Morocco: The Atlas Mountains

P1010606-Toubkal-4167m We rode from Marrakesh and spent a few days hiking in the High Atlas

The photos really tell the story but in the diary entries I have included a few more details:

TUESDAY (day 22) 7th May 2013
We packed and left Marrakesh to ride south to the High Atlas Mountains. Our plan was to ride some of the way and then maybe get a taxi (hopefully with our bike). This was not going to be easy/possible as unlike the taxis in the Anti Atlas which often had roof racks, there were none here with racks. We had ridden about 40 km in the hot afternoon sun and climbed about 1000m when we stopped for a drink a few kilometres from Asni. A guy (Mustafa) chatted with us about what we were doing and after lots of pleasant chatting he said he had a guest house in Asni and that it was much better and cheaper to stay in Asni than further up the mountain in Imlil. He could help us with trekking by loaning us a backpack and showing us a map. We said we would check out his guest-house. In Asni Mustafa met us and walked us up to a village about a kilometre from the town centre. We were introduced to his mother in a very rudimentary house and offered mint tea. After being repeatedly encouraged to put our bags in the room we asked about the price and after much reluctance Mustafa finally said 300 dirham which was to include tagine dinner and breakfast. It was not good value but it was going to be an interesting experience so now that a price was set we agreed to stay.
Mustafa was a 22 year old and lived with his mother and 15 year old sister. His father had died of a heart attack 2 years previously and so Mustafa was now the breadwinner. The view below is Mustafa showing us his village and the great view from the hill behind Asni.


Mustafa's home: It was interesting to see a local house from the inside. There was a steel front door with a key lock then a short hall with a kitchen on the right and living room on the left which led to an open courtyard. Off the courtyard there were 2 other rooms, the first a bedroom and the second an empty room that could be a bedroom. I think the living room is used as a bedroom but during our stay Mustafa's mother slept in the empty room as we used the living room for sleeping. The courtyard had a tap with a bucket under it as there was no drainage at all. When the bucket was full it was thrown out the door on the dirt street. Furniture consisted of four small stools and a low round table and that was it. The living room had some rugs on the floor and a television and stereo. In the kitchen there was a small brand new fridge that they had just got in the last few days. There was a bench on one wall and a few shelves. On the bench was a gas cooker but no sink or cupboards. Most food was bought the day it would be eaten. THe front two rooms were new and concrete and we were told they had been rebuilt when the originals had collapsed. The rest of the house was made of mud brick and the roofing was earth on top of wood and bamboo. All the floors were concrete. It was a clean and well kept home.

Wednesday Mustafa took us down to the town and organised a shared taxi to Imlil 17km further up the valley. It was to cost 10 dirham each (about AU$1.10) and there were 7 passengers in the very old but typical Mercedes Taxi (one in the back as it was a station wagon). In Imlil Annette had coffee and we bought some bread for lunch and it was 10:30 by the time we set off up the valley. The track rose quite steeply up the creek bed and then up a track to meet the road which had taken a longer route and went as far as the next village, Armed. From there we crossed the rocky river flat and climbed up the other side to a few shops at a shrine. There were quite a few people travelling back down, many with mules and most had hiked to the top the previous day and stated two nights in the refuge. From the seine the track again rose steeply and became rougher with little shade making it hot going. We had decided to drink the stream water rather than buying bottled water and this was a good decision as we would have created a lot of plastic waste and the stream water was cold and refreshing though it seemed to create considerable flatulence. FInally about 5:00pm we arrived and looked for a spot to camp and ordered a tagine dinner from the refuge Moulfon, the first of the two refuges in the desolate valley. It was to be Dh110 (AU$12.50) each and ready at 6:30pm. We crossed the rocky creek and found a cleared spot just large enough for our tent and got organised. Dinner ended up including a lovely warm dinning room, some pleasant company and soup, a very large chicken tagine and the typical mint tea.

Thursday we got up at 5:30 and there were already torch lights blinking on the scree slope above us. We set off shortly after 6am in the dark and the climbing was steep but not difficult. It took us 3 hours to reach the summit of Toubkal about 1000m higher than the refuge at 4167m…. the highest mountain in North Africa. The view was a magnificent 360° panorama across the high Atlas mountains to the plains below. These mountains certainly rise abruptly from the surrounding plains. We spent well over an hour at the summit and it took about 2 hours to descend to the refuge where we packed our tent and headed down the well marked mule track towards Imlil. We were both pretty tired and when we reached Armed (1945m) and saw a sign saying camping we asked about the possibilities and for 60 dirham including a supposed hot shower we were quickly decided. We ordered a tagine and pitched the tent on a very small patch of garden and after cold showers we lay down to wait for dinner, exhausted.

Friday despite being tired we had decided to hike across to the next valley (Imenane) for what looked like a mostly down hill walk after we crossed the saddle (Tizi n' Tamatert) at 2280m. Firstly there was about another half an hour down to Imlil (1740m) where we picked up some bread and bananas for lunch and then we followed the road up the Tamatert valley to the north east of Imlil. There were only a few cars and the road made easy climbing with great views of the apples almond groves in the irrigated valley. At the saddle the track was a row of switchbacks to the river below. There was no main path and we wandered into a narrow passage in the village (Tinerhourhine) just above the river. A local man came out and showed us the way through the village and over a long quaint covered passage to the river where a stone bridge crossed and women were washing their clothes. From here we headed downstream expecting to be on a road along the river as the map showed but alas the road climbed up and down away from the river and eventually to some roadworks which closed the road for quite a few kilometres. We gestured to a workman about how far to Asni and he indicated 10km. We were tired and fortunately happily drinking the side stream water as there were no shops just a quiet deserted road between picturesque villages. About an hour later we asked again as the road rose abruptly away from the river. 10km to Asni. It was getting late and with the road blocked by roadwork there were no passing cars. It was 7pm by the time we reached a bitumen road and were now pretty sure it was only 5km to go. A truck came by so we attempted to hitch and next thing we were in the back of a van with a cow to go the last few kilometres into Asni and Mustafa's home for another night.
I went to the hamman which was quite an experience as there are definite protocols, so I felt a little like a fish out of water, but it was great to feel so clean and revived after our hike. Annette had to make do with a bucket bath as the women's time at the hamman was over.

Saturday we checked out the weekly market in Asni before leaving about midday for the easy ride 40km back down to our camping area near Marrakesh. Both of us were pretty tired from the hiking and walking down stairs, or even a step was a painful affair as our calf muscles screamed from overuse. Riding was not a problem so when we arrived at the camping area we sat around the pool area and relaxed drinking cold mineral water and enjoying the "resort".

Sunday we skyped home for Mother's Day before leaving our resort like camping area and heading the 11km in to Marrakesh to catch a train to Rabat. We initially hoped to get the bike on the train in one piece but this proved impossible so at the station entrance I dismounted the bike and following the photo directions I had made when packing to leave for Europe we successfully got the bike packed in under an hour. We were luck to be getting on at Marrakesh which was the train terminus as the train gradually filled as we headed for Casablanca and then up the coast to Rabat. We felt guilty as with our huge heavy suitcase we took up 4 seats while the corridor was filled with standing passengers. We wriggled our way off the train at Salé, 4km north of Rabat where there was supposed to be a camping area near the beach. It was 7:30 and as the camping area was only about 2km we took our time putting the bike together and shopping in the supermarket.
At 9:30 we headed for the camping area but alas it had closed a year or so earlier and after asking around in one word sentences we determined there was no other camping so we crossed the river back to Rabat and about 11:30 we found a cheap hotel right next to the city market.

Monday we spent the day in Rabat which is the capital of Morocco. As we had our bike safely in our 3 bed first floor hotel room so we wandered around on foot through the medina to the old kasbah and then across through the new part of the city to the remains of Chellah, an old Roman City and later an 14th century city but now a UNESCO site. It is a city of contrasts, where modern and traditional are next to one another or melded together.