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Catching Up

Whew! Lots of stuff going on to write about.

First, John did come to Meknes last Saturday and we went to Ifrane and Azrou, located in the foothills of the Middle Atlas Mountains, in a quest for snow. We found some, but not enough to remind me of a Montana winter.

However, it was a gorgeous day, making for a memorable drive through the foothills of the Middle Atlas range. We drove through Ifrane, a Swiss-style village near the Mischliffen ski area, about 60 kilometers south-east of Meknes. Then it was on to Le Cedre Gouraud, a forest of ancient cedar trees, quite beautiful, inhabited by a pack of Barbary Apes. Different from Thai monkeys, they were very amiable and non-aggressive, but I was surprised that they lived this far north in Africa. Of course, Gibraltar, not all that far away, is overrun with the critters.

This is pastoral country, calming and soothing, and shepherding is still a prominent way of life, as it is in much of Morocco. So, while hiking one of the dirt roads, we weren’t surprised to wander into one of the ubiquitous flocks. Thankfully, the protecting dogs weren’t too concerned with us.

Just outside of Ifrane is the Moroccan national sports training center. John is quite a runner and is very knowledgeable about the subject. So, when we drove past a few guys jogging down the road, he pointed out their style, that this or that runner used his arms too much, etc. But then he was surprised at the sight of one of the runners, who, he thought, looked exactly like Hicham El Guerrouj (aka El G.), a double gold-medal winner in the 2004 Summer Olympics and a Moroccan national hero. The fellow, lank and wiry, was zooming along at a fair pace and hardly breaking a sweat, making me envious of his abilities. My maximum jogging pace would appear as walking in comparison to his graceful strides.

We then drove to Azrou, a very picturesque Berber village of about 50,000, nestled in the forested hills, about 20 kms from Ifrane. We stopped and bought a few beautiful, handcrafted wood products at the local municipal-run bazaar, some excellent deals for bowls, dishes, jewelry boxes and chess boards. The wonderful thing about this place, for me, is that all the prices are fixed, which means NO HAGGLING. I hate haggling because 1) I’m bad at it and because 2) I don’t speak good French (or Arabic or Berber).

The view from just outside Azrou:

On the way back we stopped at Boufekrane, about 12 kms from Meknes, a village reknowned throughout Morocco for the quality of its meat, a Guy’s Lolo Creek Steakhouse of North Africa, more or less. We ate at one of the small restaurants and, as advertised, the beef and lamb were great. We had brochettes (bbq beef chunks), lamb chops, and superb spiced ground beef. All in all, it was an excellent outing.

Since Monday, though, I’ve been hassling with getting my Moroccan national identity card. Mohammed and I have been running around in circles gathering all the relevant documents and signatures. This was supposed to have been taken care of by someone, whose name I won’t mention, at the U.S. Consulate in Rabat. Just a day before my visa was to expire, he phoned me and said that I was to take care of it. Not good. There was some concern about the possibility that I might be told to leave the country. However, after much footwork and driving around, it seems the situation has turned out ok. I’m to go to the authorities tomorrow and give them the required documents (5 altogether, in duplicate, notarized, with 9 passport-sized photos) and the identity card will be taken care of. Despite the hassle, the local Moroccan authorities have been most accomodating.

Because of all the time required in my quest to avoid prison time (just joking), I had to reschedule some classes. One I lectured at today from 4 to 5:30 p.m. So, I rode my bicycle home at night. It’s very exhilirating to ride a bike at night in Meknes; it gets ones blood flowing. You just have to make sure that it doesn’t flow in the cold, hard streets. It’s almost as much fun as riding on the back of Bangkok motor bikes. But riding a bike here, you’re in control of your own fate, so to speak. You need 5 eyes to keep a look out for all that is going on around you. Not only is the motor traffic bad, but worse are the pedestrians, who walk willy-nilly everywhere and are just as likely to pop out in front of you as is a taxi.

In Bangkok I was most surprised to see elephants wandering around on the main thoroughfares. In Morocco different obstacles present themselves. So tonight I’m riding home and I’m almost at my apartment building. My attention wanders a bit. All of a sudden I look up and looming before me in the shadows is a camel! A large one, too, with its handlers. Luckily, I saw it in time enough to avoid it, otherwise I would have rear-ended it. Wow! Elephants in Bangkok and camels in Meknes, on or near the main drag, right in front of you, reach out and touch them but don’t get run over by the traffic. What do you have to compare, Montana? Yes, bison and griz, sure, but meandering down the main streets of Great Falls or Glendive, majestic traffic hazards just waiting to snap up the unwary pedestrian or bicyclist? (I do, of course, exclude the deer herds of residential Missoula.)

What a wonderful world. Check it out. More later.

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