Suitcase and World: A bit of Europe. Ifrane.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A bit of Europe. Ifrane.

I sprung out of bed at 7:33am. Ack!! I was 3 minutes late in getting downstairs. Stupid me, I had set my alarm to go off at 6:15a but since I my Blackberry was still on DC time, the alarm would not go off until 11:15a Morocco time!

I jumped out of bed and scrambled to get dressed and cram what I needed to in my suitcase and backpack. I ran out of the room, grabbing a few items to bring down with me. As expected, the other three were already gathered around the coffee table eating breakfast. Their luggage was also all gathered and ready to go.

"Time to leave " As they finished eating, I continued to get my stuff packed and brought down. With a last minute check of the room, I left the key in the door and rushed downstairs. Everyone was still eating so I took the opportunity to go back up to the room and do one final check before leaving.

Sayeed led the way out, carrying a couple of bags with him. Mildred was still nursing a very sore ankle so she carefully and slowly took her time to walk down. Once everyone was gathered, Ahmed led the way to Place R’Cif. Although we had walked the same alleyways just yesterday, it was still early morning and most of the shops had yet to open. The medina looks and feels so different at this time of day.

Although I knew there was no need to rush as our Morocco Explored guide would wait for us, I was keen and eager to get on the road. I walked to keep pace with Ahmed. A few short minutes after leaving Dar Sienna, we arrived at Place R’Cif. We crossed the plaza, exited the Bab and waited for the guide to arrive. While we waited, I took the time to catch some final photos of Fez. I knew I would love Fez before I set foot in it and after having done it, I know I love it. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get to come back one day.

A Hyundai mini van pulled up and I was certain it was for us and it was. A young man dressed in a djellaba with sung glasses got out and spoke with Ahmed. He was our guide.

"Bye Ahmed, bye Sayeed, bye Fez " After our luggage got loaded into the car, we took our turns to say good bye to Sayeed and Ahmed and to give them their well deserved tips. Ahmed also gave me his email address so we can keep in touch. I will definitely send him the pictures I took of him and send him the link to my blog when I have it finished.

We piled into the van – Soon in the front passenger, Aaron and I in the middle row and Mildred in the back so she could stretch out her legs if she wanted to.

We drove through Fez Ville Nouvelle and eventually made our way out of time, ascending the nearby mountains.

"Hello Atlas Mountains "
It wasn’t long before the scenery changed from the dry, arid landscape of Fez to the Atlas cedar forests that Morocco is so well known for. We were ascending into the Middle Atlas mountains.

We passed one small village after another. This was the first time I had a chance to really see the countryside. Like so many developing countries, you can see the poverty in Morocco. Ramshackle buildings can be seen here and there. Litter is strewn about everywhere.

From the numbers of people walking the roads, I don’t think there is much of a public transport system serving the rural areas. School buses seem to be the only buses that operate in the rural areas. There is electricity though if the satellite dishes are any indication and I presume running water.

"Are we still in Morocco? " It wasn’t long before we happened onto a town. We asked our driver where we were and he said Ifrane. Since I had read up on Ifrane, I knew about the town and it’s *non-Moroccan* architecture. Nestled in a pine forest, it definitely looks more like a small town in the European alps than one in Morocco.

The driver stopped us in the center of town. Across the street from where the van was parked was a French style patisserie. Not that I was hungry but I did make a note to check it out before leaving town.

"Where's the lion? " The driver, who’s name I still had not yet asked him for, pointed us in the direction of where the town’s most famous landmark, a large stone statue of a lion, was located. Soon and I headed to where he told us to go, leaving Aaron and Mildred to follow as she was still limping along.

We patiently waited for a family to have their photo op in front of the lion before taking ours.

 On the way back to town center, we took another photo op and then one last one in the town center.

Outside a convenience store, I saw the largest pine cones I have ever seen in my entire life.  Couldn't help but take a picture of them.  Those are 12 oz bottles of water they are sitting on top of.  I have to point this out because Soon was saying no one seeing this picture would know just how big the cones are.

By the time we arrive back, so had Aaron and Mildred. The three others needed a toilet break and wouldn’t you know that the most convenient toilet was the one located inside the patisserie. :-)

"A croissant to die for " I followed along and headed straight for the pasty counter. There wasn’t much of a selection but what was there looked yummy. I bought a pain au chocolat for myself, both Soon and Aaron wanted almond croissants, and then Aaron picked out another pastry for his sister. All four pastries for 23 dirhams which is just about $3.

Outside I bit into my pain au chocolat. I’ll be honest. I hadn’t had such a good croissant since I was last in Paris. Soft, buttery, flaky pastry with just enough dark chocolate to provide bitter sweetness. It was a small croissant, just a few bites. When I got to the last bite, I wished I had bought a half dozen croissants because it was that good. Oh yeah… good as a Parisian croissant. That good.

Back on the road we went.   We soon left the heart of the town behind and found ourselves passing through a plain.  According to our driver, Ifrane has an ordinance where every building has to be white walls with a terracotta red roof.  That's to maintain the unique character of the town.  I didn't notice a mosque in town....wonder if it's red and white too.

"The monkeys that never came Next stop wasn’t really a stop. It was more like a slow down. It wasn’t obvious why we were slowing down until the driver pointed out the plastic bags of peanuts stacked inside a cage that was atop three wooden legs. The peanuts were for the Barbary macaques that live in the area. According to our driver, the macaques come out around 11am – noon. It was about 10:30a so a bit early. We didn’t spot any monkeys so the driver did another circuit around the cage. Still no monkeys.  Too bad.  I was hoping for monkeys.  I got a horse instead.  Not the same. :-(

So, that was it for Ifrane.  We had a long day's journey ahead of us.  Next stop was somewhere to switch vehicles.  We have to exchange our comfy van for a 4x4 that will take us on the rest of our trip.

Bye, bye Ifrane!