Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Today we left Fes and drove to Erfoud (air-FOOD), heading deeper into the heart of Morocco. It was a long drive, so we broke it up with some stops along the way. The most anticipated stop was at an area where the Barbary Apes (they are actually tailless macaque monkeys) roam free in the forest, and you can feed them. Mustafa knew a great place to pull over, there were probably fifteen monkeys hopping around, eager for some food.

We had along some two-day-old khoobz bread (a common bread eaten at almost every meal, round and thick) on the floorboard so I grabbed that and we all hopped out. I handed a big piece to Benji, and before he could tear off a small piece, a large monkey came over and grabbed the whole piece out of his hand and stuffed the whole thing in his greedy monkey mouth. The kids were enchanted, especially Alayna, the monkey lover. She quickly found a tree root to sit on and was immediately surrounded by five or six monkeys. She carefully tore small pieces to make it last as long as possible.

The boys darted around, feeding the monkeys and trying to make sure the small ones got as much as the big ones. I enjoyed feeding them, too. Their hands are so amazing, their five fingers grasping things just like I do. Along with the monkeys, I was surrounded by four or five wild dogs that also wanted a piece of the action. They were very polite and non-aggressive, waiting patiently with begging, puppy-dog eyes. They were ever so grateful when I tossed them a hunk of bread. When the bread ran out, Mustafa found a few bananas in the car, and the monkeys were so excited. They loved the bananas.

I was just tearing up one of the banana peels and walked past a couple of dogs to feed the peel to a monkey when one of the dogs lunged at me and bit me on my calf. It hurt a little, but more than that it scared me. The dog quickly let go and ran off, nobody seemed to notice, it happened so quickly. I told Mustafa, who wondered if maybe I had stepped on the dog’s tail. I figured maybe he was right, though I didn’t think I had been close enough to do that.

I pulled up my pants leg and saw four dents on my calf where the dog’s teeth had hit, but the skin wasn’t broken and my pants weren’t torn. Another man drove up and got out of his car to feed the monkeys. After a few minutes he let the “F” word fly, “That f-in dog bit me!” he yelled. Sure enough, the dog had bit him as well, and then run off. He pulled up his pants to reveal a pretty nasty scrape where the dog’s teeth had got him, though his pants were not torn, either. Mustafa and some other men chased the dog off, and Mustafa wondered if maybe the dog had pups nearby which she was protecting.

The man, whose name was Ahmed, joined us for lunch and we got to know each other a little. He decided to go and get a rabies shot, worried since the bite had broken his skin. Ahmed, if you’re reading this, let us know how you’re doing! We continued to check my bite throughout the day, and while they were turning purple, sure to bruise, we were certain there was no danger of rabies since my pants weren’t penetrated and my skin hadn’t been broken.

We passed many wild dogs by the side of the road between Fes and Erfoud. Mustafa said they are fed by truck drivers, which is why they hang out by the road, we must have seen over fifty. I was always worried they were going to dart across the road, but they never did. The drive was an interesting one. We passed many Berber nomads, herding their sheep or goats across the land in search of something for them to eat. They lived in small tents that could be picked up and moved easily, hard to believe that people still live like that. It would be a peaceful, quiet life, but very hard. And this time of year, very cold. We saw snow as we passed through the Middle Atlas mountains, it even snowed on us a little. We passed a strange, out of place town the French built as a ski resort. It looked a little like Switzerland, the roofs were peaked instead of flat and the trees were mostly pine.

At one point we were stopped by the police who set up check points along the road. As Mustafa got out to talk to them, I noticed a simple home across the road. Clotheslines stretched across the back yard, a baby toddled around in just a shirt. The mother came out and hustled him to the side of the house where she wiped his little bottom, then let him free to wander again. I wondered if his bare feet were cold, and if, like the wild dogs, he had learned at the tender age of two to stay away from the busy road nearby.

Several times we passed giant messages written on the sides of hills with rocks. Translated from Arabic, these said, “God, Country, King”. The further we went, the more women we saw in the traditional dress, their heads covered in scarves and their bodies swathed in fabric. We would drive for long periods of time through plains covered in rocks or dirt, no green, then over a hill we’d find a lush oasis with date palms, pomegranate, figs and other tropical trees. These were by rivers, sometimes in valleys, and ancient homes were built into the hillside. Some were ruins, some still lived in.

The sun set as we neared Erfoud, it was beautiful. I kept telling Clay, “Take a picture”, knowing they could never do the sky justice. The sky was dark by the time we got to the hotel, we were greeted by a bunch of singers and musicians who struck up the band while we stumbled in with backpacks and wobbly legs after the five hours of driving. I never know what to do in these situations, do they want me to start clapping my hands and stomping? Watch with interest? Pretend they are just background music and carry on? We opted for number three, with some polite clapping when they finished. Alayna watched me with wary eyes. I think she was worried I’d go with option number one.

As we went to our room we passed by a pool that the kids ogled with eager eyes. It’s too bad the weather is so chilly, way too cold for a swim. The rooms were really cool, the sinks had fossils imbedded in the marble, and the lamps were crystals with lights inside. We went to dinner, a buffet complete with those same dancers and singers along with some good, but more Moroccan food. We’re getting a little tired of couscous and tagine chicken. It’s good, it’s healthier than a lot of things we’ve eaten on this trip, but we eat it a lot.

Tomorrow we’ll pack a bag for a night in the desert. While we don’t know exactly what to expect, I envision lots of stars and sand and room for the kids to run, run, run. It will be good. Dusty, but good.