Although it was almost dark as I touched down in Africa again, the greenness of the countryside greeted me, and surprised me yet again. Even though all my previous preconceptions of Africa have been wrong, Morocco I was sure would be dry and barren! Wrong again it seems!
As I take the 1 hour taxi ride between Fez and Ifrane, I can tell that there is a stark contrast between North Africa, and the sub-Saharan parts of the continent which I have previously visited. Despite this, I can also see the similarities. In the dark and teeming rain, the drive up the mountains to my home for the next 10 days has all the dangers of driving on the roads of Africa, but none of the excitement. Darkly clothed people walk on the verge of the unlit road, making their way home in the downpour; the lights of the taxi silhouetting them, and saving them, at the last moment. As the road twists and turns further up into the middle atlas, the taxi driver makes halfhearted attempts to pass laden trucks, pulling alongside them, before the lights of an oncoming car makes him think better of it. I look forward to seeing some of the countryside in daylight. When we eventually arrive in Ifrane, I can tell that the town is nothing like the Africa I have seen before; the light dusting of snow which has just fallen reminding me that I'm a long way from the sun-drenched plains of the rift valley.
As my first day indicated, Morocco is anything but dry. In fact it rained almost all day, and only just before evening fell on Friday could I eventually venture out and investigate my new surroundings again. After hurting my little toe earlier in the week, I decided to give it one more day to recover, so a run wasn't planned, but it was nice to finally get out of the apartment. I had awoken earlier in the day to the sight of a stork on a nearby rooftop. I quickly crept out of bed, grabbed my camera, and carefully opened the window to catch a shot without frightening her away. Ten days later she doesn't seem to have moved, and I later realised that there are about 8 other storks nesting within sight of my bedroom window. In fact the town is full of them. On that first evening, I also discovered some monkeys playing at the edge of the forest; the closest of them within touching distance of me. Unfortunately my camera wasn't so close this time, and I haven't spotted them since. Just my luck.
I was very apprehensive about coming to Morocco. As a Muslim country I was worried about running around, particularly on my own, and was very glad when AnnMarie joined me on Sunday for the remainder of the trip. In fact, now it's difficult to see what I was so apprehensive about, and why I would ever have left a place like this out of my research, just because I might get a little bit too much attention! Apart from our distinct lack of French, we're doing just fine.
Ifrane is a university town of approximately 10,000 people, situated at just over 1,600m in the Moylen (mid) Atlas. In the forest just above the town sits the green-roofed royal palace, the summer residence of the Sultan of Morocco. During the winter months, the town is a ski resort, and with it's distinctively European, rather than Moroccan, architecture, the town has a very alpine feel to it. The town was built as a hill station during French occupation, a place where the colonials could go and feel like they were at home. While there's not much to do on rain days (of which we've had many), Ifrane offers a plenitude of lovely walks, and of course lots of places to run.
Morocco have a great tradition in distance running, and legend Said Aouita was the first to use Ifrane as a training base. Today numerous Moroccan and French athletes train here, and it's easy to see why. Good food, relaxed atmosphere, cheap cost of living, smoothly surfaced roads, and miles and miles of trails make Ifrane perfect for running. Shame about all the rain though!