This CAN’T be Africa!

Snowy Atlas Mountains in Morocco

Morocco simply must be one of the most environmentally diverse little countries on earth… Prepare to experience a lot of ‘This CAN’T be Africa’ moments!

When thinking about North Africa it isn’t difficult to conjure up images of shifting desert sands or vast olive groves clinging to the curvature of rolling hills green with winter rains… even swelling tides crashing down on pristine beaches or medieval cityscapes where donkeys and humans take turns yielding the cobblestone trails… these are mental pictures that most travelers, adventurers and dreamers are filled with when they think of exotic Morocco

But snow-covered cedar forests?  Alpine villages that haven’t changed much at all in the last millennium?  Peaks so lofty and valleys so remote that they take your breath away?  Snowboarding and skiing in Morocco?  Toboggans and sleds?  Probably not the first thing that came to my mind when we considered a move to Morocco!  But low and behold, here we are in the palm-filled city of Fes where within less than two hours we can be transported into an arctic wonderland!  As the urban jungle is replaced with vineyards and villages the homes, clothing and general way of life gets less modern and more traditional.  The kids eagerly press their noses to the glass as our little vehicle chugs up and up and up, sometimes not going a whole lot faster than the brightly clad Berber woman riding their little donkeys barely clopping along under the weight of water jugs and bushels of freshly-harvested produce.

Snowy Atlas Mountains in Morocco
Snowy Atlas Mountains in Morocco

It’s February in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and the race is on- who will be the first to spot the snow!?  Just past the university town of Ifrane (fondly known as ‘Little Switzerland’) the white stuff is everywhere and the palm-lined boulevards we were on just an hour ago are a thing of the distant past.  Wait a second!  Was that a family of Barbary Apes swinging through the snow-laden coniferous forest?!  Not exactly something you see everyday!

Morocco Atlas Mountains
Morocco Atlas Mountains

Our destination is a place that looks like it may have once been a functioning ski hill, a little valley called Michlifin where locals have found a winter niche is making and renting out sleds or even skis and snowboards.  As Canadians and avid participants and promoters of winter sports we are tickled pink to discover old brand-name gear that we would have used in our youth!  “Where did they GET this stuff?”  Kevin muses with a smile while our kids hurl themselves headlong into a frosty pile on the parking lot.  There are loads of colourfully painted, homemade sleds everywhere… rough wooden crates pounded together, perching precariously on two sawed-off Rossignol skis that must have once taken enthusiasts down the French Alps just across the Mediterranean Sea.

Seeing our foreign faces, the ‘rental operator’ strikes a hard bargain, “20 Moroccan Dirhams for the day…”  Hmmm… that’s less than three Canadian dollars per person- we decide to take three.  How fun to slip and slide down the slopes, climb back up again with lungs full of fresh, cool air, laughter filling the little valley as we all realize what a treat this is.  But really… this just CAN’T be Africa!!  But it is and we are once again swept away in the beauty and diversity of this land, this country, this continent…

About the author

Kevin Dyck is the founder of Mosaic North Africa and has over 11 years experience living in North African countries. He is an Arabic speaker with a passion for travelers to encounter the diverse cultures and natural beauty found throughout the North Africa region. He currently lives in and works for MNA from Tunis, Tunisia.

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