We had a long drive today as we headed south toward the Sahara, driving across the Middle Atlas mountain range, winding through beautiful pine groves and giant cedar forests, cherry, apple and pear orchards, broad valleys, our first glimpse of fall colors and even a town that looked just like a European ski village.
With a ski area near the town of Ifrane the architecture mimicked that of traditional European ski villages with chalet style hotels and houses, quite a departure from what have seen so far. This is also where we began to see the fall colors, a beautiful city park had enormous old chestnut trees and a ground cover of lavender colchicum in bloom, lovely and reminded me of the Northwest.
Higher up in the mountains we stopped for a little hike through a cedar forest, I was blissfully happy walking in the trees, in the mountains and breathing in the fresh mountain air. As we neared the road again we began to see monkeys in the trees, one, two, pretty soon they were everywhere you looked – now that was a surprise!
Barbary Macaques & Friend
Crossing a 6,000-foot pass in the mountains we left the forests of the North behind. By sharp contrast, the south face of the Middle Atlas mountains are very arid; we began to see large flocks of sheep and tent camps of the nomadic herders. It was a very long, but fascinating transfer as we witnessed some of the varied geologic and ecological zones of Morocco.
We stopped in the small town of Midelt to taste a very special lamb, it is said to be the best in Morocco. The sheep graze in the mountains on grass and herbs. Now I am not a lamb connoisseur and never eat it at home so wasn’t particularly excited about this stop but I was hungry and when in Rome. . .
When we arrived at the restaurant the animals hung in full view, a young man pulled one down and carved it in front of us then proceeded to cut the chops that were then handed over to another gentlemen who was manning a grill set up street side. The grilled chops came to the table on a platter, family style served with salt and cumin, grilled onions, bread and olives, no utensils but that didn’t slow us down one little bit. The grilled chops were more than delicious, like nothing I’ve ever tasted and I could have happily stayed for a 2nd and 3rd helping that they would have happily supplied but we were still scheduled for lunch In Erfoud.
Back on the road we still had lunch to look forward to and the restaurant was quite impressive, the food was good but truth be told, I would have preferred to go back to the lamb.
Dates drying in the sun
In the late afternoon, we descended into Erfoud, a small trading village that is the gateway to the vast Sahara Desert and we were greeted at our hotel by local musicians, how nice.