It did indeed take us 12 hours to get to Fez, as warned, and we didn't even go the way we intended. At the last minute, our host at Sawadi kasbah told us that the road to the Cascades D'ourzoude is a "piste." This was a new French word for me. It took a while for me to figure out that it means "dirt road." Change of plans.
We decided to stick to the bigger road, which would be mostly paved, and take a short detour up the Dades Gorge. Another crazy drive, with intensely beautiful views. There were rock formations known as the Doigts de Singes (because, you know, they look like fingers). There was a place way up top where we bought a stained glass lantern and a rug (there is always a place to buy stuff). It was so beautiful that we drove for an hour in it.
Then back to the desert moonscape. I'd learned that the black rocks were volcanic; I have no idea at what point the area had volcanoes. It was a very long way across the desert before we started up into the Middle Atlas. Six hours, in fact. We listened to strange Berber music on the radio. Saw Bedouin tents among the rocks. Wondered what the skinny donkeys and goats were eating in the bleakness. Marveled at the women walking along the road in long robes and head scarves, carrying huge baskets of greens from the nearest oasis to feed their livestock. Were amazed at a vivid turquoise saline lake, in a rock landscape without people or plant life around it. At a speed trap, the cops stopped us. Every few miles there's a speed trap -- you can drive 100 km/hr for about 5 minutes, then it goes down to 60. The police spent quite a lot of time looking at our papers, then informed us we were going 13 km over the speed limit, and it would cost us 300 dirham. Right now. Relieved (300 dirham is about 39 dollars) we handed it over. Then they took Phil out of the car. I pictured Midnight Express. I wondered if I could drive a stick shift over the mountains to Fez to get a lawyer. I panicked completely. Phil, on the other hand, had a nice chat with the policemen. When they found out he was from New York, they asked him what the capitol was, and when he correctly answered "Albany," they gave him back the 300 dirham and then sent us on our way.
The landscape became greener immediately. It was a relief to the eyes, reminding us that we are creatures of the north. There were cows, fields of grain, multicolored flowers. Fields full of storks (I immediately thought "Ostriches!" but luckily didn't say it.)
We passed into the Foret de Cedres, part of a national park, where I was startled by more animal life. I wasn't smart enough to stay quiet this time but shouted, "Monkeys! Monkeys! Monkeys!" The mockery was intense. They were Barbary apes, as Ben pointed out, living happily among the trees with a group of shaggy dogs, who appeared to be herding them as if they were sheep.
Then we got to Ifrane, a new, wealthy town that looks very European -- some of the houses are even half-timbered. The king has his summer palace there. We were searching for the Cascades des Vierges, or Waterfalls of the Virgins. Got very lost, but finally found them. We don't know why they're called that, but we had an interesting time speculating.
We raced to Fez, trying to get to the airport to return the car before dark, and made it just in time. The airport was sort of closed. There was certainly no one at the Budget office, though I'd made arrangements to drop the car off at that hour. Luckily, a kind gentleman let me use his cell phone to call the Budget guy, who obviously never had any intention of being at the airport at all. We worked things out (I had to pay the nice gentleman for the use of his phone, and then I had to pay him more). And finally we found a taxi to take us to our very lovely riad in the Fez medina. It was well after 10 by then, and we hadn't eaten. Our host gave us mint tea and called a friend of his who came to pick us up to take us to his house in the old Jewish quarter, a fifteenth-century structure, which doubled as a restaurant.
We had the best meal of our trip. And we returned to our room and collapsed in utter exhaustion.