We knew it was going to be a long day, but we also knew it was time to get out of Fes before the authorities caught onto us. So, as planned, we made an early get away with Abdellah heading for the desert dunes near the Algerian border. It was a clean break.
Now, those that know me also know that I’m NOT a good car person. Actually I’ve finally come to the conclusion that while I love “travel,” I hate “transportation.” But I must say that while our drive was long Abdellah peppered it with interesting stops and the destination was truly grand…Erg Chebi.
After leaving Fes ẃe climbed into the Middle Atlas Mountains which was a complete change of scenery from the medinas, souks, and alleys of the city. Here we found cooler air and completely different vegetation; lots of pines, hardwoods, and even pansies were in bloom. We stopped along the way at a refuge for the threatened Barbary ape. Abdellah was, as usual, thinking ahead by bringing a bag of fruit to feed them much to our delight—there were peals of laughter (pun intended).
After crossing the mountains we descended down into the beginnings of the Sahara and the landscape changed quickly and dramatically into what is called “reg,” or a stony desert with scrub type plants scattered about. It was here that we began to really encounter the Berber culture with their ksars and kasbahs. Up until this point I had always confused the meaning of Kasbah. I always thought it was the same as the medina, or old part of the city. And frankly, I’d never heard of a ksar before now.
The concept is really quite simple in that a Kasbah is a fortified home (very similar to the European gentry) of a rich family. The extended family along with their servants and serfs will all live in the Kasbah. A ksar (pronounce the ‘k’) is a collection of kasbahs with additional fortification. Most of the ksars and kasbahs are no longer occupied by the original families because of the constant maintenance they require. They are now typically lived in by the local population.
One of the highlights of the drive for me was when we stopped at an everyday, run of the mill ksar. We were promptly greet by the local children and Abdellah was totally ready with a bag of candy for gifts. We had friends for life and some of the smiles was worth the journey from Los Angeles alone.
Here’s where it gets interesting. From the ksar, we were just a short drive from our next adventure; a camel trek through the sand dunes (about 1 ½ hours on a camel!) and an overnight stay in the dunes. It was truly one of the travel memories that I will cherish always. Interestingly enough it just happened to be Wednesday. Hump Day back home!
The following morning the whole camp was up early to experience the sunrise over the Saharan dunes. It was here that I chose a beautiful and peaceful spot to leave some of Ray’s ashes behind. The list where I’ve left him is growing and growing.