Meknes to Er Rachidia – By Bus
After the unbeatable high that was yesterday’s food souk, this morning felt like the right time to pack up and ship out. Today we leave the Imperial City of Meknes (on an extremely positive note) and look toward the bus station billboards for onward inspiration. We’ll have a coffee, a little bread and jam, and consider out next port of call.
Up to now we have only seen towns and cities, and we were both starting to hanker – even if only slightly – for something a little, well, a little different. Knowing ourselves, and understanding that the key to sustaining travel momentum lay with regular, stark contrast, we dusted the breadcrumbs from our map and began to formulate a rather fiendish plan.
Little, we thought, would come as more of a contrast than moving from a bustling, frenetic urban sprawl to an inconceivably desolate expanse of nothingness. Now, if you were to write a thesis on the most inhospitable, desolate places on earth, you would more than likely get an A + just for slightest mention of the Australian Outback, the Sahara Desert, Antarctica, and, of course, the English town of Swindon. So, seeing as we were looking for nothingness, it appeared that we were doubly fortunate – for the Sahara Desert was, globally speaking, just around the corner, and Swindon was still far enough away to remain nothing more than a distant, bad memory.
A decision had been made. Wiping the last of the coffee froth from our lips and the wayward jam splodges from our trousers, we paid up and went looking for a bus into the desert.
As far as buses into desolate areas are concerned, our outbound options from Meknes appeared surprisingly plentiful, almost alarmingly so. One such bus was heading toward the big, dry, yellow bit on the regional map within the hour, and it seemed folly not to be there for the departure. This first leg would take us 180 miles south, about ¾ of the way to the edge of the Sahara proper, and to a town called Er Rachidia.
According to the map, the journey would see us wend our way up and over the craggy peaks of the Middle Atlas Mountains and then pass through a biggish dot on the map – just over the half way mark – called Midelt. Once there I hoped we would be stopping long enough to have a cigarette. If we didn’t stop there, then the best I could hope for would be a breakdown somewhere along the line – preferably somewhere near the middle of the journey, but not any place so remote that, after several days had passed without assistance, one of us would be forced to eat the other when we’d run out of Coca Cola and Cheetos. After Midelt, and hopefully that cigarette, we would then pass over the 13,000 ft backbone of the aptly named High Atlas Mountains and then down into date country and back into the lowland oven. And that, according to our map, would be the journey to Er Rachidia. Oh, and one more thing, the man at the bus station said the journey would take about 6 hours from start to finish. Regrettably, I couldn’t glean whether this duration did or didn’t include a 5 minute stop at Midelt.
Once in Er Rachidia, as per usual our plan would be to sit down, have a glass of mint tea and then whinge to one another about the long and tortuous, butt-numbing bus journey. Then, after sensation had once again returned to the bulk of our extremities, we would begin to chat in an animated and upbeat fashion about the conveyor belt of striking scenery that had previously slipped by our bus windows. That’s usually how it goes. Incidentally, and just for the record, I invariably find greater comfort in the whinging than I do the scenic debrief.
As for the last section of the journey – from Er Rachidia into the big, yellow, rather empty part of the map – we hoped, with somewhat blind expectation, for it to all fall into place after that mint tea. We shall see – or Ensha’llaah, as they say around here – If god wills…