Friday, June 26, 2015

Trekking in Morocco

This was a short adventure by my usual standards, just a week in Morocco where we were to walk for 5 days in the Atlas Mountains summiting Toubkal (highest peak in North Africa at 4167m), followed by almost 2 days in Marrakesh.

We set off from Dublin to Marrakech on Sunday afternoon and 3 hours and 15 mins later, we were in Africa! At the hotel we met the group we were spending the week with, as well as the guide. Apart from myself and Gav, there was another Irish guy, two people from Northern Ireland, one from Germany and the rest were English so a nice mix ranging from 26 years old to mid 60's. We also met our guide Abdellah who briefed us on the week ahead.

We set off Monday morning for the Atlas mountains. Abdellah had told us the night before that due to snow on one of the passes, we were to take a slightly alternative route whereby we would just follow the valley to the Toubkal base camp. This meant staying in a gite in Aremd on Tuesday instead of a tent. 

We only had to carry our day packs so the rest of our bags, plus the tents, food, cooking equipment etc was all carried on just ahead of us by 4 mules and their muleteers (including the chef Hussein). Hassan followed our group closely and was our backmarker. He also walked with a mule who was weighed down with less gear than the others. I wondered if this was in case one of us needed the mule to carry us! Thankfully we never had to find out. 

Each day we walked between 5-6 hours (except summit day which was 9) at a lovely leisurely pace and Abdellah would often stop to give us some history, point out towns, peaks, trees, or anything he thought might interest us which was great. The temps most days were pretty good too, around 26C and in the evenings it would drop to where you might need a fleece and jacket if you were sitting around outside. Inside the tents were cozy though.

The food was amazing! We would catch up with the muleteers and chef for lunch and they would have the most delicious picnic laid out for us either under a tree, beside a river or on the side of a hill with stunning views all around. We never managed to finish all the food despite some serious efforts. 

In the evenings when we reached our camp or gite, we would have mint tea and biscuits/cookies and then dinner a little while later. Again, it was fantastic food which we could never get all the way through. 

Sleeping well seemed to depend on the position of the tent. We lucked out at the 2 nights at base camp thankfully after a sloped one the first night where we both almost ended up in a ball at the front of the tent several times in the night! At the gite sleeping depended on whether you were woken by the call to prayer at 3am from the mosque in the village. 

The summit day was a little longer than we thought but still enjoyable. It was really steep, probably steeper than anything else I had done. I can walk up all day but I'm not a fan of coming down so that was the part I found the hardest. It was all worth the views from the summit though and we got really lucky as there were only 2 other groups there who left not long after we arrived. 

As long as we though the summit day was, the guides must have felt it was a lot longer. Ramadan began on Thurs (summit day) so they had to get up at 3am for their breakfast, sleep a little till we left the camp at 5:30am and they couldn't eat or drink until 7:45pm that evening. I don't know how they managed without any food or drink as we were thirsty and ravenous all day. They just keep going as usual with a smile and encouraging words to those who were tired...

We had the choice of doing another 4000m peak the next day but most people were tired and we were told it was a 12 hour walking day which no one was really keen on. Instead we settled for 4 hour walk and a few people tried out a local steam bath instead. 

On the Saturday after breakfast we had a short walk before heading back to Marrakech for a city tour. We visited the Bahia Palace as well as another royal house and then got a tour of the famous Souks where we could do some shopping. By the end of the tour, a few of us were hungry for lunch so we just sat by the Djemaa el Fna square for a bite. 

We were all due to meet at 7 that evening for dinner so we decided to do some shopping at night instead when it was cooler. It was a humid 39C in the city during the day. By the time we got back to the hotel that afternoon, a few people were unwell. There seemed to be a bug going around the group all week and unfortunately Gavin and I were hit with it Saturday evening so we didn't get to enjoy Marrakech by night. 

After staying in to sleep it off we felt much better on Sunday and hung out by the hotel pool for the day until we had to leave for the airport that evening. That seems more appealing than going shopping. In the end 9 of the 11 people in the group were ill at one point or another during the week. We were just happy it didn't happen to us in the mountains as it did for others unfortunately. Nothing like being ill and having to sleep in a tent!

On our descent of Toubkal, I had a funny 'small world' moment. I had put a message on Facebook before we left Dublin about our trip and randomly someone I met on a volunteer project in Namibia in 2013 said she was also summiting Toubkal a couple of days later. We found out we were with the same tour company but with different summit days so on our descent down the valley on Friday we bumped into Mansi who was on her way up. She was also staying at the same hotel as us in Marrakech so we were able to catch up properly for a bit there on Sunday. What a lovely chance meeting!

Despite only being away for a week it felt much longer in a great way. While Marrakech was interesting my favourite part of the trip was the mountains and walking through the berber villages where unlike Nepal, you still seem like a bit of a curiosity, with the kids shouting 'stilo' after us looking for pens. I wish I had brought some for them. Another thing to add to my packing list in future! 

Till next time here are the photos