To the Cedar Forest:
We broke camp and headed to a big supermarket for last minute supplies: we were to spend the next three nights 'wild camping' so no facilities and no supplies for a while.
We have taken to joining the tour leaders for some morning coffee or mint tea at any one of a number of cafés which line the roadsides in big towns and small. The drinks always come strongly sweetened with sugar but are a welcome break along the drive.
We continued upwards in the Middle Atlas Mountains through the extraordinary town of Ifrane. Here is one of the King's favourite palaces and so the town is immaculate. The king does not care for large (or even normal) road signs so all the signs are small and discrete. The houses all look as if they have been transported from some Swiss or Bavarian town, all high pitched roofs and neat gardens. Not a Morocco anyone would expect.
At a viewpoint with a platform offering sweeping views over the valley to die for, we made our first purchase of a little fossil. Morocco is renowned for its variety and abundance of fossils as well as beautiful rock specimens, and here at this roadside stop were little wooden huts, each with a fossil trader. Since many of the processed and polished fossils are easy to fake, I was wary of the better looking specimens, but I did settle on (with Russ's well-honed bargaining skills) on a little double trilobite untouched by drill or polish.
And a little further on we turned off the main road and headed along a dirt track into a dark forest of Atlas Cedars. Here was our camp for the night. The tall trees were surrounded by a bright green carpet of grass despite the low light seeping through to the ground. A passing tortoise and the antics of dung beetles fighting each other for their 'prize' joined with the clack of green woodpeckers which we never glimpsed. A shepherd drove his goats right past us. Under trees was evidence of wild boar with the ground rooted up and turned over. We never saw the animals themselves either.
We wandered up the mountain path to the very top, the only souls for miles around. Paul, once a farmer, noted that this was a dying forest - all the trees were hundreds of years old but there were no young trees to take their place. The effects of grazing on the forest will be devastating in years to come.
With plenty of rocks and dry timber around, Russ built a fireplace and after dinner Paul and Liz and Hamid joined us and we chatted on under the brilliant starry sky till late.