This morning I was greeted by a beautiful sunrise over Ait Ben Haddou, which could be seen from my balcony window. After the best breakfast of the trip, though I am still craving some cereal, we were back on the road making our way towards the High Atlas Mountains. The scenery was spectacular as the road wound its way up to the desolate Tizi n’Tichka Pass (2260m) leaving behind the arid lands of the Sahara. The coastal side of the High Atlas range receives much more rain and as we dropped altitude the landscape soon turned green with fertile soils containing agricultural crops and plenty of spring wildflowers, including red poppies, purple irises and yellow something that looked like weeds to me ☺ The days journey ended at Imlil where we left the mini bus, packed our overnight bag onto a mule then undertook the 1 hour trek up to the mountain village of Aroumd (1900m elev.) in the Toubkal National Park for the night. This surely must be the Switzerland of Nth Africa
The view from our hotel balcony
Toubkal National Park 1
Lunch is cooking
The morning saw us have the option of a 3.5 hour trek up to 2400m for views of Mt Toubkal (Nth Africa’s highest peak at ~4200m) or a shorter, easier walk through the nearby valley. 3 of our group accepted the challenge so again we were up early only to be greeted by a thick fog. We decided to walk despite the conditions with visibility lucky to be 50m. The path took us through blossoming apple and cherry orchards, past still bare oak trees and evergreen juniper bushes. As we climbed up towards our destination, there was the occasional break in the mist allowing us a brief glimpse of the snow-capped ranges before the fog would soon again obscure the view. As we continued to climb my mind wandered to Lord of the Rings and I imagined we were climbing the Misty Mountains, and I’m sure that hidden by the sound of the rushing waters in the below valley I could hear the faint whispers of ‘ My preccciousss’.
Our guide assured us the weather would clear by the time we reached our destination but as we closed in his promise seemed hopeful at best. Incredibly within 10 min the conditions went from thick fog to blue skies with perfect visibility and was the scenery was breathtaking. We were surrounded by snow capped peaks in a deep rock valley. Our destination saw us reach a small outpost which included a shrine which local people believe contains a jin (genie). They believe if you sacrifice a goat in the shrine then the jin will cleanse your soul of evil thus clearing sickness or improving fertility. This is still practiced today, which was clear as we descended the mountain as some people on Mules made their way up to the shrine with a goat strapped in the carry pack. The guide advised people with mental illness often carry out the sacrifice to rid themselves of the evil spirits. I’m just glad I was not there for the sacrifice! I wondered if I sacrificed 1,000 magpie supporters would this sate the jin to rid the AFL of it’s evil and grant a Bulldogs premiership ☺.
The trek back down under clear skies was magnificent with the valley showing us all it had hidden on our upwards journey. Back at base, we joined the rest of the group for an early lunch followed by the 1hr trek back down to our mini bus. The afternoon saw us drive for 5 hours to the coastal windswept town of Essaouira.
Toubkal National Park 2
Watch out for the headless horseman
Tea is served