The Dunes to Meknes, Morocco

Today we’re traversing a large section of the country, from the Sahara desert of the south east to Meknes, about 300 miles to the north, crossing both the High and Middle Atlas mountain ranges. The journey takes about 8 hours by car with a short stop for lunch.

Note: Most trips in Morocco travel north to south taking advantage of the cooling temperature in the fall. If you are traveling in the spring, consider traveling south to north.

We woke to blue skies but a general haze had settled in over the dunes and would last all through the High Atlas until we hit the high plains of the Middle Atlas. In the haze the dunes are reduced to a monochromatic gray.

The first part of the drive is through much of the same desert landscape we’ve seen before.

After Erfoud we start to wind through the same type of canyon formations that we saw in Todra and continue through a series of alternating canyons and desert plateaus until we finally have the snowy peaks of the High Atlas at our backs.

Another long plateau leads to the cloud covered Middle Atlas where we plunge into a cloud bank and the weather dramatically shifts, with rain and fog and the temperature plummeting 20° Fahrenheit.

Through the Middle Atlas the plateau turns to a soggy brilliant green. It feels like we have left Morocco and landed in Ireland. The herds of sheep we began seeing on the desert plains now at least have something to eat. At higher elevations they graze under the trees.

Again we traverse a series of plateaus through the obviously rainy side of the range. The valleys are strikingly green. The occasional towns have turned from a flat-roofed adobe type construction to the pitched roofs you would find in Europe.

The turbulent weather continues for the rest of the drive to Meknes.  The sun shines through a break in the clouds on the cultivated fields on the outskirts of town – olive groves and other orchards along with large expanses of vineyards. We’re told that the grapes for most of the wine produced in Morocco come from this region.

With the help of the Ipad GPS system we find the parking lot at Place Lalla Aouda behind the Bab el-Mansour gate on the edge of the Meknes Medina. Our Riad, El Ma, is a short walk from the parking lot. Although we have a good map we have difficulty convincing an overly eager tout that we can indeed get there on our own. He claims it’s just part of Moroccan hospitality. Finally his true intentions are made known with the offer of the services of a Berber guide to tour the medina for 50 dirham. This is actually a very cheap price which I’m sure comes with a visit to his cousin’s shop. Once I tell him I’m not here to shop, he leaves us alone.

April 3, 2013

For links to all the posts in this series see the Morocco page.