Lost in the Atlas

Days: 465 (3 October 2015)

Total distance travelled: 123,753.6 kilometres (76,865.57 miles)

When one thinks of Morocco, cool mountain valleys and snow are certainly not images that spring to mind, yet despite this, our first stop after leaving Fes behind and heading into the Atlas Mountains, was a university town referred to as ‘Little Switzerland’.

This was Ifrane, and it was indeed a much cooler climate in a lovely mountain setting (although no snow at this particular time of year), however for mind, we lingered a little too long as there really wasn’t all that much to do here (but I guess others enjoyed the time to sip an overpriced coffee).

Our visit was highlighted (or given its sad tale, highlight is probably not the appropriate word) by a beautiful statue of an Atlas, or Barbary Lion.

This North African sub-species has been hunted to extinction in the wild (there were attempts to breed zoo captives with other lion species, however I’m not sure how successful the program ever was), and became one of the first poster boys of animal conservation globally (much like the Panda or Orangutan today).

A little further on, the sad tales continued, as we had another brief sojourn at wooded (at this elevation, mostly conifers) picnic ground.

Here we would encounter another famous North African animal…

From the lost Barbary Lion… (left) to the Barbary Macaque (right)

From the lost Barbary Lion… (left) to the Barbary Macaque (right)

Years of human visits, and obviously tourist feedings have made these animals not at all fearful, at best disinterested and at worst obnoxious (as in they will harass for food) towards human presence.

Nowhere was this more evident than with the scant enough, but poorly designed waste recepticals, which with no secure cover, were now little more than free for all digs for these primates with a taste for human food.

Still, to see them interact with one another, it was hard not to be moved a little, especially when getting the chance to simply stare into their eyes…

Human impact at its worst (left) & Voyeuristically watching a little nit-picking… (right)

Human impact at its worst (left) & Voyeuristically watching a little nit-picking… (right)

Hours earlier, before we’d departed Fes completely, we’d each been allocated a lunch allowance, and let loose on a Moroccan supermarket to spend it on what we saw fit.

The early afternoon gave us the opportunity to indulge in those purchases, as we took a break at a small dell, hemmed in on three sides by a bubbling creek, and lightly shaded (not that we really wanted to hide from the sun at this elevation) by hanging willow trees.

After munching our way through our baguette, flavoured with some cheese, tomato and cucumber (at least that’s what we had, sweetened with a few caramel tarts thrown in at the end), we continued on our merry way.

This night we’d been promised something a little special, the chance to sleep in a casbah!

In truth, our hopes weren’t actually all that high, but that did little to help me get ‘Rock the Casbah’ by The Clash out of my head any time soon…

Having set the bar so low, we were happy to be pleasantly surprised, as Hotel Kasbah Asmaa was quite the grand looking joint.

Pleasantly surprised, we got ready to ‘Rock the Casbah’

Pleasantly surprised, we got ready to ‘Rock the Casbah’

Sure, it was a little rough around the edges, but the place would certainly meet our needs for the night to come.

Before that however, we were bundled back into the van, and dropped off in a nearby Berber village.

Rather than continue their full nomadic lifestyle, these people were now semi-nomadic, but when we talk village, we’re not talking about a shanty town of crude tents clad in goat hide.

This place was a fully-fledged town, the homes made of mud, or mud brick, with seemingly only some of the younger men still living a part-time nomadic, shepherd lifestyle.

One of the many donkeys we’d meet (left) & Berber camo? (right)

One of the many donkeys we’d meet (left) & Berber camo? (right)

We wandered through orchards of apples, dying to pick a sneaky one to sample their sweetness, but ultimately winning the battle of wills (and manners) and restraining ourselves.

The turnoff to Tatiouine was passed and ignored, a real shame for any ‘Star Wars’ fans (such as myself), before we ultimately found ourselves wandering through narrow streets, fenced in on either side by walls of mud.

Tea and biscuits were shared in the company of a village elder, before some gifts were dispensed amongst the children of the village.

Talk about a bush telegraph.

Suddenly our guide Younes was surrounded by what felt like hundreds (I’m sure it was probably only fifteen to twenty) of the little urchins, each begging for a gift of some sort…

Julie horsing (or assing) around (left) & Slaves to the mob (right)

Julie horsing (or assing) around (left) & Slaves to the mob (right)

I personally think donating to programs that will help educate them or offer health care would have been a better means of assisting them… but I’m sure the kids don’t share my views!

Back at the casbah, we hardly got it rocking, but we were able to enjoy one of the better meals we’d had during our time in Morocco.

This region of the Atlas Mountains is apparently famed for its trout, and given how tiresome the same three tagines had already become, we were straight in there and ordering the fish with gusto.

All well and good, until you nearly choke yourself on a tiny bone whilst being a pig!

Tomorrow the desert awaited, that most wonderful desert name of all, the Sahara

Up with the sun to get on our way to the Sahara

Up with the sun to get on our way to the Sahara



* Our flights from London Gatwick to Marrakesh (via Casablanca) with Royal Air Maroc cost us £88.09 per person.

* Our 15 night Morocco tour was booked through On-the-go travel, and costs per person vary depending on the season.

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6 Responses to Lost in the Atlas

  1. J.D. Riso says:

    I would love to hike the Atlas Mountains. The trout sounds delicious.

  2. This was an interesting read as it provided a unique perspective from many of the blogs I read about Morocco. Wildlife viewing is one of my favorite experiences to try when traveling. I’ve been to one site before wherein there are monkeys in the forest and they would take food away from people. It can be scary and amazing at the same time how these animals have become so used to the human presence!

  3. It’s so sad that the wild animals have been treated this way… Apart from that it seems you’ve had a nice time! I’d love to visit Morocco…

  4. I am amazed at how differently you have brought out Morocco in light. The wildlife, slaves and the lives of the locals. It was amazing to read the article. Loved your perspective

  5. Neha Verma says:

    I have read a lot of articles about Morocco. But never about this side of it. It seems very interesting, offbeat and one of a kind experience. The semi nomadic village, the encounter with the monkeys, it’s all an experience that you have once in a lifetime. Will keep this in mind when I plan to travel morocco

  6. Ami Bhat says:

    Marrakech is right on top of my list for quite sometime now. Coincidence I stumble upon this while I write a new post on my wish list for this year. Your post reaffirms why I want to head there.

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