“ARE THOSE MONKEYS?!” I suddenly found myself shouting in excitement. Yep, they were. There are indeed monkeys wandering the forests of Morocco.
We were hiking in the Middle Atlas mountains, near the towns of Azrou and Ifrane. And prior to stumbling upon monkeys, I easily could have mistaken where we were for back home in New Hampshire or the Appalachians. Unlike the majority of Morocco, which is typically a more arid climate, this mountainous area was lush and green.
Our day had started out with our bus pulling up to a small, local Berber home amid this beautiful landscape; the first of many reminders that we were still in Morocco. It was at this small home that our group sat down to experience true Moroccan hospitality and a huge, delicious breakfast in preparation for our upcoming hike.
I highly recommend this place to anyone. The food was AMAZING! We were served fresh orange juice, hot mint tea, and heaping plates of bread, meloui (A thin, buttery-tasting Moroccan bread) with honey, eggs, and other small breakfast pastries. And in the process of enjoying this all, you are helping out the local economy.
After filling our bellies and a horse ride or two around the fields, our hike finally began, the beginnings of which were filled with easy meandering through fields of bright red poppy flowers, with other Berbers passing by on donkeys in the midst of completing their daily tasks.
We finally began moving upwards upon reaching the outskirts of the forests, where the path became steep. Soon, our entourage became completely engulfed by cedar trees, and we knew that we were making our way.
And then, an hour or so in, came THE MONKEYS. We saw a large group of people gathered around, so we approached to see what was causing all the commotion, and lo and behold of course, the culprits were monkeys. Just hanging out in the forest and enjoying all the attention they were receiving from this throng of tourists and curious people alike.
It’s no secret that I’m an animal lover. Every other person in my study abroad group here in Morocco makes fun of me for running up to every other stray cat and kitten that I see to say hi. So given the chance to hang out with some monkeys, I was 100% up for it.
I’ve read about traveler vs. monkey horror stories more times than I can count. Fortunately, our time spent here was not meant to join their ranks. These monkeys were the sweetest! There were even mothers with babies clinging to their backs wandering around. They were all completely comfortable around us humans as well, and didn’t hesitate to walk right up and ask for some peanuts and water. Yes, they did in fact ask for food.
I think that’s what surprised me and what I loved the most about the encounter – the monkeys were so incredibly human-like and unafraid with their interactions with us. Primates of all sizes, hungry for some peanuts and thirsty for some water, only had to come up and tug on our pants to get what they wanted. Some even proceeded to grab our water bottles and take a drink the same way a person would. It was hilarious!
After a solid half an hour spent laughing with the barbary monkeys of the forest, we had to sadly move on. But feeding some adorable monkeys was not the only highlight of our journey, as we would soon find out.
The next sight we came upon was a giant cedar tree. . .that was 900 years old!!! It was mind-blowing to stand before this tree and try to comprehend the fact that it was older than all of us, than the United States, than King Henry VIII, older than the world as we know it. The cedar is called the cedre gouraud, and the forest as a whole is given this name as well. Unfortunately, the tree died in 2003, but it still remains standing.
And the views of the countryside that came along with it were absolutely spectacular. The Middle Atlas mountains of Morocco are a beautiful area to hike through and experience: to witness views like this, to see ancient trees, and to hang out with some awesome little monkeys.