and a scarf to use as a turban when on the camel ride. The wind picked up even more and the whipped up sand made traversing the road, covered in sand, quite difficult. When we arrived to the hotel in the desert, the camels were waiting for us. Our guide said it may be best to wait a while to see if the wind stops. In the end, we decided that we would wait until early tomorrow, for the sunrise, to go out on our camel ride.
We had a choice to sleep in a tent or a regular room. After checking out the tents, we opted for the room, with a shower and a/c. The younger folk mostly opted for the tents, while the more mature of us, decided to take the rooms. The floors are covered in sand, kind of like the beach, but no ocean! We will have dinner in the hotel, then a shower and bed.