Saturday, 8 December 2012

Let it snow...

I am frequently one to rave about the amazing weather we are blessed with in Ifrane; not too hot, not too cold, and usually with a crystal clear sky. With the occasional arrival of bad weather, the old-timers would laugh and say 'you haven't seen anything yet' as we sat in the clouds and the rain whizzed horizontally passed. We heard tales of tremendous blizzards, with roads closed, temperatures as low as -27 degrees C, and snow higher than the windows. Hearing all this we were somewhat disappointed when, having brought a snowboard out with us, there was barely enough snow for one week of sledding last year. It was with this in mind that when the temperature dropped last week I urged the snow to come. Each night the clouds rolled in and it started to snow, but each morning there was barely a dusting.

Friday morning we woke up and looked out of the window into solid clouds. On the way to school there was already a light covering of snow on the ground. We were due to leave for the Spanish enclave Melilla straight after school and it was supposed to snow all morning. Saying that, we weren't too concerned as the snow that was falling was fine and powdery, looking almost like spray snow out of a bottle. We figured something that fine wouldn't really stick.

The snow continued silently. Busy in the classroom with fogged up windows, it wasn't until morning recess that I noticed the gathering piles. By lunch, which I was hosting in the classroom for our only student/parent lunch of the year, to celebrate the end of International Week, it was so thick that some parents were stranded at the university and couldn't get through down-town due to the accidents. 

With an hour of school to go we made the decision that we would at least try to get to Spain. The old-timers said, 'this is the real Ifrane!', and 'if you can just get down the mountain to Imouzer it'll all be clear”. Nick set off to pick up Nate from the Best Western 500m down the hill. On the way back Nate had to walk behind the car and push it up the hill, getting covered in snow and taking the occasional face plant along with it. The journey took just under an hour. With the heavy weight of the week long expectation of Friday night beer and pork in Casa Marta, we decided to press on. A snow plough had gone down towards Fes at 3.00, and leaving school at 3.30 we thought we'd be long down the mountain before a snow plough led a convoy down at 4.30.

Within 500 metres of setting off we had to push two cars out of snow drifts. We figured that maybe having done good deeds that Allah might choose to ignore the fact that we were doing all this in the name of alcohol and keep us out of a snow drift. Our progress soon got halted however, when we reached the lowered snow barrier on the outskirts of town. It was 4.40 by this point and somewhat foolishly we were surprised that the snow plough hadn't been through. An hour later and we were still sitting there, by this point with little way of getting back up the hill into town and with a long line of cars behind us The thought of setting off down the hill in the dark wasn't appealing, but by that point it was too late to turn back.

The snow plough arrived at 6.00. Lights flashing and third in line in a long convoy we set off down the hill. Progress was good and the snowfall lessened. Spirits in the car rose. The snow plough pulled out from the convoy a couple of kilometres before Imouzer, and although it seemed that the snow was actually thicker we thought that as the snow plough had left us we must be through the worst. We were wrong. Imouzer was in chaos. On the other side of the closed snow barrier cars were parked haphazardly and people were blocking the thickly covered slippy road. Waving you through they stand in the way of the moving cars, which are likely to skid into them at any point. It is as if they have never driven on snow and have no idea that you need to get out of the way. Instead they stand and walk in the middle of the road and expect you to jam on the breaks, forgetting that this will just induce a slide. 

Once through the chaos of Imouzer the sight that faced us was not a positive one. Imouzer sits on the edge of a valley and the road winds down out of it with a steep drop on one side. The cars coming up the hill were sliding all over the road and into our lane at times. People were helping push them up the hill with little thought for getting out of the way of oncoming traffic. If no one went off the mountain that day then it's a small miracle.

To cut an already too long story short, the 45 minute journey from school to the highway took us four hours. The snow line was far lower than anyone expected. We crossed the border into Spain at midnight, 1.00 local time, were in the bar by quarter past, and still didn't make it to closing. By the time that we had panic drank ourselves silly on empty stomachs, we had to go home just as the real party was starting.

Our trip to Melilla followed its usual routine, and we set off on Sunday on our return journey with every nook and cranny of car loaded up with pork and booze, telling ourselves that the extra weight would act as traction to get us up the hill into Ifrane. The drive back was uneventful. That is until we reached the snowline. As soon as we hit snow there were cars parked at every angle along the side of the road, people taking photos of each other and their cars in the snow. If this wasn't annoying enough, we started to see cars making their way down the mountain with mounds of snow on the roof and bonnet, blocking the windscreen and limiting the drivers view of the chaos on the road. It took us a while to realize that this wasn't just due to the drivers being lazy and not clearing their windscreens, but it was in fact placed there on purpose. Locals drive up from the city, pull over at the first patch of snow they can find, take all the pictures they can, and maybe get out a stove and make mint tea. Then, before departing, they make enormous snowballs and pile them on their car and take it back down the mountain with them. We even saw a snowman, complete with eyes, mouth and twigs for arms on someone’s bonnet. What they expect to do with the snow I have no idea, but judging by the mounds of it that we kept encountering on the road at the roundabouts, they didn't really think the plan through. 

How long this current batch of snow will last I don't know; it is still up over my classroom windowsill a week later. I know one thing for sure, we are avoiding all travel on roads that we can. Drivers here are accident prone in the best of conditions. With the added hindrance of slippy roads and snow tourists it's like a Demolition Derby. We'll just stay up here and enjoy the spectacular views.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what a glorious series of pictures and good-humoured commentary. We travelled in the area just 3 weeks ago, and apart from rain in the Middle Atlas, it was fine everywhere. Wouldn't imagine things could turn as bad as that.
Your report on people bringing down huge snowballs or snowmen on their bonnets reminded me of similar sights seen on Taiwan in the eighties. People in hot countries seem to just go crazy about snow.