Atlas Mountains

I woke up still full from dinner!! But time for eating again…!

Breakfast was similar to yesterday – I had some fruits and some bread.

But today we’re off for a day outside the city. We’re going to the Atlas Mountains.

We were picked up at 9am and began the drive out of the medina walls. At the city gates there was a second hand market taking place – mostly seemed to be selling shoes and mattresses!!

We drove past fields and fields of olive trees. Olive trees only grow below 1,100m, so as we made our way up into the mountains, the olive trees gave way to pine and cedar trees.

First stop – the local market. There is a market each day, moving around different villages. Monday is apparently the largest day, but Sunday is still pretty big. We parked on the road and made our way down some small alleyways. Suddenly we were out in a large field full of small tents and covered walkways. Small chickens in pens, rabbits for sale, turkeys tied up and being taken away. Then the fresh produce – onions piled high, oranges, greens, courgettes, tomatos and potatoes. Not much fruit. A plastic section. A sheep section. The mint leaf stalls. Spice stalls. Clothes. Couscous stalls. And barbecue stalls selling food.

It was really busy. No tourists here – just us being walked around. Just locals who have come to buy and sell their food and other bits.

Then we made our way further up into Ourika.

A few months ago the river was high and washed away much of the road. It was a bit of a squeeze with two-way traffic trying to pass each other on a single track road. Tea stalls lined the river, with many of the chairs and tables sitting in the flowing water.

We stopped at an argan oil producing shop. Argan trees grow on the other side of the Atlas Mountains and is the only place in the world where they grow. Argan oil can be used to cook and also cosmetic – for hair and skin. The women were working in the building, cracking open the nuts (they have a hard shell). These nuts are then ground into a paste. Somehow oil is made. We didn’t quite get that explanation though.

Of course they were also selling it, in a really overpriced expensive shop.

A short distance away, we stopped to go for a walk. We walked along the side of the valley, full of flowers, with views down to the river at the bottom and various villages all around. It was pretty.

We drove around an hour, round and round the sides of the hills. Lots of villages, some red, brown or yellow, depending on the colour of the soil.

We stopped for lunch just after 1pm in a traditional Berber village.

We were shown around a house – a couple of bedrooms on the ground floor and a kitchen upstairs, along with a pretty roof terrace which had great views all back across the valley – towards several other small villages. We sat on the floor of the roof, on rugs and cushions and were served such delicious food!

First up – a tomato salad (coriander and olive oil) and khobez bread. Then a vegetable tagine – the vegetables had been cooked in the tagine, rather than just put in there afterwards for show. They had caramelised on the ceramic dish that they had spent the last 3 hours being cooked in – so delicious!! I was already a bit full and then some vegetable couscous was brought to us too, topped with an oily tomato sauce, that was tasty too! Dessert was an orange, sliced and topped with cinnamon.

After lunch we drove over into Asni valley, here there were numerous villages. A river where many locals had come to have a Sunday picnic and cherry trees lining the sides of the road. On one side of us were the mountains, still covered in snow. One of these was Mount Toubkal, at 4,167m is the highest peak in Northern Africa.

After an hour of winding roads, we were on the main motorway back into the city. Past many more golf clubs and we arrived back at the riad at 4pm.

It had been another hot day, 40 degrees. But it doesn’t feel that hot at all. India felt so much hotter. It’s not a sweaty hot here. But time for the pool anyway!

We were given some kaab el ghazal – a local snack – a thin pastry filled with marzipan. Was nice! After a few hours of lazing around, we headed out for dinner. One of the boys from the hotel walked us over there and lucky we had made a reservation – they were turning people away!! It was a really pretty restaurant, a large courtyard with a pretty mosaic floor and lantern clad trees. We shared a Moroccan salad starter – lots of little vegetable dishes. They were all presented in a fancy fashion – balls of carrots, sweet pumpkin, tomato salsa, cooked aubergine, chopped up greens.

For a main course, I had a vegetable tagine (again). Vegetarian options here seem to be either vegetable couscous or vegetable tagine, nothing else. It was nice anyway – carrots, courgette, aubergine, peas and potato. Not sure how I fitted it in, but we shared a date, apple and almond pastilla for dessert (the sweet filling is wrapped in a very thin filo pastry). We were picked up again and walked through the busy street back to the hotel. Motorbikes and cars whizzing around and many of the shops were still open.

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