Into the Rif - Part One.

The day The View from Fez received the invitation to make a journey into the mountains near Taza, the sun was shining and the temperature just perfect. It sounded wonderful. However, the next morning when we left from the taxi station at Bab Ftouh, the rain began to sprinkle down. An hour later, as we wove up a mountain pass it began to bucket down. Finally about 90 kilometres from Fez we turned off the main road and went north until we arrived at a tiny village near Beni-Frassen.

It was market day and because of the rain storm the café was packed with farmers and townsfolk who had settled down to watch The Flight of the Phoenix on a huge plasma TV. The irony of watching such a film while being rained on was lost on nobody. Eventually the rain eased enough for us to exit through the back of the café. Here a surprise awaited us. A donkey bus station is probably the best way of describing it - donkeys and mules for hire.

Although the rain was settling in and the temperature dropping, we set out - unfortunately with no idea of just how far we had to walk. A stroll through an olive grove and to a house that had been described as "large", sounded okay. Our companions, Driss, Msefer and Thami were in good spirits... at least for a while.

Once we emerged from the olive grove it became clear that the local mud was something special. It had the unhelpful ability to ball in larger and larger amounts beneath your shoes until you were wobbling on "platform-heels" that weighted several kilos each. Thami's instant response, despite the now biting cold, was to remove his shoes.

A young boy passing on a donkey stopped and watched Thami in amazement. He then continued on his way, but kept glancing back as if to confirm the crazy thing he had seen was actually real.

Thami lasted quite a long time on foot - which is not to say we had made huge progress. Going was slow and the climb getting steeper by the moment. From time to time we would round a corner and a house would come into view, accompanied by the thought that "at last, this must be it" - it was not. Not then and not for several hours.

Even though we were still within sight of our departure point, Thami's feet needed a bit of a rest.

Once Thami transferred to a mule and looked considerably happier

About an hour into the climb, the rain set in very heavily and so we stopped in a tiny adobe shed that contained a traditional stone olive press. It was cold and damp, but at least it was out of the wind. Driss continued on up the mountain on the mule, but left us with the donkey who seemed happy enough to have rest and clear some grass from around the hut.

The stone grinding wheel was massive and there were also some beautifully woven baskets for transporting olives. It would be an interesting place to return to during the olive harvest.

Thami, however, was only interested in getting warm. But after a few minutes he kindly did some repair work on my walking boots that were not only wet through but absolutely caked with mud.

Eventually the rain eased and in a promising sign of better weather, the clouds began to lift.

It was at this point that Thami announced with great amusement that we were almost "half way to the house"

The journey continues in - Part Two.

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