Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Excursion to the Atlas (7 of 7)

Oof. Last evening and I’m glad to have it to myself. I’m exhausted from a morning of shopping the souks for gifts and the afternoon on a little trip to the countryside.
I just wish I could have had all day in the country. Getting some fresh air was a treat, and with the rain they’ve had this year everything is green and blooming.
Just to make my bag heavier, I hauled a book with me, uselessly. This is because Hassan is so habitually late and it’s so difficult to park near the hotel, that I read in the lobby for a good half hour waiting for him, and then had to jump into the double-parked car pronto.
I like Hassan. He’s got a real sense of dry humor, and he’s always yelling ! Badia ! in an Arabic way that is quite different than his neatly spoken French. On the other hand, he’s quite a fan of Brian Adams, and every time I ride in his car it’s the same cassette, over and over. ‘Please forgive me...’
We’re taking his car on the trip, and meet Badia at a swanky hotel where she uses the gym. She has YJ and his wife Edith with her - it was a convenient place to leave her car. Finally they emerge from touring the swimming pool, after a certain number of Badia!!s shouted into the phone.
Off we go southeast to the foothills of the Atlas mountains. The first 15 miles or so are flat plains dotted with random mansions, shacks, and olive groves, but all the same I have the urge to request a photostop every two minutes. This herd of sheep. That roadside shop, all beg to be captured. But I wait, and we start to climb, gently, into the foothills.
The sun has gone, hidden by thick clouds as soon as we start to gain altitude, making the landscape nice, but not spectacular. Along our route we pass turnouts where camels and their handlers are waiting for tourists to stop. Shops selling carpets or metalwork, or pottery line the road.
We stop for tea in a popular spot. Even in early April, on a Thursday, the parking strip is nearly full and all the picnic tables are taken by families having a break. There’s a lively snowmelt stream with a rickety rope and plank bridge that Edith, YJ, and I dare to cross: our hosts take the more secure crossing. On the far bank families are sitting on rugs, enjoying picnics they’ve brought and tajines and tea ordered from somewhere. BB finds a nice shady clearing a few yards up from the bank, identifies the proprietor, and orders a table, five chairs, and mint tea.
Kids are playing, women are chatting, the poppies are in intense bloom. Upstream a party of women is washing clothes in the stream, just like since forever.We decide to take a walk upstream, me in hopes of obtaining a vista of the now-close snowy peaks of the Atlas. But it isn’t to be. We walk along the road a hundred meters, then give up, not wanting to battle the traffic. Which isn’t much, but it is persistent. Then the idea is to go back to an intriguing shop we passed, all covered with carpets on one side and a hill of pottery spilling down from the other. This time we make several photostops, though the poor light didn’t do the countryside justice.

Descending into the Marrakech plain, Edith mentions there’s a saffron garden nearby to visit, and, after a touch of confusion, we make the detour. Hassan: You’ve got to take the detours in life!
It’s a great place to stop. I finally get a look at a garden going full-tilt and trash-free. Orange trees in fruit and bloom, roses, olives in rows, poppies in the field where the saffron crocuses are in their leafy phase. Those flowers come out in November, unlike the crocus just fading in my own yard. It’s a short tour, a last breath of clean air, and a cup of mint tea spiced with all kinds of things from the garden. Orange blossom, rosemary, sage, marjoram, even geranium leaves, all go into the tea at one season or another, many of which sound excellent. Too many different things, alas, are in this particular cup.
Traveling back to the city in the late afternoon, we remark on how many people are just hanging out by the side of the road. Families are picnicing. Women are gathering who knows what. Kids are playing, riding bikes, waiting for their mothers to be finished talking. Random men are standing around.
It’s the perfect angle of late sun to wander among the olive trees taking photographs, but we are all tired and I get the idea that our hosts have things to do still today. It was very generous of them to take the afternoon off just to haul us around the countryside.

We make plans for next time. Everybody is in favor of meeting in a different city, say Fez, for a day and night there before coming down to Marrakech. We also are eager to arrange a Franco-Maghreb breast cancer genetics gathering where we can at last get the Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan groups together. And definitely we’ll be speaking to our computing department about the spam-blocker!
It’s seven by the time Hassan drops me off at the hotel, and the lobby is swarming with a newly arrived gaggle of young tourists, all trying to check in at once. Great. This hotel is dreadfully noisy, all hard surfaces and little insulation. As predicted, there are comings and goings and raucous laughter until well after 1. I sleep very badly, both because of the noise and because I’m coming down with a sore throat. My wake-up call is at 4, and a friend is coming at 4:30 to round us up for the airport. At one point I get up to use the bathroom and hear a honk outside that isn’t like the usual traffic noise. Booting up my computer, yep, it’s 4:34. No way I slept through the call; there just wasn’t one. I throw on my clothes, grab my pre-packed luggage, and that’s it for this time. Oh, except for missing my connection in Paris because the baggage thing was too slow - it takes me 14 hours to get home


Reya Mellicker said...

I can't believe you walked across that bridge. You've got nerves of steel, I swear!

Thank you so much for the tour. It's likely I'll never set foot on that beautiful land. So glad you have, and have shared it with us.

sciencegirl said...

I admit the picture of water under the bridge was set up. It's only like that right at the edge - I was standing on the bank. Walking through the non-tourist parts of the Medina alone and female, now that takes nerve (or foolishness; I'm not sure which I've got).
You're welcome for the tour. Here's to the next one!