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Day 5: Chefchaouen to Fez

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Michael Palin - SaharaThe mountains of Morocco were formed millions of years ago by the collision of the land masses of Africa and Europe, which created a series of folds, running southwest to northeast and providing a spectacular roller-coaster landscape. The road we take to Fez crosses the first of these great ranges, the Rif. Rising over 8000 feet, the mountains are creased and cracked into an often inaccessible network of valleys and peaks, providing cover for local warlords, who have always been more powerful here than central government. Though we pass cork forest and olive groves and flocks of goats along the way, the mountain soil is not fertile. The only crop that grows anywhere is Cannabis indica, kif.

It is illegal to possess, deal in or move kif within Morocco, yet somehow it's always available, and there's a big demand for it abroad (the chaplain at St Andrew's in Tangier told me that part of his responsibilities were to administer to the dozen or more English and Americans currently in prison on smuggling charges).

All of which makes these mountains potentially dangerous and lawless places, and we are warned not to stop under any circumstances. Any accident or breakdown will usually have been arranged as a trap.

Occasionally I see young men loitering, but mostly the road is empty, curling round dark and craggy outcrops, high enough at one moment to see eagles wheeling below, then falling steeply down through pine and cedar forest to meadows and verges thick with oleander.

As we emerge from the Rif the land ahead of us opens out into a panorama of rolling hills and fields, a wide Moroccan prairie. From this, in turn, emerges one of the great cities of the Arab world.

Five hours after leaving Chefchaouen, the city of Fez appears due south on the horizon. Low, treeless and compact.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 5
  • Country/sea: Morocco
  • Place: Fez
  • Book page no: 31

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