We left Aït Ben Haddou at 8:30 and stopped for pictures of the town from afar. After a quick selfie with Chai, the Thai pediatrician who kept insisting I was his photography teacher(!), we were on our way to a mountain gîte in the High Atlas Mountains.
We were immediately winding along mountain roads. Green fields were dotted with bright red asterisks of poppies and needles of prickly pear cacti. We bumped over dirt roads for a long while. Red mudbrick ruins and cottonwoods lined a stream in the valley. The landscape was full of broom, apple orchards, olive groves, onion fields and mustard plants or linseed.
I bought a small alabaster dromedary at a rest stop close to 10:00. Soon after we went through the pass of Tizi-n-Tichka, 2,260 meters high, the highest point of our journey. We were heading toward Toubkal National Park.
At 10:30, we stopped for pictures over dry brown mountains and a green valley. Then it was a long curvaceous drive over the High Atlas Mountains. Road construction was everywhere, bumpy gravely roads, construction debris, red dirt and dust flying everywhere. We passed pottery and mineral vendors.
At a noon bathroom break, I bought some postcards and bookmarks. We had a grand view north into the valley to the east of Marrakesch.
At 12:30, we stopped at a Pharmacie for many in our group who had caught colds, but the line was too long.
Then we were in a flatter area, still green, but a dusty green. Shepherds wearing straw hats and vests herded their sheep. We passed groups of brightly clad and mismatched people standing along the road as if waiting for a bus.
We stopped after 1:00 at another Pharmacie. There I bought two pens because my pens were running low on ink.
We drove around the outskirts of Marrakesh and then south on R203 toward Toubkal Parc National, North Africa’s highest mountain range, known by local Berbers as “Idraren Draren” (Mountain of Mountains). It towers above the Haouz plain, dividing it from the Sahara. The High Atlas runs diagonally across Morocco for almost 1,000 km, but the Toubkal region contains the best peaks. The first roads cut through this region were in the early 20th century. Before that, there were only mule trails leading from the Sahara to the northern plains. The highest mountain in North Africa is the snow-capped Jebel Toubkal.
We wound along steep mountain roads higher and higher, with linseed, rocks and streams in the valley, and the snow-covered High Atlas before us. We stopped to eat at a restaurant where I ordered an avocado with shrimp salad and mango juice. The waiter was terribly disorganized and our meals came out piecemeal. It was a super long and frustrating wait; we were there for 1 1/2 hours. I hate such incompetence and hate waiting around for such a long time when I just want to get to our destination. Of course, Susan was always sympathetic to this: “Oh, he’s so overworked, poor guy.” I, on the other hand, feel that when I’m paying for something, there should be a certain level of competence. I hate wasting so much time sitting around at interminable lunches.
By 4:00, we’d arrived at Imlil (elevation 1,740m), the launching point for trekkers into the High Atlas. We loaded our bags onto the donkeys, and then hiked uphill to the neighboring Aroumd (aka Armed or Armoud) at 1,960m. We passed a burbling stream, stone houses, a mosque, and shady apple orchards. We crossed wet creek beds, streams and some gravelly terrain. Many of the group went ahead quickly and left the slower of us behind. Aziz got irritated that the group was so spread out and wasn’t keeping together as a team. Several times, we lost sight of those ahead and had no idea at forks in the path where to go.
I found a nice collection of doors along the way. They reminded me of Omani doors.
We finally arrived at Auberge Ifrane a Imlil Marrakech, run by Azizi Lacha. We had to redistribute ourselves in rooms: Susan and I shared with Tammy. We sat on the terrace and had mint tea and fresh popped popcorn.
From the balcony, we had a view of the mountains. Aroumd is tucked into the folds of the High Atlas in the Ait Mizane Valley. Jbel Adj and Jbel Agelzim are two peaks that tower overhead in their snow-covered glory. The air was fresh, clear and cool, and it was pleasant to be so far from civilization and traffic.
I went out to take a walk through the village and Yulian (nicknamed Nana) asked if she could come along. Natalie also joined. We climbed to the top of the village for views into the valley from where we’d started our hike. We kept trying to remember all the turns we took so we’d be able to find our way back: “take a left between 64 & 65 at the green door,” etc.
We took turns posing for pictures near the top of the town and saw the mountains all around as well as the valley below.
We found a poor little kid (goat) with deformed front legs. Natalie picked some greens and fed them to it.
We walked back downhill by the gardens and a falaj (watercourse). Natalie and Yulian continued to walk along the falaj, while I walked uphill to a charming house. A man and woman sitting on the terrace told me a different way I should walk as I was encroaching on their private home.
On the way back to the auberge, cheeky little kids kept making finger gestures at me, but I had no idea what they meant. When I said “Salaam u alaykum,” they repeated it to me in a mocking way. Natalie said when she walked past a little girl, they said hello to one another, but once she’d walked past, she thought the girl said “F*#k” with a smile. I said maybe the girl was saying the Arabic فـقــد (faqad) or “lost.” I had remembered learning that word when I studied Arabic and thinking how it sounded like our expression of profanity.
Dinner was communal with couscous and veggies (always overcooked) and roasted chicken and the same old Moroccan soup. We had orange quarters for dessert. There didn’t seem to be much variety in the Moroccan diet. It was just okay.
The most fun we had was playing a game Gabriel had on his phone, a kind of game where an animal name showed up on the phone and we had to get him to guess it. Later, we played another version using actions: “picking apples,” “bungee-jumping,” “ventriloquist,” that we acted out to get a person to guess. It was hilarious! We were all laughing our heads off. One answer was “South Africa,” and I said “Hey mon.” Gabe said, “That’s Jamaica!” and we couldn’t stop laughing. It was a boisterous and crazy time and it was fun because it included everyone in the group and wasn’t cliquish.
Everyone badmouthed poor Father Anthony, and Natalie was supposed to share a room with him in our tight communal quarters, but in protest, she slept in the common area. It got rather cold in the mountains at night, but we all bundled up in our fuzzy blankets and managed to make it through the night.
*Steps: 12,568, or 5.33 miles*
*Wednesday, April 17, 2019*
“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose.
One of my intentions was to write about how I revel in (or resist) the experience. Do I bask in the light, the breeze, the rustling of leaves on the trees? Do I linger over cuisine and wine? Truly possessing a scene is making a conscious effort to observe closely.
It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation. You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose. You can also include photos, of course.
Include the link in the comments below by Monday, April 13 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, April 14, I’ll include your links in that post.
This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂
I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!