Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fez to Erfoud

On the bus again, we drive through the noveau riche area of Fez. Discussion arises about the rise of the middle class. There is a huge emphasis being put on education here, and it's importance as a way of reaching properity for the nation. Like many booming economies, Morocco doesn't have enough skilled professionals and tradespeople, especially in the engineering trades. The King has decreed education compulsory and poor families, especially in the rural areas are subsidised to send their children to school, and the children are given bicycles to get to the school. There are now over 20 universities in Morocco and university education is free, with not only the facilities provided, but also scholarships and subsidised living arrangements for students. Whole new 'University towns' are being built. High school graduates and older workers are being offered two year full time traineeships in vocational colleges to increase the number of tradespeople. When they graduate, they automatically get loans to set up their own small business's, such as electricians, mechanics, plumbers, builders etc. The construction work I observe, is scary! NO safety regulations and no professional expertise.
53% of the population is under 20 years old.
We head up through the Mid Atlas mountains and come across the most amazing ski town, Immouzer, built in the European chalet style. Extraordinary after all the square flat roofed boxes. Our next stop Ifrane, has a private university where Abdul tells us it costs 6000 euro per semester. Ifrane has a population of about 3000 and is 5000 feet above sea level. After Ifrane we drive along the top of the Mid Atlas range, kilometre after kilometre of high altitude snow plains. We see the last of the nomads, getting ready to move down the mountains as the winter approaches. Aiash mountain comes into view, our fist sight of the High Atlas range, already covered with snow on it's highest peak, 10,000 feet high;
Lunch is in a mountain town called Midelt

at a lovely older style hotel, then we go on through barren mountains and incredibly fertile valleys.
We drive along the Gorges du Ziz to the new university city of Errchida, developed after the Hague agreement of 1975 awarded the Western Sahara region to Morocco, against Algiers. The border between Morocco and Algier is still closed! Errchida now has a pop. of 500,000. People answered the Kings call and came from all over Morocco to start greening the desert and living in these new cities. Everything is the colour of the desert sand of this area, terracotta pink.
Finally we arrive at Erfoud. What fun. We 4WD out to the desert through this dusty dirty town, crossing a flooded ford on the way.

There had been rain the day before, creating flash flooding in this desolate desert country and providing much excitement for the locals and the tourists. 20k up the highway and we turn off onto the gibber plains of the desert. Stone everywhere; the 4WD's are brand new top of the range Toyota Landcruisers and we fly over the plains at 80kph, passing a nomad tent where a young woman peeps out from the door and waves, on towards the dunes, arriving as the late afternoon light etches the wind crafted dunes against a cobalt sky. I wonder what the nomads think as their splendid isolation becomes a 4WD highway.
Boys and camels wait, hilarious and undignified scenes follow as we mount and traipse across the dune face. I cannot believe that in the thousand or more years that these people have been riding camels across the desert, they haven't invented a more comfortable saddle. It's atrocious!
The following day, it's back in the bus for the journey from Erfoud to Ourzazate, more beautiful valleys and stoney deserts. We stay at a hotel frequented by movie directors, actors and crews. It is very desert ambient!

No comments: