Saturday, August 11, 2007

Saturday August 11 - back to the usa...

It is barely Saturday when the alarm goes off at 3am. I am awake for some reason and we manage to finish packing, shower, have a bit of breakfast (we feel sorry for the poor man who had to bring it to the room at 330am). Our ride is prompt at 415am, and it is a short trip to the airport. As Mark predicted the airport is pretty shut down – all of the parking lots are closed off and so the driver has to leave us at the street. By some miracle he pulls out a luggage cart – thank goodness considering what our bags weigh. We make it over to the door only to be told we need to go to Terminal One. Pleased to have one more chance for an Urban Trek we walk back through the empty parking lot, down a long road of construction and around to the doorway for Terminal One. This is where the action is – lots of people pushing and maneuvering to get into the best position in line. As soon as it settles another counter opens and everyone in the back of the line charges to be first in the new line. The lines never moves and it just takes a long time to finally check in. We finally make it to the gate (where we can’t buy water because they won’t take USD and we have no dirhams left), then onto the plane and fast asleep in our seats.

We are currently sitting in the beloved Casablanca Airport where we have a 4 hour layover…. Guess its time for some very expensive chips...

Friday August 10 – flying solo

Steven and Sam presumably made it off at 4am; Frank, Gladys and Mallory leave for Spain at 11 so we have breakfast together (I am afraid to eat anything still) After we say goodbye and Frank has refilled my Imodium stash, Mark takes Mira, Leo and I off on an Urban Trek – we walk from the hotel to the medina to finish our shopping. Crossing the street is an interesting experience – it seems the cars and mopeds actually speed up as they approach us in the middle of the road making it a real challenge to get across. But we do, several times. First stop is the rug shop, then deeper into the souk back where we were yesterday, to finish what we started… I think about an hour is all one can take before feeling confused here! Our cab ride back – just my family of 3 since it is all a cab can hold, and Mark is walking back to his house – is an experience in itself. Mark carefully instructs us to not pay the driver anything unless he turns the timer on, and it should cost about 10 dirham. The driver refuses to turn his timer on, if fact signals to us to get out (presumably if we don’t like it) and says he wants 20 dirham for the ride. In the end I tell him to drive on; we get to the hotel and pay him 15 dirham which is all I have. I expected him to have a fit but he shrugged and drove away. Hm.

The rest of the day – hot, sunny, lunch by the pool and then a scuffle over lounge chairs with a French couple and the pool boy. After showers Mira and I go for henna tattoos, then we meet with Mark for a farewell beer. Dinner is room service! And bed is early.

Thursday August 9 – into Marrakech

Today: Overslept, had been up all night anyways as the Imodium seems to wear off about 2am. It is grey and raining; Everyone says they have never seen a rainy day in August. We have a second guide today, a Moroccan woman named Naim who speaks little English, but is very pleasant and willing to learn new words. After a ride into the medina – the old city – we begin our walk. We visit the Bahia Palace, and the burial place of kings. We stop by the Rrad – a bed and breakfast – that Naim manages for a French couple and get to see a more traditional kind of accommodation while enjoying a cup of mint tea in a dry place! We visit a community oven where families who don’t have one bring their bread for baking. Then on to the Medersa, a traditional Islam boarding school for boys, no longer used. The rooms are very small, but slept 4 in each. The tile work is beautiful in all of these places, and the doors and ceilings are magnificent cedar creations.

Lunch is Italian food – pizza even! – but I am still afraid to eat. The afternoon we explore the souks – long narrow dark alleys full of every kind of craft and item you could dream of. This is where a second guide really comes in handy because one wrong turn and we would probably never find out way back! In one spot there is a heap of twisted metal – the iron workers nest – next to a lovely arranged shop of metal lanterns. In the leather souk the smell is pretty bad; in the jewelry souk there is both junky stuff and beautiful silver. It is not always easy to tell the difference and the sincerity with which the sellers promise it is the very real thing at the very best price is astounding. A familiar chant: A small shop with a small price. There are shoes and bags and clothing and housewares and it is so overwhelming! It is easy to lose track of what you want and just become enveloped in all the possibilities. We visit a ‘pharmacy’ of spices, and a shop full of beautiful handmade djellabahs (but no one buys one!). We finally make it out to the big square where taxis zip through aimlessly and snake charmers draw crowds with their pythons and vipers. There are also monkeys, and one man with a table full of human teeth and a few examples of the dentures he could make for you. You can buy food or fresh squeezed orange juice. Sometimes there are acrobats but we don’t see any. We wind our way through and back to the van for the ride to the hotel, tired from a long and fascinating day.

A nice hotel dinner after which the adults retire, and the kids gather for a last evening’s hanging out. I hear that it didn’t break up until after 11 – and Sam had to be up at 3!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Wednesday August 8 -return to Marrakech

A miscellaneous photo....

It is probably not a good sign that I have caught on to my day / date error – now I am right on track, knowing today is Wednesday, August 8. My scrapes are healing (though something is still oozing from beneath a toe nail…) and the bright red burn on the back of my neck has now peeled off. I had to buy a new shirt in order to not wear the same thing for the zillionth time. My bag is heavier and most of it is dirty laundry (though there are some rocks too). Vacation must be winding down.

This morning we began the drive back to Marrakech, sad to say good bye to Essaouria. The ride is a combination of gazing out on other worldly landscape, and dozing off to dreamland. We make a couple of stops along the way – one a beautiful vista of Essaouira for a proper goodbye, another at a simple rest stop with clean bathrooms and cold coke (but no change – you ALWAYS need to have exact change here!). After lunch (yet another meal) we visit the Majorelle Gardens created by a 20th century French painter of the same name who came to Morocco to cure his asthma and fell in love with the place. Majorelle was the first artist to create posters to promote tourism in Morocco! The gardens were restored and renovated in the 80’s by Yves Saint Laurent who owns the property today (I think…). The gardens are beautiful but mostly full of imported plants – bamboo forests abound. The buildings are a bright deep blue, a brilliant contrast to the red required by city ordinance for all buildings in Marrakech.

Then the afternoon is whiled away by the pool, very wonderful to sit and read and doze.

Tonight is our farewell dinner – The Friedlanders have to leave at 430am to catch their plane on Friday, so we are leaving Thursday evening for a more sedate event. We drive to the medina, the old city and walk down a dark narrow alley to a renovated home, a palace if I had to name it – a gorgeous courtyard and stairs up to a terrace with tables and wonderful lighting – then up again to the rooftop where we drink the local cocktail – something with crème de menthe and a Moroccan alcohol that tastes of anise (I’m sure the equivalent to Rake and Ouzo but sorry I can’t remember the name) and some kind of juice – it was pretty interesting!! There was a musician who Mark has known for years – oh, Mark knows everyone - a man named Brahim who plays a hajouj, a four stringed instrument. With him was a man playing indescribable percussion. They played fantastic jazz! Brahim is on a Led Zeppelin album and has been around for awhile – and now he is with us on this cool beautiful night for our farewell dinner.

At the end of the set we go down a flight to the dining area and lots and lots of little tapas style dishes come out as the first course. Vegetables and little meat turnovers and pickled things and liver and even brains (Leo ate some) and olives and most everything yummy. This is when we went around the table and each person said what their favorite and least favorite part of the adventure was. Almost everyone loved the camp the best (or finally arriving there!) – the least favorite ranged from the 30 minutes prior to getting to camp to the hike up the hill to the Kasbah which was longer than anticipated. It is always interesting to hear where we struggled and where we rejoiced.

Next course – Pigeon in crepes, received with a slightly more solemn approach but almost everyone ate it! Then a lamb tajine and couscous with roasted vegetables, so delicious. Moroccan wine was being poured freely and was quite tasty. Dessert was a variety of cookies and mint tea – and then the belly dancer came out. She was quite entertaining – at the end of her performance Leo said “uh, can I change what my favorite part of the trip was?” which made everyone laugh.

This was a very good day, and a terrific farewell dinner – except I can see the sad places where we think about saying good bye. Everyone is talking about where we might go next summer, or how we might go hike the Smokies with Steven and Sam, or how Mallory will be in Boston to visit colleges… all the ways the goodbye can be shortened.

This was a very good day.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Monday Aug 6 – Essaouira

Note my shirt for which I must apologize... Leo found it in his bag and doesn't know where it came form. Anyone claim it?

This Sofitel by far has the best beds of any we’ve slept in (we all agree). Each one is an oversized twin but not quite a double and made up with a luxurious duvet, thick but light and with a crisp white cover. The staff is unendingly friendly and always agreeable even if they don’t have a clue what you’re saying, and the pool is not too cold – though the wind this afternoon could have knocked your socks off. In hopes of blocking ourselves off from the wind we moved from the pool area up a flight of stairs to the upper deck which has a low wall around it making it more protected, and hammocks as well as lounge chairs for curling up in. I can feel my muscles getting softer by the minute.

Wandering through town this morning in search of Thuia wood trinkets was a blast but I would have been helplessly lost had others not had some better sense of direction. Even though Mark says the city is laid out in a grid I could not at all follow where we were in relation to anything else. But we found all of the places we wanted to revisit from yesterday and found some new good spots too. There were lots of women offering henna tattoos, but we never seemed ready to stop and sit for one. Excellent people watching - especially as it got to be lunch time there were thousands of people milling about. Surprisingly, Mark – who is enjoying a day off – found us in the masses before drifting off to find himself some food.

Dinner last night was in an open air oceanside restaurant where most of us ate the catch of the day – something Mark called ‘Saint Pierre’ and seemed surprised we didn’t know it. Tonight we eat at the hotel and then – alas – pack up to leave in the morning for Marrakech.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Village visit

A late start today – we do not head out until 10 which gives everyone the opportunity to sleep in the a/c until we wake naturally, and lounge at the outdoor breakfast where the bees are drawn to the honey soaked pancakes delivered to the table. Last night there was a wedding going on at a neighboring hotel and the festivities –including loud cheering and banging of drums – went on until 3am. Hopefully this is the last, and not the first, of the 3 days a Moroccan wedding takes.

So we begin our walk into the village where we meet Charif, our local guide. He walks us around the village through narrow paths of olive trees and blooming oleander bushes, with the hot buzz of cicadas all around us. There are chickens and children and women and even a dog or two. These homes are adobe which only lasts about 100 years so carbon dating does not work here, but it is known this area has been populated for as long as 2,000 years. We see a very old olive press, and a much newer French game warden’s station – boar, hare, and large horned sheep are all hunted in these mountains. We are invited into a family’s home – Fatima, dressed in 3 layers of sweater and a long skirt graciously tours us through her home – 3 rooms all tidy and spotlessly clean. They have made fresh bread and mint tea for us so we settle into a sitting room. There is a choice of fantasic homemade honey or olive oil for dipping the bread. I am so hot I am soaked through my clothes, and I do not know how Fatima dresses the way she does. Mark says they wear more than we do in the summer, and less than we do in the winter. There are 6 family members living here, and two more sleeping rooms we did not look into.

After lunch at an open air restaurant, we head back to La Rosaraie for the pool and some reading. Our kids make friends with a family of kids from London and play for hours in the pool while we adults read and nap and occasionally take a dip ourselves. No one takes advantage of the spa, but this feels like such a restful, easily paced day we are all very happy. Our dinner is in the garden again. We pull out the map and mark where we trekked, about half an inch. Clearly we need a better map. Mark says it was about 30 miles, I am quite certain he is wrong and it just feels a shame to be leaving this great place!

Sat August 4 - On to Ourigane

This morning we pack up and check out of the Kasbah. Turns out everything in the minibar was included in the price of the room – quite a unique system (though no alcohol is available here; it is all coke and other various sodas and water). If this were New York they might ask if you would like a cab; At the Kasbah when you are ready to leave they ask if you would like a mule to help get your luggage down the hill. We have 3 to carry the bags for the 9 of us. At the bottom of the hill we board a van that takes us to the trail head. It is hot, so hot today I think it must be the highest temperature we’ve had – but in the end I think it’s just humidity added to the mix. Anyway we begin the climb – another one of Marks ‘gentle rises’ that leaves us panting and on the verge of heat stroke (OK I’m exaggerating slightly). Through the narrow pathways of a village there are various doorways and occasional women and children to say bonjour to. It’s very fun when there are kids who giggle helplessly when you smile or wave at them. Sometimes if they think you’re about to snap a picture they shriek and run. Photos are still a big no no.

Finally the path levels out and I can begin to catch my breath – it is distressing to not have this get any easier after all these days of trekking (hasn’t it been months now??). When we reach a large flat field of thyme and juniper trees (and some shade!) we stop for lunch. When we break like this we all tend to remove our shoes and socks – to let everything including our feet to dry out – and this is no exception. I prop my shoes behind me for a pillow and lie down, not caring at all about all the goat droppings all over the place. It feels fantastic to be in the shade and lying down!! Oh the small pleasures in life. Lunch is great as usual (have I mentioned the Pringles which are ever present and a favorite even though we all say we never eat them at home). As we are eating sure enough the herd of goats shows up with a couple of boys behind. I can never get enough of watching the goats. The rest in the shade gives us new strength – then the realization that it is all downhill from here is even better. Another two hours of scrabbling over rocks and dusty mule trails and we come to a salt mine where small pools are evaporating leaving the salt behind. Then another level 30 minutes to the road where Mark calls for the van to come pick us up. We are pretty darned tired and sweaty (though the cloud cover has saved us this afternoon for the most part). My shoes, once mossy green are now a Moroccan red from the mountain dirt. When we pile into the van Lasen and Saaid say they are unexpectedly leaving us here, and there is a sudden goodbye. They have been a great addition to our experience, and Mira gives Saaid her plastic bracelet with the saints on it to go with his Jesus hat.

The van delivers us about 10 minutes later to our hotel with its ‘bucolic rose gardens’ which it certainly has – along with tennis courts, pools, horseback riding, and spa. We’re divided between napping in our air conditioned rooms and the pool – two things that make us feel we have certainly reentered civilization – then later all meet up for dinner. The meal is served out in a garden of roses with a small fountain, a low table with beautifully embroidered tablecloth and napkins, and two firm cushions each for us to sit on. Even with our achy muscles having a hard time getting into position it’s a magical setting.After salads and tajines and orange mousse for dessert (YUM) we all head straight to bed.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Friday August 3, 2007 Pilgrimage to Sidi Chamarouch

Delighful breakfast at 8am this morning. I have not fully described the Kasbah, though I may not be able to exactly. Originally a fort, it is now owned by a man who both offers dorm rooms to school groups, and has added rooms for hotel guests as well. Sam and Steven’s suite is back down the pathway then DOWN stairs and around a corner and down again then up then around then – voila! Their two story mansion. I even hear when they got back today their laundry was washed dried and folded! And after all I went through trying to do it myself yesterday.

Anyway, I digress. Breakfast is outside of my room, up those few stairs to the rooftop open deck and they are serving fresh bread, cheese, hard boiled eggs, jam and honey, yogurt and fresh squeezed OJ. We are all there, but Gladys has decided she will not join the pilgrimage. I am almost jealous but still cannot say I am staying behind too. So we tape up our toes and load up our water and head out on the trail. It is hot, maybe the hottest day yet, and the steep path exhausts me right away, I just cannot get the hang of pacing myself. Some of the begining is scary – those narrow slippery paths again with the big drop off the side – but then the road widens then we cross a huge flat field of stones, then up a sandy rocky path on and on and on and on… there are lots of people going in both directions, and many mules laden with all kinds of gear. It is always a relief to HAVE to stop to let someone by, especially if you can find a hint of shade to pause in. Most of the Moroccans are in flip flops or little satin slippers – I have no idea how they do it. We get to the shrine after 2 and a half hours, less than the 3 Mark predicted. The are is highly populated – camp sites, little shacks selling Fanta and jewelry, a nice river running through but on close inspection it seems pretty polluted with trash. Moroccans have not yet bought into recycling, or even trash collecting I guess. The shrine is a large whitwashed boulder we cannot enter of course because we are not Muslim but it is in full view of our corner picnic area. Another fantastic Moroccan lunch is prepared by our team, now down to a couple of mules and 3 men, Lessan, Saaid, and someone whose name we have never quite gotten. The rain starts, a drizzle then harder then just as we pull out the ponchos it stops.

We head back – though Mira and Mark continue UP, just for the heck of it. The rest of the kids are too anxious to return to their Monopoly game, and the adults are completely wasted we don’t mind saying. The downward path is not very tricky and we get back in one piece though we get pelted with rain one more time. It is 3PM. Those steps entering the Kasbah – they are cruel!! And knowing I have to go down them again to get to the ‘boutique’ makes me less likely to go shop (though they do donate a part of the proceeds to helping Moroccan girls attend college).
We’ve scattered for showers, Mira and Mark are back now, the other kids are ensconced in Monopoly in Steven’s suite which has become the game room, and life is just plain old good. Hope it is as nice back in the USA – a million miles away from where I am now! Singing: ROCK the Kasbah, ROCK the Kasbah……

Thursday - Trekking to Imlil

What day is it? I am sitting here at Kasbah Toukbal, in Steven and Sam’s SUITE (won by a flip of the dirham) with crazy music playing on the wall mounted speakers, everyone at the table playing French Monopoly, I am watching the washing machine, again a French thing with French directions… this is the second run of trying to get it to do something resembling washing a few pairs of socks and shirts which may never ever reach clean again anyways. We have eaten a fantastic dinner of chicken tagine with great bread and olives and a Moroccan soup first (actually they call it “Moroccan Soup”). Ah, I see soapy water in the front loader this is a good sign. It is 930, I am so ready for bed.

Today we were awoken in camp with cups of hot mint tea, then we packed up for the trek (interesting word, we are discovering) of about 3 hours down from our camp site, through the parts that made me weep yesterday they were so scary, then finally onto a lovely two lane level road, sandy and rocky in parts but never the less easy. We walked and walked and walked, the scenery amazing, from rocky mountainsides to oasis like greenery, groves of trees then barren fields, women bent in half carrying 100lb loads of cut grass back home, stepping nimbly over the rocky paths in silky slippers, small children and a few cows in tow. Our road winds in hairpin curves as we descend the mountain, then we begin another upward swing towards the pass where another fantastic lunch should await us. Except we beat the mules there. Though we had a relaxed start to the day I think breaking down camp and loading up the mules to follow us was not an easy task for The Boys as we call them. They are working like crazy. This stopping point at 2 hours is where a tiny bit of a stone shack has a boy selling Fanta (the Coke is sold out) and an overhang with some actual shade, and a bench to sit on to enjoy it.
One thing I have begun to appreciate as I go along the dusty roads and paths is the delicious feeling a bit of shade can give you even as you simply pass it, a refreshing cooler breeze if even for a moment. Here at the pass however, there are many Frenchmen on the benches so we sit in the sun for awhile waiting for them to leave, and our mules to arrive. Which they do, after we enjoy a Fanta each (we need the sugar!). The Moroccan lunch gets set out again, this time with lentils added to the salad plate and a delicious melon for dessert. I keep thinking I don’t need to eat but then it gets presented to me….and haven’t I earned it after all??
We rest for awhile then continue on, Mark says we are more than halfway to Toukbal. As we drop over the pass we go through pine forest and it is so different to see the green after all of the barren mountain terrain we have slogged through. Water spills down from the mountains in little rivers which spill across our path – the moistness of it a new kind of refreshing feel. Looking back at where we’ve come from is almost unbelievable, but sure enough after another 90 minutes we pass through a shaded street and enter the town of Imlil which seems full of tourists from Marrakech (Mark says). Again, our mules have not arrived and so we enjoy some people watching for quite awhile while Mark tries to figure out the logistics. We meet a man anxious to sell us goods (as they all are) who says his name is Harry. Like Harry Potter he says.
We can see our hotel - the Kasbah – at the top of the hill, just waiting for us. Unfortunately the resting makes my muscles freeze up and so the walk uphill to the Kasbah – about 20 minutes - is torturous and makes me pretty cranky.
We enter the Kasbah through a gate, then go up some steep steps (REALLY hard after trekking 5 hours to get here!) then down a pathway through the gardens and past low buildings then into the main building. There are a couple of public rooms with low sofas and Moroccan pillows – and another stairway UP to the level where my room is, around the corner and DOWN a few stairs to get to it (we long ago identified our Up muscles and our Down muscles, and both are done for the day) and finally there it is, with a bed and a bathroom and a shower and everything!! As I peel off shoes and socks I find amazing blisters – I’d like to think mine are the biggest but in fact Mira has two raw heels and one big bubble of a blister larger than the toe it sits on. No exaggeration. It’s not clear how we will work this out to enable walking tomorrow but neither of us wants to miss the pilgrimage walk so we’ll have to come up with something..

On our way to Tachdirt

Up and out at 830am for our trek up in to the mountains for our night of camping. We are all very excited, too excited perhaps to ask about what the day will be like, except that Mark says it will be about 4 hours all together to our camp site, up above Tachdirt village, and we’ll be there for lunch. Some of the mules are waiting outside the hotel for us – there will be 7 of them in all, some loaded with tables and chairs and bottles of water and tents and everything else needed for the road, the rest to be loaded with our duffels (we are feeling pretty badly for these mules who each carry about 200 lbs of stuff, and we all wish we had packed less except for Mira, Sam, and Steven all of whom could not possibly have brought smaller bags than they did).

We set out eagerly, out across the fields, the sun already feeling hot this early in the morning. The first part is road, then it becomes narrow rocky slippery path as we climb higher, panting. It varies between really hard to oh this isn’t so bad. Mostly it seems the description of ‘gentle and well defined mule path’ was meant mostly for mules and not adult humans.. At one point we see a car approach – tourists wondering where the road goes, and Mark has to say ’nowhere’ . As they have a pleasant chat we watch a Moroccan man, desperate for a sale, buzz up the hill on his moped, chasing the car, arm outstretched with a fistful of necklaces. Sadly he had to return without even the money to cover his fule expense for such a foolish endeavor. But it was funny to watch, in the middle of nowhere. I don’t even remember all of the hike. Hairpin turns, zig zagging pathways, higher and higher, so narrow and intimidating you could not take your eyes from the path. Finally we crested and began the descent (it is an amazing thing to actually climb OVER mountains!) but again, down has its drawbacks. It’s steeper and more intimidating. The kids are way ahead with Mark, Lasen holds up the rear to cover the wavering, more timid adults. If I wanted to see the view – awesome, breathtaking – I had to stop and brace myself against the stones to my right in order to not fall to my death to my left (or vice versa). It was easy to feel annoyed at the kids who would clearly be done with it all way before me. Even the easier parts were tricky – once I found myself crashing to the ground for no apparent reason, luckily no more badly hurt than scrapes, but it took me quite a long time to recover any trail confidence after that!

Finally we came to the village of Tachdirt, accessible only by foot. What had looked almost modern from a distance was really very old, mud caked stone buildings on several levels, with a few courtyard areas with roosters and chickens milling about. I have fallen behind a bit and am alone in a courtyard as three women enter all dressed in beautiful robes. We say Bonjour, then they begin fast talking - I shrug to say I don’t understand, and they laugh and laugh. Many small children came out from every corner, dressed in a variety of hand me downs that could be American, to traditional Moroccan dress. The begging began, in French. Though I could not tell what they were asking for in specific, I knew it was money, my handkerchief, my cap, or my earrings. These kids are beautiful with bright green eyes and dark hair and we all want to take pictures but that brings a chorus of ‘no no no no no no’ as they wag a finger at us. They follow us all through the village, along a narrow path, begging all the while until we reach some boundary and they hang back as we continue on. I am thinking now that we’ve passed through the village we must be close to camp. Our mules have passed us and 3 hours have gone by. But alas, Lasen says another 45 minutes, and points upward to a path more wicked than ever. So steep, so narrow, such a long fall off the side. The front group speeds ahead and I find myself mostly alone again (though there are some further back as well). Zigzagging up up up, worrying about falling down down down…. Well I did make it after all but it was a long time before I arrived at camp, and a trek of 4.5 hours in total. I did eat lunch but was mostly interested in getting into my tent for a snooze…. as Mark was teaching us Ronde, the traditional Moroccan card game (perhaps not spelled correctly) I could feel my eyes closing. We all ended up getting out tents arranged and just then the rain came down, hail actually… so it turned out to be the perfect time for a nap! Ah, that law of attraction.

Later things cleared – since nothing lasts long in the mountains – and the kids bathed in the icy river (I soaked my feet, and a couple of people enjoyed the shower tent with a bucket of hot water) then we had a beer chilled by the same river, and later an amazing dinner of pasta with red sauce made with mushrooms and artichoke hearts. Mark says it took a long time to teach Saaid to make a good red sauce – the first efforts always had carrots and potatoes in it, to make it more like a tagine, a traditional Moroccan meal. Our conversation was of things like: What was the time you were the hottest and the coldest? Or What is the best meal you ever had? Then thank goodness BED, after gazing up at a zillion stars in a huge sky. Camping out never felt so good.


…but what a night’s sleep! The rooms have no a/c or fans and there is quite the heat wave rushing through even the mountains here. The front part of the room is a slanted chalet style, all glass, designed of course to create heat in the winter. The windows open but the cooler night air doesn’t enter the room unless the door – on the opposite side of the room – is open too. So it’s hot, but if you lie very still it is tolerable. Once in awhile there is a puff of cooler air. Then around 1am the dogs start. Seems like a veritable village of dogs, howling and barking all night long. Someone must be in heat. It is almost a relief when it’s time to get up. After breakfast we gear up for our hike to Tizi Atar – Mark has pointed out the switchback path on a distant mountain, something we have to squint to see. I don’t think I really believed that’s where we are headed but sure enough – 3 hours later – we made it to our destination, a high mountain pass with breathtaking views in all directions. The path was actually a road – rocky and dusty but easily manageable. We started at 8,000 ft and moved pretty slowly on the inclines. Well I should say the adults did, the kids were like mountain goats sprinting up the path, making us look bad. Along the way we met up with Lasen, Mark’s sort of point man though he kept up the rear, and then later – after the mules passed us laden with the makings of our lunch – Saaid, the best cook in the High Atlas according to Mark, and a devout Muslim with a wry sense of humor as illustrated by the cap he wore which announced “Follow Jesus”. The day is beautiful and we enjoy the varying views, passing tiny groupings of stone houses, going higher and higher. As we turn the final corner there is the lunch awaiting us – a table set with tablecloth, chairs, glasses – delicious Moroccan salad of chopped peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and asparagus with cumin sprinkled on top, fantastic cheese, fresh bread, and canned mackerel and pate (goose pate is very big here). Sitting felt great though I had really hoped to lie down for a rest – but alas the ground was covered in rocks with no soft area to be seen. I managed a 5 minute power nap while sitting up in my chair, knowing I had to shore up for the trip Down which always turns out to be harder than going Up. Indeed, though it was easy to stop for water, or to apply sun block or to take a photo, that brief pause would suddenly leave 50 yards distance between me and those ahead. And there was no slowing the kids, those little mountain goats. Finally, finally we could see the hotel again, and then the road just kept on going. Was it really this far on the way up? By the time I got to the hotel it was all I could do to make it to the elevator to ride two floors to my room. Leo was already asleep; I showered then passed out as well for a good 3 hours. I think we woke up in time for dinner and bed!

Off to the mountains

This is our guide Mark!
Last night our group was complete and we had the official kick off dinner in the hotel restaurant. This is definitely another country with big meals involving many courses, each one being almost enough for a meal in itself. I have a nice cold soup – zucchini – then lamb couscous – then a bite of Mira’s warm chocolate volcano cake. Not ordering dessert is the first step in learning to not eat every course. Our guide Mark is an ex-pat – grew up in Cleveland but came to Morocco 30 years ago with the Peace Corps teaching English as a second language to high school students. When his time was up he stayed, married, had a family, and met Judi Wineland (owner of Thomson Safaris and Family Adventures). As far as I can tell it was Judi who started him off on adventure travel and he has not looked back. Fluent in Arabic and French he has a fascinating local yet American view of Morocco. As he says, he’s lived here longer than anywhere else in his life. Then much as we talk about a swim, or a peek at the casino I think we all head straight to bed after dinner is over (meals take awhile…)

This morning we had another great breakfast in the garden. We check out of the hotel and climb into the van for the ride to the mountains. We stop first at Marjan, the French version of Walmart – a sprawling store with Everything. I need a flashlight for the camping night, Mira gets a fantastic Dora the Explorer soft lunch box to use as a camera case ($3 as opposed to the $30 they wanted for the real camera case, and much more cool) and Leo find a pair of funky $4 shoes. Then back on the road. Jose is our driver, the van is comfortable though just big enough for all of us. Good a/c until we begin the serious climb into the mountains, which requires we turn it off. The air is cooler in the mountains so it’s not too bad. I think most of us doze but the scenery is great – red rocks and dirt as well as buildings and villages. We arrive at our chalet style hotel – a kind of funky Moroccan spot, a haven for skiers in the winter. No internet, no a/c. We walk down the hill to JuJu’s, a restaurant / bar for an enormous lunch. We are beginning to practice our hand washing in earnest. After salads and tangines (sort of like a slow cooked stew) we start our walk to see the petroglyphs which a local expert, Ali, leads us to. The drawings are anywhere from 2000-5000 years old and are carved into the hill of sandstone. The somewhat steep climbs leave me gasping for air… Mark has said at 10,000 ft you are at 50% oxygen – we’re at 8,000 so maybe I can blame it on that. He also said the UV rays are twice as strong which explains why I am harping on the kids about sunblock and annoying Leo in particular. Anyway on our walk Mira found an interesting clump of long black hair still stuck to scalp, and Leo found a partial jaw with teeth, presumably from goats, both now resting in a baggie in Mira’s backpack. The views are great, the mountains look round and inviting, and tomorrow we’ll do a hike up one of them.

Sam says the best part of today was the rocks and Mallory agrees; Frank says it was the petroglyphs and thinks Gladys would say it has to do with having the scopolamine patch on during the winding drive up the mountain… I loved Marjan! Now we are ‘chilling’ in the hotel lobby talking and thinking about a nap before dinner. I walked back to JuJu’s – and the WiFi – to post this entry, but alas no more WiFi…something about a man taking off for Marrakech and not paying a bill… so now we are indeed isolated from the world, and you all will read this days later.

Our dinner is in the echo-y restaurant - We seem to be the only ones here maybe because this is mostly known as a ski resort and it is less popular in the summer. Afterwards the kids seek out the pool – indoors and ice cold so no one goes in. Early bed is very appealing…