Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............
By Liz Tosoni
To Moroccan locals, the medina is the market, it’s where everything under the sun can be bought, where you can find a translator, a typist to type a document, a house painter, a camel steak, a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice or a cup of mint tea; it’s just a part of quotidian existence.
To the traveler though, it’s pure exotica; the sights, sounds, smells and tastes, a savory, sensory happening. In the background, five times a day, is the sonorous sound of the muezzin call to prayer, in the souks and medinas, colorful pyramids of herbs, spices and dried fruit, conical pots of aromatic tajines, delectable pastries, hanging chickens, camel heads and sides of beef, finely woven carpets and fabrics, glittering brass and silverware, soft leather products, elegant traditional clothing and slippers, all juxtaposed one against the other, seemingly haphazardly.
Bouregreg Marina was our little sanctuary while in Sale, Rabat’s twin city. Outside was the traffic noise, pollution, the hustle and bustle of city life, the Kasbah, the medinas, the souks, all very fascinating but fatiguing too. We yearned for some clean mountain air, so six yachties, Steve and Eva of Music, GB and Sarah of Djarrka, and Tom and I, set out at 0530 on the Marrakesh Express, bound for a four day a trek in the high Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
Just outside the train station in Marrakesh, the famous Moroccan touts immediately gravitated toward us. We knew our next destination to be Imlil, the base for our trek into the mountains and we knew that we needed to find the bus station, Bab Rob, about a mile from the station. “You must take grand taxi. No problem. Only 300 dirham” said our tout. (300 dirham is about $37.) We asked how far away it was. “Very far, 15 km. You need a taxi. It’s no problem, I have a taxi for you.” We had a map from the Lonely Planet Guide book so we said thank you but no thank you and carried on, eventually finding our way to the bus station by foot. No problem. A local bus fit us all, squished in like so many sardines, and took us to Asni, a two hour drive, and our first Berber village with houses of red earth stacked in clusters around the green valley, the souk buzzing with business, the people in hooded gowns, pointed cowls. Then, a taxi, an old Mercedes, two more hours driving, and we were in Imlil where mules are the main form of transport and “gites” are the places of rest, very basic but clean with mattresses, blankets, showers and meals provided.
|Once settled in our gite, “Café Aksoual”, it sunk in, we’d been transported to another world.|
Around every bend and turn was a picture-perfect panoramic vista. Our muscles ached but we didn’t care; we stopped a lot and soaked in the splendid scenery. It took about 7 hours to cover about 7 miles, very slow going with our sailor legs, to arrive at our first overnight stop on the trail in Ourenskra. We stayed at “Gite Diame Treck” (7,150 ft.), a utilitarian place with a lovely view and nice host family, paying 270 dirham (about $33) for the two of us for room, showers, dinner of hearty tajine (Moroccan dish of vegetables, potatoes, and lamb or chicken all simmered together in a clay pot) and breakfast of pancakes with honey.
Day two, a half hour uphill, huffing and puffing in the early morning, and we were in Tacheddirt.
After Tacheddirt, it was a long, slow, steep trek to the pass, Tizi Tacheddirt, (10,400 feet) which took us about three hours to cover, up, up and up with more fantastic views all the way, then down, down, and down some more, another three or four hours.
|Day three is a gentler walk (about five hours), more gradually sloping, through terraced valleys, by cascading waterfalls and ancient gnarled walnut trees, to the pretty town of Setti Fatma, on the river, where tourists (and touts) abound . It’s no wonder as you can hike to 7 waterfalls from this lovely spot.|
At the gite, there’s a sorry excuse for a shower and a walk downstairs to the shared toilet, but the tajine is tasty and plentiful, or, if you choose, you can have cous cous, which also looked delicious.
After a short rest, we took a stroll through the town on the river, and found it to be abuzz with activity: walnuts being processed, fruit from the nopale cactus being collected, mules being cared for and tended to, stores being put away, walkways being repaired.
We’d had a short but sweet trip to the interior of Morocco. Muscles were sore, minds stimulated. We had our fix of cool, clean mountain air and fresh perspectives, but Feel Free was waiting for us back in Sale.