Mountain high, Morocco

24 Jun

Monday 17 June – Day One:

Collected promptly from Marrakech hotel 8:55am by Hassan, Mohamed’s outsourced transfer driver with comfortable four-wheel drive. 90 minutes from Marrakech dropped off in Imlil Village in High Atlas Mountains. Last twenty minutes mostly gravel and dirt narrow road. Handed over to Hassan, short, wiry, perpetual smile who organises mint tea under trees by river while tagine lunch (klefta/meat balls with eggs for Stu and Hassan and vegie for me) cooked over wood fire in open.

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Who needs a restaurant fridge?

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Stu chillaxing.

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Meanwhile baggage taken up to guesthouse on back of mule.

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Walk twenty minutes guided by Hassan uphill off road mostly following stream to pink, three level terraced house. Grandma Fadma unlocks our level. Greet Grandfather Ibrahim. They live downstairs. Settle into our rooms, twin bedroom with extra bed, hot shower and flushing loo, common room for meals and relaxing and large terrace with sun umbrella. View across valley to high mountains. People like ants walk the distant zigzag dirt road, some leading mules.

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Local swimming pool.

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More mint tea. Mohamed is in Marrakech, due back late. Meet Mohamed’s kids, ten-year-old twins, Mouna and Mourad and four-year old-Ayoub. Baby Sulayman sleeping. They live upstairs.

Play with kids, making words with Scrabble, paper aeroplanes, teaching Mouna noughts and crosses. So smart! She wants to speed up the game, asks for another pen.

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Ayoub’s selfie.

Abdeslam, future walking guide arrives back from summiting Mt Toubqal 4160m (highest point in North Africa) guiding another group staying elsewhere. Slim, short, sweet smile. He won’t find us challenging at all.

Walk back down to village with Abdeslam to buy snacks, toilet paper and Berber scarf for Stu. Tea at main intersection watching people in constant motion at food stalls, carting goods, cooking, barbershop, small boys riding bicycles and being naughty. Navigate our way home with just one uncertain turn.

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Dinner 7:30pm prepared by Mohamed’s wife Zahara (as yet unseen with baby Sulayman) spiced tomato and onion salad followed by vegie couscous. Melon and banana for dessert. Couscous so fluffy and tasty!

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Call to prayer again at 8:30pm. We are nearly ready for sleep……

Monday 18 June – Day Two

Don’t hear five am call to prayer, wake 7:30am. Only sounds roosters and distant dog barking. Breakfast 8am. Bread, apricot and fig jam, local version Nutella, orange juice, instant coffee and powded milk.

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9am start three hour valley circle walk with Abdeslam to highest village called Armed,1900 metres. Walk through orchards of walnut, cherry, apple trees. Spot robins and chaffinches. Across dry river bed that flash flooded 1995 killing 150 people. 100 years before it flooded even worse and killed countless people.

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Kids as young as five walk alone to and from school. Girls walking holding hands just precious.

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Climb up other mountainside. Cloud from valley blows over and past us.

Pass another village. Travelling snake man with two small, brown snakes in wooden box on mule. Villagers rarely see snakes so pay a dirham or two for the chance.

Past village we become those ants on other side of valley. Zigzag back down passing hikers and woman in silk clothes riding mule on way to shrine further up valley. Moroccans majority Moslem but Berbers still build shrines to make wishes for children, health, love.

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Rocky valley floor. White mule stands under tree and nearby another Mohamed cooking us lunch of penne, salad veg, sardines, meatballs in gravy and bread with sweet mint tea followed by sliced hondeydew melon. Even brought two mattresses for us to sit on. Dine like kings.

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Abdeslam.

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Stuart however not comfortable in nether regions so easy stroll back to guesthouse after lunch to rest and read. Pass four women – walking human haystacks. Only women do this work – cooperatively.

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Last steps to the guesthouse.

Meet Mohamed on return. He’s wearing a kangaroo sweatshirt. Another slim, fit Berber man with a ready grin. I knew from the two emails it took to book this experience that he would be kind and clever.

Invite kids back to practice alphabet song with scrabble letters. French and English versions. They bring apples they offer to share. More drawing, practicing tying head scarves, paper planes, counting in English and French and Ayoub happy to play with his model car and truck. He is a natural mimic while Mourad is the tough guy. Mouna brings baby Sulayman up and presents him to me along with small can of fish from her pocket. Sulayman happy, strong six-month-old who likes bouncing on my lap and singing nonsense songs.

7:30pm have to send kids away at dinnertime – salads then chick pea and egg vegie tagine is tastiest ever.

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After dinner discuss Stu’s condition. Still very uncomfortable and increasingly concerned about what is wrong with him. Talk with Mohamed about travel options. Agree we will be taken to Marrakech early morning to try to change return ticket to catch 11:50am Easyjet flight to London. He arranges instantaneously over phone. Pack and try to sleep.

Wednesday June 19 – Day Three

5am call to prayer and I am already awake. Still awake at 6am alarm. Cold! Stu feeling a little better. Mohamed comes to check we are up and tell us mule due in ten minutes. Dawn’s soft golden pink spreading up valley.

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Scribble note to thank Abdeslam, Mohamed and his family and to say farewell to the kids. Leave all our snacks and a fancy hair tie for Mouna. Very sad not to be able to explain abrupt departure and hug them goodbye. I hope to come back here to finish the adventure and see the family again.

Hassan and mule arrive and luggage reloaded. Strange beast cannot keep tongue in its mouth. Promise to text Mohamed what happens in Marrakech. Follow Hassan and mule down to road. Two minutes later driver arrives. All like clockwork. Load up and drive to Marrakech in record time, no traffic.

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Mohamed left and muleteer Hassan right.

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Moroccan Easyjet office clerk very understanding of situation and helpful but he has to deal with urgent client requests for earlier flights so paying and getting boarding passes issued takes forty-five minutes and we can’t get seats together.

Waiting to board plane we hear our names paged. Same clerk has managed to get us seats together. Sweetie. Smooth on time flight. Look out window to see really big oasis – green fields as far as the eye can see. England. Sun shines as we land at Gatwick. Could we have brought the warmth of Morocco with us?

POSTSCRIPT: Morocco surprised me. I expected to love the architecture, textiles, climate and cuisine but did not expect to fall in love with the people, especially the Berbers and their approach to life. Admittedly mine was the traveller’s perspective, fleeting. And no doubt I seek out the values that resonate with me. But for all that what I witnessed in Moroccans was repeated time and again. Examples of solidarity, humour, simplicity, hard work, generosity of spirit, tolerance, respect and honesty shone through people I met. Morocco has serious development issues to deal with. One massive problem is the plastic trash you see littering cities, the Sahara and roadsides everywhere. Plastic bottles and plastic bags are the worst offenders. If that’s not tackled the plastic pollution will be overwhelming and the tourism industry will suffer. As travellers we should commit to limiting our use of plastic and encourage others to do the same.

Map shows the route I took on this trip.

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3 Responses to “Mountain high, Morocco”

  1. George and Heather June 24, 2013 at 2:19 am #

    Glad to hear Marrakech was all you expected it to be. Hope you are feeling better Stuart.
    George and Heather

  2. Michelle Noble June 24, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    Hey there Sharon. I’ve loved your account of Morocco and so glad you got to ride the camel and sleep under the stars. It’s good you’ve kept strong for Stuart. Worrying times and I hope you both come through okay.
    Our love and best wishes as always.
    Michelle and Bryan.xx

    • Sharon Tickle June 24, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

      Hi Michelle,

      Thanks! Stu had good advice from GP here in London and antibiotics seem to be helping so fingers crossed that’s all he needs.

      Make sure Morocco is on your list for your 2014 adventure!

      Sxx

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