Morocco Diary - March 7

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March 7

Up at 6:00, packed, and bags out. It’s another spectacular morning, with clear sky and bright sun (though it started fragile and pinky silver). We were again amazed at the beauty of the view from both our bedroom and the breakfast room.

Breakfast was similar to yesterday, but with the addition of a wonderful soup, similar to one’s we’ve had elsewhere, but a good bit spicier and with just rice, no noodles or chickpeas. (There was some debate at our table as to whether it was chorba or harira, but hard to tell without the telltale additives.)

At 8:00, down to the bus and off into the brilliant day. Drove down a street in a wealthy part of town—a street lined with gorgeous mansions and jacaranda trees in full bloom. Out of the city and through the green countryside—olive trees and farms—toward the Atlas Mountains, to Ifran, the “Switzerland” of Morocco.

Aziz explained that we will see mostly Berbers from now on. He explained that no one really knows where Berbers came from, but people think they may be Celtic—tall, with some blond hair or blue eyes. Aziz said there are three tribes of Berber, with different languages:

1. Masmouda—traditionally farmers

2. Tuareg (or Touareg in French)—related to Masmouda

3. Sanhaja–came from Algeria—gave rise to the Almoravide dynasty, the founders of Marrakech

It appears that the Berbers were the first to settle Morocco. They have survived, despite the incursions of many others. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Portuguese, and French have all intermarried with Berbers, so not a vast number of pure blood Berbers anymore.

Jews arrived in the first century ad (after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, then later influx was during persecution in Spain and Portugal). Many of the Jews returned to Israel in the 1960s, but either they keep Moroccan traditions there, or they have returned to Morocco.

In the seventh century, Arabs arrived. Influx continued until the 16th century. Slavery in the 16th century brought blacks into Morocco. Slavery was abolished 100 years ago. The blacks did not form separate communities, but mingled with Arabs and Berbers—though there has also been much prejudice against dark-skinned people.

Berber women traditionally enjoyed more freedoms than Arab women.

As we began to climb into the Middle Atlas Mountains, we saw much stone-walled terracing. We also saw orchards, which Aziz said are apples and cherries.

Most of the country’s rivers rise in the Middle Atlas.

Amazingly rock terrain in areas not under cultivation—rocks that match in size and color those piled into walls around fields and homes.

Forests for miles.

Began to see snow-capped peaks in the distance. Along the road, amid the alternating fields of rock and greenery, were concrete-block snow fences, making it clear the snow does not stay distant.

Into Ifran, which does look rather Swiss. Coffee break, and then a walk through town. Admired Alpine-esque half-timbered buildings and cafés and tree-lined streets. Surprised to see residual snow piles in a few shaded locations. Stopped to see the large sculpture of the Atlas lion, a memorial to the impressive felines that once roamed these mountains, but which have now been killed off.

Continuing on, we passed a royal palace, which looked Moroccan despite its Alpine surroundings. Then out into the snow fields, as we continued to climb higher into the Atlas Mountains. Saw trees with mistletoe. Snow, mountain peaks, and evergreens on all hands. (And photo stop.)

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