Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Morocco - High Atlas Trails

Angela Featherstone travelled to Morocco with The Imaginative Traveller on their High Atlas Trails tour. Here are her thoughts.

I chose this tour because I had never travelled outside Europe or America and I wanted to see a different culture and lifestyle. I was prepared to deal with the more basic living conditions whilst trekking in order to see countryside that can be seen no other way except by getting out there on foot.

The tour began in Marrakech and the riad which was our hotel was definitely far from basic – the rooms are small but were en suite with western style facilities The riad had a lovely roof garden where breakfast was taken and drinks could be ordered throughout the day whilst making use of the sun loungers. The roof top views were fascinating in themselves as well as being able to view neighbouring courtyards and streets.

In our exploration of the souks it was sometimes frustrating as locals insisted on helping you find your way even when you weren’t lost! However everyone was good natured and they were not after money – just being helpful and friendly to a visitor. Be warned though, the entertainers in the Jemaa el Fna are there to earn money anyway they can and if they catch you taking a photograph anywhere in their general direction they’ll endeavour to get you to pay around 20 dirhams (18R) for a “close-up”.

The best value lunch we had in Marrakech was at Chez Chagrouni – a bowl of hirara – a vegetable soup and bread for 8 dirhams (R7). You are expected to buy drink as well and a large bottle of still water seemed to be 10 dirhams (R8.50) at most restaurants 5 dirhams (R4) in a shop) but anything you hadn’t drunk by the time you left you took away with you.

The best evening meal we had was at Riad Omar. This is on the main pedestrianised street of the main square – I think is is Rue Bab Agnaou (but you probably won’t find a name board anyway) It’s on the opposite side of the main square to the souks. We went here at the end of the tour with our group and the restaurant was up on the roof under bedouin style drapes. It came to the very reasonable price of 150 dirhams (R132) and this was the most expensive meal we had – usually we managed on 120 dirhams (R106).

On the trek itself, life in the remote villages for the Berber people is a sharp contrast to the city. Barren rolling desert on the first day gave way to valleys of olive trees and the houses appeared camouflaged as they are constructed from the same surrounding red soil. The trek traversed many fertile areas where orchards and vegetable plots abound. Goats graze the hillside and the main form of transport is the mule or donkey. Children call out along the way hoping for sweets or pens but provided you’ve perfected the phrase “Je n’ai pas des bonbons (ou des stylos), said with a smile they usually gave up at the village boundary. (Although at one point our group had about 15 children of assorted ages all clamouring the same thing! – it was like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn).

We walked from approximately 8.30 am until around 3pm although the lunch stop could be anything up to 2 hours (This was during Ramadan so our Berbers needed to sleep – they’d been up since 4 am to break fast before going to the mosque at sunrise).

The village houses we stayed in were exactly that – the family vacate two or three rooms for the benefit of the visitors. Our muleteers and cook who trek with us, prepare our meals and clear up as well as look after the pack animals who carry our heavy bags, mattresses and all the other paraphernalia associated with the trip.

Breakfasts were essentially bread, jam and tea although there was orange juice and cereal as well as the beginning of the week.Lunch was prepared for us en route and comprised mint tea, bread, rice or pasta or couscous and salad with either cheese or tinned fish. Dinner was prepared and served at the village house and was vegetable soup followed by a tagine and fruit as a desert. The meals were wholesome and perfectly satisfactory after a full day’s walking.

Entertainment was provided by the muleteers during the evening – they were fantastic. Anything that could be used as a drum was used as a drum – washing up bowls, cola bottles, jerry cans.

African rhythms, African mysticism, amazing scenery – barren desert through to lush plots of courgettes, maize and fruit orchards. The simple lifestyle followed by the Berbers is only simple when compared to our western values – life there is changing but whether it will be better is arguable.

Angela Featherstone

If trekking is not your thing check out Imaginative Traveller's cultural trips to Morocco at Travel Light

Early Bird discount 5%
Book your Imaginative Traveller tour with Travel Light 6 months or more prior to departure and get a 5% discount on the tour price!

No comments: