26 Nov Off The Beaten Track: Morocco
A Pommy and an Aussie step into Morocco. A hawker asks the Aussie if he wants to buy a silk carpet. “See it does not burn under a flame”. “No” said the Aussie, “I have no need for a non-flammable carpet in 40 degree heat whilst trekking through the Atlas Mountains” He turns to the Pommy, “How about your sir?”. Excitable squabbling ensues so they proceeded to squat on sun scorched rugs, drink tea, smoke bubbly and debate historical weaving techniques. The Aussie (being me) clinkers off amongst the masses to witness a man under an umbrella with a pair of pliers pulling out teeth of passers-by.
Morocco provides an enriched allocation of experiences. Heat, food, spices, adventure, history and plenty of the unexpected. Heading to the High Atlas Mountains was worthy of its own chronicles but seeking refuge for a cooler climate within the flanking realms of high altitude was a most alluring drawcard. Villages of mudbrick fortresses and Berber families living a traditional subsistence existence brought life to the desolate wind swept mountains. Nutritional acquirement was a most imaginative display of Mother Nature providing sustenance by allowing Berbers to toil the land and harvesting moisture with the most ingenious of irrigation systems bestowed to mankind. Travelling these remote realms meant living on rooftops and in mule stalls, chasing chickens around the mud adobes to stew in tagines and plucking food fresh out of the ground was an almost biblical experience. At nightfall, the night desert sky bestowed a heavenly tapestry as rich as the culture we feasted on each day….
A time before mobile phones, communication was most encouragingly traditional: it travelled as fast as you could on foot. Or in our case, with a mule. Finding the highest mountain to climb 4,167m Mt Toubkal was pleasurable in a cohesive frustratingly way. The local Berbers in this region would point to several peaks, all of commendable heights and worthy of exploration, but we only had one serious push in us.
The night before the climb created excitable tension. Alan (the Pommy) diverted our attention by lighting a cigarette lighter under his newly acquired Morrocan rug and claimed tales of iniquitous antiquity and authenticity with such animation and excitement. The rug caught on fire and for a moment his djellaba he was wearing almost went with it. He slept in the dirt that night without the comfort of his rug.
After a midnight start we sat atop a mighty peak under the midday sun with refined pride of success whilst recharging on dry prunes. Some time passed. Then with a slightly tilted neck and some creative conveyancing it was soon discovered we most likely climbed Morocco’s second highest peak. Along a distant ridge line and through a depressed saddle rose a mighty peak, Mt Toubkal.
Morocco is a destination. It is a rediscovery of an old world refusing to join the progressive states of human ambition. It is soul enriching and expressively grounding. Put Morocco on your calendar. See you there…