The Atlas Mountains

Posted on January 5, 2015

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I sprung out of bed excited about hiking in the Atlas Mountains. I am new to trekking and it is something that I really enjoy although I will admit that I am certainly not fast, nimble or very fit but I do love a challenge.

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We were picked up by our guide Ahmed at 9am and said goodbye to the chaos of Marrakech. The drive took us along the wide roads flanked by impressive countryside and in the distance large majestic white peaks set against a brilliantly blue sky. There has been a lot of snow so my plan to hike Jebel Toubkal the highest peak at over 4,000m was scuppered. I had no intension of being Ranulph Fiennes for a day. Instead an easier climb and hikewas mapped out for us that would take us to a peak of 2,700m.

En route we stopped at a co-operative for women who have either never married or who are divorced. They make beauty products out of Argan oil such as soaps and lotions to sell to support themselves as they don’t have a man to provide them as is the custom here in Berber country.

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The second pit stop brought us to a souk. This is where Berbers come in their droves to stock up on supplies for a week. It is also perfect for people to catch up with each other with what’s been going on. There is everything from one-stop barbers, stalls with tagine clay pots, fruit and veg, spices and herbs as well as clothes and surprisingly super glue in abundance!

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As the car took us higher into the mountains and air became chillier. We passed through the village of Imlil which is the hub for the area and also where most tourists stay. Here we picked up Omar. Our very charming and attractive mountain guide. He is from the area and has been doing this for about three years. He has a four year old son but his work as a guide means he does a lot of travelling. He is also in a band and plays the African drum. His group is called Toubkal Group original i know – and yes all six member are mountain guides.

Our climb up (Touja local name) Tanamrout took just over an hour. The ground is loose gravel and stone. Slips and slides are to be expected and for just that little bit more excitement there are no barriers or anything to stop you falling off the mountain side. The height as I mentioned was 2,700m and the views were breathtaking. The snowy mountains to our left and the deep valleys to our right.

The climb down was not so much tough as very tricky and I was incredibly grateful to have Omar to hand to steady me when my footing started to give way. At one point my leg did fall away with a shower of stones, but I remained surprisingly calm as I was being supported and at least had one leg still on the ground.

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When we reached the base of the mountain we sat basking in the sun enjoying hot sweet mint tea peeling off layers to cool down. Lunch came in the form of oily sardines with salty olives and chopped tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and onions with boiled macaroni. A large omelette loving prepared in a skillet was also placed in front of us that bubbled and spat as it continued to cook in the heavy iron dish.

Bellies full and mule Katerina loaded up with our backpacks as well as the cook Abdul in tow we set off for our digs at the furthest Berber village. Omar, The Actress and I made the two hour hike on foot which took us around the mountain roads, over a few ice cold streams and up some steep climbs to around 2,300m. The small house is high in the mountains and is cute. There is an open fire in the small living room off to the left of it is a tiny kitchen, a bathroom with a squat toilet and another area lined with single mattresses that makes it feel like the seven dwarves live here! We have been given a double futon in a separate room, but if it gets super cold I may well crawl into one of the single beds which may still benefit from the heat of the living room fire.

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Abdul has tonight shown me how to make an authentic tagine which I will try my hand at when I get back home. So many of the spices are similar to Indian cooking. This is the most hassle free dish I have seen in a while. Most of the effort goes into the prep then you leave it to stew.

After two hours of being bundled up in blankets the owner finally arrived with wood and we have made a toasty fire. Dinner will be ready soon and then it’ll be bedtime. I feel really good after such a great walk today but i bet my legs will kill me tomorrow a we set off through the mountains and back to Imlil on foot.

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