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post spring

post spring

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Published by Grant

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Published by: Grant on Jul 05, 2009
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Post Spring-Break Morocco Posting
(Todra & Dades Gorges, Chefchouan in the Rif, and the Sufi Festival in Fes)

Since writing the exhaustive report from our trip to Tunisia the both of us have been
suppressed with the turn in of draft term papers, food poisoning, and a general transportation
strike that has immobilized the country until a couple days ago when the King ordered that the
strike be lifted. In so much as term papers Alicia is writing one on U.S. involvement in women\u2019s
education in the Maghreb, and Grant is writing three. 1) Cultural preconceptions between the
Maghreb and the U.S. between 1776 and 1815, 2) The underground dwellings of the Matmata
Berber tribe (mentioned in the Tunisia report), and 3) The Armenian genocide and weather it
classifies in technical terms as a genocide. We have been able to do some traveling though. On
March 13th we left by rental car to explore the Todra and Dades gorges on the eastern side of
the High Atlas mountains, on March 27th we travelled to Chefchouan in the Rif to the north of
here, and April 17th we went to the Sufi Festival in Fes.

Todra and Dades Gorge (March 13-15)

On Friday the both of left Ifrane to Azrou some 15km away to purchase a rental car for
the weekend and after about an hour of negotiation we secured a vehicle for two days at about
$75 total. We then headed back to Ifrane to pick up the other three members of our group
(Ben, Hannah, and Emily). Leaving at 3pm, and with nearly eight hours of driving ahead of us
most of the driving was at night. Arriving in our departure city for the Todra gorge, Tinerhir, we
soon voted and decided to spend the short night in one of the \u201cKasbah\u201d hotels which
fortunately had a room for all five of us. The next morning we had our petit breakfast of crepes,
bread, honey, butter, and Berber tea (extremely bitter tea) and headed out to the gorge.
Leaving the city we soon gained a prominent vantage point over the area and began to make
out beautiful traditional Berber settlements set among vast palm tree groves that lined a crystal
clear stream flowing from well within the gorge. Just before entering the narrow canyon we
stopped and proceeded by foot in to the gorge. Here, rock climbing was just as popular as
tourism with dozens of people top roping at the gorge entrance and several others exploring
further in to try less popular routs up the sheer sides. This perhaps the true claim to fame of
Todra, as for nearly 500m you can walk through this deep crevasse that is sometimes no more
than 20ft wide. After the 500m you step out into a barren but far more visible landscape as the
cliff of the right wall follows the terrain around several more bends. At the first of these bends
sits, at the foot, a small picturesque Berber garden, above which are numerous climbers.
Heading back to go onto the Dades gorge we stopped briefly to take pictures with some of the
Berbers who were watch over camels and selling tourists on rides. Hannah got a short ride for

free. Moving on we stopped for lunch in Tinerhir, where we all, unexpectedly, got five pounds of pasta. Figuring that this was good for food latter on we boxed it and moved onto the Dades gorge.

Arriving some 45 minutes later, the Dades gorge starts out as what would appear to be a
large ravine that begins to develop opposing cliff faces. Entering the mouth of the gorge the
road follows a large river that once carved the canyon and still continues to today, meandering
through a half dozen Berber villages huddled in the bottom of the drainage next to the river
and creeks the road reaches its first impasse. For the typical American car this impasse would
have been just a hill, except for our four cylinders Ford Fiesta this might as well have been a
mountain slope consisting of maybe a dozen switchbacks gaining a spectacular view down the
gorge. However, moving further up the road the view became magnificent as road descended
into yet another Berber village. The village would have been the epitome of sustainable design
to some architects with the buildings made out of the same light brown soil that they
sat on, nestled against and atop cliff faces, and with old Kasbahs (fortresses) lining the edge of
the valley commanding strategic locations. As we move forward through this spectacular
landscape of orange-brown buildings, lush palm groves, and massive boulders formations that
looked like monkey fingers we realized that not only was the gorge turning into a rather narrow
canyon, but that the water level of the parallel stream was becoming increasingly more
threatening to the road. Reaching the narrowest portion of the gorge the road appeared to be
flooded by what looked to be about a foot or so of water. Braving the water, our little car made
it through with no problem despite some fears about flooding.

By this point it was thought that we could continue on the road for some 60km or so,
passing over the high atlas and linking up with the city of Ilmichil that would serve as different
way back. Soon after passing the flooded portion, we yet again began our ascent onto the side
of a now massive gorge. Through the next 3km or so we discovered that the Dades gorge was
really the Grand Canyon of Morocco, that guard rails are a scarcity, and that we all shared a fear
of heights. Passing through a few villages straddling the gorge and after Alicia had given a soda
to a group of random impoverished girls, we came upon some workers critically maintaining the
rutted dirt road. We had a talk with one of them, in English, who had spent some time in New
York and after explaining that we were headed over the mountains to Ilmchil we got the red
flag of \u201cnot possible in this little car.\u201d Odds, he said, would slightly be in our favor in mid-
Summer, but now with the mountains still snow capped a heavy duty truck was needed.
Disheartened by thiswe made the 1 \u00bd hour journey back through the gorge to the connecting
city of Rachidia, determined to find ourselves an alcoholic beverage. Lonely Planet only had one
listing for such a place, a four star hotel on the edge of town. To summarize this night we
basically ate and slept at one of the most expensive places we\u2019ve been to in Morocco ($15

dinner / $30 a night rooms) and just so happened to run into my Berber teacher who was there
for a conference and was destined to think of me as an explorer of Morocco ever since.
Chefchauen (March 27-29)

We planned a weekend trip up north to the Rif Mountains and a small, mountain
community called Chefchauen, known locally as \u201cChauen.\u201d This town is very popular with
Spaniards and is quite famous for growing Kif (refined marijuana). We had initially planned to
go to Chauen and hike and camp there for the weekend; however, we ended up going with a
friend and since we only have a 2-person tent at best, we opted to stay in a pension rather than
on our own at the campsite at the base of the mountains. On Friday after school, we had a
heck of a time leaving campus that day as we tried unsuccessfully to get a 5 or 6 person group
to share a cab ride to Chauen. We had at least 5 of the international students bail on traveling
together as a group, and we were pretty peeved to say the least. It \u2018s quite hard to travel
anywhere without a larger group as it is so much more expensive if the cab fare isn\u2019t split by
more people. Anyhow, so while we had planned to leave that Friday afternoon by noon, we
ended up not leaving the university grounds until 4:30pm that day! We were able to negotiate
a cab ride to Chauen fairly quickly as luck would have it, a Moroccan student was going to
Meknes, a town on the drive to Chauen, and she could successfully translate our intent to the
driver. It was on this 6-hour drive to Chauen that Alicia began to feel terrible. Initially, it
seemed like it was just the car ride or the windy, curvy rounds, but the last two hours of the
drive were rather hard to get through. Six hours later, we came around a bend and were
graced with our first evening view of Chauen. It was spread out across the valleys and had hills
and valleys all around. It was a very beautiful town even in the evening. We were dropped off
near the medina and our cab driver helped us to find our way to our pension. It was just a
quick walk and thankfully so because as soon as Alicia got to the pension, she got sick. Thinking
back on it now, we are fairly certain that Alicia got food poisoning from something she ate on
campus. Unfortunately these circumstances prevented the trip to Chauen being the most
spectacular as Alicia was sick all of Friday and Saturday, and was still feeling the aftermath on
Sunday. On Saturday, we went out to breakfast and then Alicia went back to bed for the day,
while Grant and our friend went to explore the city. Our friend went shopping and Grant took a
short hike around the base of the mountain, arriving in a small village where completely
operated off growing and selling the Kif. As a souvenir, Grant bought a Suezi which is what
people use to smoke the Kif. Later on, Grant was able to walk the short walk up the hill to the
old mosque in Chauen. On the route to the mosque there were quite a few people/tourists
who were wandering around here as well because this area had a river that passed through it

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