Exploring Morocco for the first time, in the words of our friend Anda 🙂
Actually I could say I was against this trip to Morocco. We had less than one month to our wedding and, obviously, many things to resolve. But my fiancé insisted on going. We decided that if we can finish all the papers, and especially my passport, then we will go. Eventually all the planets aligned and one week before Easter we took off – literally!
I needed Google Maps to know where we were heading for, I knew almost nothing about Morocco. However between the civil ceremony, practicing the bride and groom dance, regular visits to the wedding hall and my job, Morocco just lost its priority. Taking only a small backpack with the strictly necessary and a temporary passport made especially for this trip, we left for a continent I had never stepped on before: Africa.
We enjoyed total freedom over our time and felt free to discover a new country. The first real impact was that of the local people. We took a bus from Marrakech airport to the city: it was full with women and children. I think all the women had at least two or three children around them. Not a sight you see often in our Europe. We descended somewhere close to the city center and enjoyed a city busy, crowded and full with people. Some women wore burka, and together with Alexandra we began to realize that it’s not such a bad idea, at least it offers protection from odors, dust and pollution.
Eventually we saw the famous Jamaa el-Fna of Marrakech, ate delicious tajine aux legumes and caught a bus heading for the High Atlas Mountains. By the time we reached our lodge in Imlil village, it was already dark. After taking part in the Berber tea ceremony presented to us by our host, we got to eat dinner. Not knowing in advance that we were all vegans, our host had to quickly improvise something: semolina soup – as far as I could tell – warm homemade bread, pickled olives and other delicious dishes. The guys discussed with our host more details about the mountain trek that awaited us. We wanted to climb on Toubkal, the highest peak in the country, about 4100m.
The following day we left the village, heading up the mountain. Lovely, warm weather and spring sun. The trail was winding from one village to the next, where we were greeted by merchants selling carpets, souvenirs and T-shirts with Toubkal. There’s no problem if you have no money, they are willing to trade even with the clothing on your back 🙂 Slowly-slowly we reach the steeper part of the trek. Sorin, with his altimeter, was keeping us up-to-date with our vertical ascent. Few people were on the trek, and occasionally we run into people with mules.
Ascending higher and higher we increasingly encountered more water streams. Above 2500m snow started to appear. It wasn’t that serious, we also trekked on snow last year when David and I ascended Moldoveanu peak, the highest altitude I reached. At least until Sorin announced a new threshold: 2800m. Just a bit more until the refuge. We could almost see it, there wasn’t that much to go. However, on the mountain distances are among the most deceiving. I think we trekked about two-three hours till the refuge, where we reached by sundown. The following day we were going to attempt to summit Toubkal peak, and thus leave very early in the morning.
Putting on our head torches and crampons, since we were already surrounded by frozen snow, we started ascending from 3200m to 4167m. I think we were the first to leave, by the time the sun came up we were already a few hundred meters above the refuge. There’s no kidding with the snow, I don’t know how I would have climbed without crampons. The ascent became steep, but we trekked on a worn trail. The trekking polls also helped. Sorin warned us that some people have bad reactions due to high altitude and differences in pressure, but we were lucky, we made breaks only for pictures. And it was worth it: the views make you wish you will never return to the city: snow, mountains and rocks as far as the eyes can see. And from almost 4000m you can see far… With each step we were getting closer to the summit, we took the crampons off since the snow trail turned into stones and rocks. After a detour to the left we hoped to eventually see the summit. Why is it that you never see the peak directly in front? It seems that always there’s a detour, then a plateau and in the end… we’ve made it! We reached 4167m and we could finally rest. We were fortunate to have sunshine, a wonderful view, just perfect for pictures. Pictures for our friends from Alergotura and VerticalAdventure.
If last summer someone would have told me that after Moldoveanu I would jump to the 4000m threshold, I would have laughed in their face. Starting to descend, it already felt easier. On the steeper part we put the crampons back on, the snow had already started to melt and it was slippery. A snow sled would have been great. Passing by the refuge we hurried along to reach our lodge in the village before sundown.
We managed to get back before it was fully dark. Our host was waiting for us with tea and excellent food, curious to find out how our summit experience had been. Discussing our plans for the following days, we found time to go all the way to the Sahara desert.
However the following day…we were lazy to leave. We were tired, and even though all we had to do is sit in the minibus, I felt sick. Like the mountain sickness I didn’t have the day before was catching up with me. Looking around I noticed we all were feeling sick. Today we crossed the High Atlas Mountains, the road was narrow and crowded, and the worst was our driver’s sportive driving on the serpentines. At least we knew why we felt sick… 😀
After another half day of driving we reached the edge of the sands. We were going to sleep in the desert in a Touareg tent camp. We learn that the water here was brought all the way from the mountains we had crossed on our way here. At the edge of the desert we were greeted by a swimming pool. And people say there’s no water in the desert…
We climbed onto camel backs, which walk with a rocking movement. Trying to get used to their rocking, we made ourselves as comfortable as possible on their backs. The landscape leaves you speechless. On the other hand, you’re better off keeping your mouth closed, since the wind is spreading sand grains everywhere… On our way we met other thrill seekers: tourist on ATVs or with off-road cars drifting in the sand dunes.
After about 2 hours camel trekking, our attendant invited us to climb on the tallest dune around, to see the sunset. We descended barefoot in the sand. Soft, dry, warm sand. Sand in which we sunk with ease. We started ascending and it started to become fun: your feet sink in the sand and it is difficult to ascend. You can hardly believe this whole hill is made of sand. Reaching its top, we took pictures and enjoyed the warm sun. After the sun went down everything seemed to turn cold: the sand, the air and us. We descended to the tent camp, where the tastiest and richest dinner we had in all of Morocco awaited us. Everything fit perfectly, the road, the tiredness and the distance, where else can you find 2 days away desert and snow at altitudes above 4000m?
Trekking on camel back the following day, we returned to civilization and then back to Marrakech. Our friends took the road to Casablanca and other famous cities of Morocco. We had to get back to our own, but since I returned from Morocco, I started recommending it as a tourist destination more than any other European country. It is something else. Another country, another culture, another civilization. And the recommendation is obvious, get ways from the civilized, touristic areas and cities. The real local charm, just like in our country, you feel through the simple people of the countryside…
Until next time, Morocco! 🙂Tags: Atlas, Berber, camel trekking, desert, Imlil, Marrakech, Morocco, Sahara, sand, Touareg, Toubkal, Tuareg