Friday, April 23, 2010

A walk in the High Atlas Rev 2

The trees created a dense cover overhead and the clay surface on either side of the pathway was lined with scrubby bushes and large rocks. I was at the bottom of a steep hillside just past the simple clay open fronted structures that housed the tourist shops of the village. Two young men approached from the pathway ahead calling out “Bonjourno, Buenos Dias, and Hello! I’d guess they were maybe in their 20s, with gorgeous skin and eyes, dressed in traditional long Berber robes.I didn’t pay much attention to men’s footwear at all during this visit other than to note the snake charmers sitting around in stocking feet, and it seemed like all the the other local men were wearing bedroom slippers.


“Do you need a guide to the kasbah, to the castle at the top of the hill? There is an Englishman, you can have tea. Only 100 dirham. “

“Where do you come from?” the younger one said. The second boy got ready to repeat the question over, if necessary, in any number of familiar visitor tongues. They had it down. “No thank you” I said. “I have no money. I will find my own way”. Inshallah, they responded. Ok. It’s not about the money. It’s about helping. Inshallah. They both took a slow breath, paused for a moment and continued “Maybe you have Euros? Or American dollars?”

“No, sorry, no money. I will find my own way.” They smiled happily at me, and continued on their way down the valley. I felt joyful, peaceful. Our conversation was not at all intimidating. This is how they live, there are no factories, there are only cooperative shops selling Berber wares, small restaurants and guest houses, and trail guides. Their livelihood depends on their ability to motivate people into their shop, into their cafĂ©, to hire them as guides. I wonder how long the village has been here? I did look it up and found that this is the starting point for serious trekking in the High Atlas, and the villagers are used to strangers appearing in their midst year round. They seemed to be content in this beautiful place, even without much money.

I followed the dirt track zig zagging up the valley, pretty steep in some places, steps made out of oversize blocks of cut stones approximately 12 to 15” high. Talk about stair climbing machines, at least they are spring loaded and not out in the wind, and weather, and sitting on a dirt path. I was lucky that today the weather was perfect, warm enough to go without a jacket, but cool under the trees. It was still early enough in the day that the ground was moist under the trees.

I was stopping every few dozen feet to catch my breath and to slow down my heart rate. The frequent pauses also gave me time to look up and around. I am always very careful to watch where I am walking so that if my bad ankle gives, I don’t end up on my face, or with a sprained ankle or broken leg.

It is Spring and my allergies are kicking in, so my story of this day does not include any sort of scent memory.. My eyes are a little itchey, my lips are chapped, and I have a runny nose, but it is not uncomfortable, a result of the wild flowers and breathing through my mouth. The process of seasoning the human body is not pretty, but it is tolerable, especially when you are on your own, or not standing in front of a mirror.

The view of several villages built into the crevice running up the side of the ridge to the north is breathtaking. I don’t see any roads at all, so everyone must walk up and down to get supplies and food. Locals and tourists passed me on the path smiling, women young and old in head scarves and traditional clothing making their way home. Men in robes with long pointed beards carried tree branches to guide the donkeys and goats who were making their own pathway to the base of the steep hill ahead of us. Tourists with spring loaded hiking sticks and trekking shoes, cameras and water bottles attached to their waist or day pack with karinbiner clips. There were no road signs, no arrows, only a trail that quickly disappeared around the sides of what appeared to be a walled area of the hillside a couple of stories high. Is this the castle I wondered?.

I followed the narrow path around the hill, until it led me into a home built into the side of the hill, just a few steps and a door. No windows, or at least none I noticed. I didn’t want to disturb anyone who might be inside to ask directions so I backtracked until the track widened and a cement irrigation channel (of sorts) ran parallel to the side of the path at hip level. Not being an engineer, I was impressed that the water seemed to be running uphill, but perhaps I was hallucinating from the altitude. I remind you here that I am not a hiker, instead a person living a more sedentary lifestyle with a little dog walking and a few blocks to and from work as my normal exercise routine.

I must have taken a slightly different path, because now there were two little girls, aged 5 or 6 I’d guess, giggling and splashing each other with water from the irrigation ditch, and as I passed, one of them splashed water in the direction of my face, I laughed and put my hand in the trench, the water almost icy in the warm air. I splashed my own face, which by now was bright red from the exertion of climbing, and as I later found out, a little bloody from a scratch on my hand that bled quite a bit. t must have been quite a sight after brushing the sweat from my brow with my bloody hand.

I looked up, and both the girls were staring right at me, waiting for me to move on, or who knows what. I swung my right hand down into the channel and scooped up a handful of the cold water and aimed it directly at them, and with the three of us laughing with delight, for the next 5 minutes we had a water splashing contest on a tiny pathway in the Berber village of Imlil, in the beautiful high Atlas Mountains of Morocco.



Playing over, I smiled and waved as I continued on my vertical hike, climbing a series of narrow stone steps between two more windowless homes built into the steep hillside.

I came to another dead end, and a woman in a head scarf poked her head out of her doorway and pointed the way around the left of the rooftop to the mountain path barely visible above me. What was I thinking wearing these shoes today? I pondered, as my feet slid sideways I grabbed rocks to keep me on the narrow path and to prevent a fall onto a rooftops below me.



Up here the way was less defined than lower down the mountain. The path seemed to disappear, and reappear as I climbed higher and higher. I was breathing heavily from the altitude and exertion, and had to keep switching my bag from shoulder to shoulder to maintain my balance.I finally decided I’d climbed high enough, and given it the effort it deserved. I walked around a corner of the hillside, facing away from the village, I took a seat on a large flat rock overlooking the valley to the south. I reached down into my handbag and took out the flipcam. Let’s pretend I’m a travel journalist and do a little video right now with my observations.

©2010 Sharon J Corrigan All rights reserved

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