Thursday, 17 October 2013

Lillington in the Atlas Mountains

Back in January this year, my wife Natasha booked us a trip to Marrakech to give us a break in October. 'How lovely' I thought, 'I've never been there before and culturally it will definitely be an experience.'

So for most of this year that was how it stayed in my mind - a trip I was looking forward to as precious time to be spent with my wife exploring yet another city.

What I didn't realise until I found out a month ago, was that one of the reasons my wife chose Marrakech was because the Atlas Mountains are close by and so I could use one of the days as a training day.
Now all of a sudden the trip was not just a short fun break, but also the opportunity to try another Mountain. After finding this out I said to Natasha "OMG we just have to do some trekking out there'" and she responded with a smile and "Yes we do and that's why I've already booked us a day's trekking up Mount Toubkbal." Imagine my delight!

How sad have I become? I'm no longer content with just a city break  - a trekking day makes it all the more exciting!! So here I am writing this blog post from a sun bed in 35 degree heat about to recall yesterday's amazing day in the Atlas Mountains. Here goes....

Natasha and I were greeted by our driver at 9am who walked us from our Riad to where he was parked. Now you have to understand Marrakech to appreciate that you really do need to be greeted and walked to a meeting place. Why? Because the narrow streets are a complete maze to the first time visitor and whilst it's great to get lost and explore it's not good when you have to meet someone at a given time.

So off we go, spending what seems like an age just getting out of the walled city. You really do take your life in your hands when you drive out here - there seem to be no rules at all! Every man for himself seems to be the order of the day. Crazy!

So after eventually leaving the city we are on the open road. I use the term road very loosely, perhaps 'one series of crater sized potholes connected with small amounts of sometimes tarmac but mostly dirt' would be a more accurate description. The mountain range is approx 65k from the city so we were both now preparing ourselves for a bone shaking experience.

As is customary out here you go nowhere without the driver stopping for the opportunity to 'buy goods' from his 'friends'. In this instance it was a small little abode at the foot of the mountain range that had a number of women extracting oil from the Argon nut using hand tools, and so we felt duly obliged to buy the Argon oil which I'm sure like all other purchases of this type will be yet another completely life changing experience!

We got back in the car for what was by far the scariest part of the trip -  the drive up the winding narrow roads around the mountain at what can only be described as lunacy speed. Trucks were only at the last second swerving to avoid the, what seemed like, inevitable head on crashing!! Aaagggghhh get me outta here!!

Phew !! Eventually we arrive at the Village and meet our guide for the day Muhammed. Muhammed leads the way at a very very slow pace. Now all of my Kilimanjaro friends will tell you I am a slow walker but even for me this was very very slow. In over 30 degree heat this was probably just as well.

The mountain itself stands at 13,300 ft so it is no small mountain. It would take 3-4 days to trek it from sea level (knowing what I know now that probably would have been a lot safer than the car ride)!!

We trekked for approximately 3 hours and experienced the most amazing views. We walked across streams, saw some of the most wonderful waterfalls and crossed some very dodgy bridges. The views at the highest point made it all worthwhile - they were truly stunning.

On our return back to the village we were made to feel very welcome in Muhammad's home where we were provided with what can only be described as a feast, wonderful traditional Morrocan food. 

So after saying farewell to Muhammad and his family I realised that the day's adventure hadn't quite finished. We still had to prepare ourselves for the manic car trip down the mountain!!

A little tip for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation and one I wished I'd thought of on the way up: close your eyes!! Even if it means pretending to be asleep, just close them all the way!!

So with our hearts still in our mouths we did eventually get down and finally back to Marrakech. What a day that was - simply amazing. It was one I won't forget in a hurry and for once not just because of the climb! From now on coastal walks in Dorset will seem somewhat tame in comparison.

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