A hike begins with a few steps, and this was no different. Mohammed guided me up into the lower levels of the Atlas Mountains, and the going wasn’t easy, over ground that varied from hardscrabble turf, to massive boulders, to a balancing act along the edge of a concrete irrigation ditch.
It was, in fact, downright challenging at the beginning – and this gave me pause, as I have a much longer hike coming up in less than two months. But then my body settled into the rhythm and found its pace, and I was OK. The end of the hike (shown above) was admittedly more leisurely.
We hiked through Berber villages reachable only by “Berber 4×4’s,” otherwise known as donkeys.
We saw local restaurants that stand as mere concrete shells. They open in the summer for the locals to visit, but outsiders wouldn’t know that they are here.
And we witnessed some of the waterfalls that lie hidden deep in the foothills.
And with that we headed back to the city. Today was my day outside of Marrakech, to visit the countryside. It started with a camel ride. I’m not certain why I was excited about riding the camel ahead of time, but I was almost giddy. I mean, I had never ridden a camel before.
It was probably 10 am when we parked our van next to a riverside, where a few camels stood grazing. There I met my guide, Mohammed, and we walked out to the camels where one of them kneeled all the way down to the ground (on four knees!) and I climbed aboard. Two Berber men then led the camel around the rolling hills of the Asni valley.
I felt like a little kid on a pony ride. Except I’m not a kid. I’m not certain what I expected, but this wasn’t it. Perhaps I’m too cynical, but it felt wrong in too many ways.
That said, camels are magnificent. I didn’t get much time to get a sense of their personality, but this one seemed extremely gentle, responding affirmatively to affection. And they have gorgeous eyes. And in case you were wondering, riding a camel is different from riding horses – they’re much clompier and a bit lurchy at times.
At the end of the ride, with only his two front knees on the ground, I jumped off of the camel. I think I wasn’t supposed to do that, but the camel didn’t seem to mind.
After that I ate lunch while gazing out at Mt. Toubkal, the tallest mountain in North Africa, and finally the above-mentioned hike.
Following the hike, as we waited for the van to take me back to the city, Mohammed told me that the world is changing the Berber people. The Berbers are the original people of Morocco, who lived here as nomads, practicing an ancient syncretic religion, long before the Arabs came, bringing Islam with them. Today, however, they are no longer farming as much as they once did, and this village, Imlil, now relies more on tourism than on agriculture for its survival. Richard Branson has a large Kasbah (castle), employing 70 people, nearby.
Back in the city, I recovered for a time before heading out into the lively Marrakech night. I stopped briefly for dinner, and then walked back to Djema al Fna, which erupts into a festival every evening.
Walking by food stall after food stall, I was accosted by innumerable vendors trying to get me to eat a second dinner. I did better telling them “no” this time, but still they are very pushy. At some point, I switched from English to Italian. I thought that because fewer people here speak Italian, that perhaps they would be less pushy. The strategy seemed to work for a bit, but at least one Moroccan said to me, “A minute ago you spoke English, now you speak Italian?”
Yeah, um …
The fruit and nut vendors at the edge of the market sell some of the most amazing dates, and I bought a bag to bring home. I can probably find even better in the souks somewhere, if I dare to go back.
And I will go back, because there is no way to truly avoid the souks. They are everywhere.