Fascinated by the Berber culture and curious about all things Moroccan, we head for a wedding of our dear friends all the way to Marrakesh. The lovely couple planned an impeccable destination wedding in a country of roses. We had a chance to experience the city through their eyes, as we followed carefully planned itinerary almost to the dot. We owe our thanks to April and Tom as they become an inspiration for our climb of the Jebel Toubkal (4,167 metres), the highest peak in Atlas Mountains and in North Africa.
(Trip took place in May 2015)
We land in a Casablanca and take a busy train ride to Marrakech. (If you plan to take this trip, do yourself a favour and book first class with assigned seats, otherwise most likely you will end up hanging over somebody sweaty shoulder for the 4 hours trip).
Riads are the most popular and lovely accommodation options available in Morocco, usually it’s few bedroom home with a private courtyard and dipping pool). We land in a cosy Riad Dar Dialkoum run by a French couple: Muriel and Laurent, in the heart of the inner Medina (city) in the old town Marrakech. The place was suggested by the newly weds and it stands up to its expectations! Very narrow and very busy with local vendors alleyway leads us through the fruit, vegetables and meat stalls to unassuming corner building. Behind simple wooden doors hides the paradise of tranquility. We are greeted by the host with Moroccan tea and as we cool of after the trip we are getting introduced to the property. Our lovely Suite Leila is located on the 1st floor of the patio with a beautiful Moroccan inspired decor. Architecture and details are amazing! Colourful tiles, wooden furniture and sculpted windows with a view of the courtyard which is filled with blossoming orange trees, everything one would expect from Moroccan magic!
We spend days exploring the city, and nights with activities planned for the wedding party. Just walking around Madina is an adventure on its own. Not for the faint-hearted. Berber carpets and antique shops mix in narrow alleyways of the old town. Argan oil massage spas and public baths are to be found in the back streets. One of the fun memories in the Madina is a late night ride in a “Disco tuk-tuk of Marrakesh”. We were stunned when the mentioned tuk-tuk equipped in plenty of colourful decorations, speakers and disco-ball inside passed us unexpectedly in the narrow alleyways. When he approached us a second time, we found it too bizarre to resist. Our friend waved it down and the road home continued in the comical vehicle and the air filled with laughters.
Even though we were warned by many of the frequent tourist harassment, of-course we decide to hit the Marrakesh markets and do some shopping. The amount of beautiful trinkets, colourful accessories, metal work, antiques and carpets on the display is incredible! We ended up with practical but very cool purchases: hand made “Alibaba” slippers and very comfortable goat leather shoes. We also go to the House of Photography where we spend a couple hours, get some reproductions of beautiful historical photos and have a light bite on the relaxing terrace.
Main square of Marrakech fills up at night with food stalls where a wide range of cuisine is on the offer. Late night we decided to devour an assorted cows and sheep parts (mostly head parts and organs etc.) which Dominika calls a “deconstructed hotdog” cooked in front of us and served with a side of flat bread.
A day after lavish wedding celebrations (May 26th, 2015) we head to the Atlas Mountains with Mohamed from Active Treks Morocco. Our tour was planned for 3 days of trekking that includes summit ascent of Jebel Toubkal. We passed by Berber villages located on high elevations in copper-coloured mountains. Trek was light and rather pleasant, accommodation sites were quite conveniently located along the path. And since it was just a short trek we decided to splurge a little and go for a full option with a cook and porter donkey. It turned out to be a good choice as meals were delicious and hot Moroccan tea “hit the spot” on each rest stop.
We start in Agersioual, we are aiming to reach our first overnight rest-stop in a Berber village Tizian. The pleasant hike in this part of the Azzaden Valley was a mix of mountain path and a dirt road. Our gîte accommodations, however very basic, were sufficient. The trek was filled with beautiful natural landscapes and perfectly complementing them earthy coloured houses of the Berber villages. Note to self: bring school supplies for the local kids on the return trip. On the frequent rest stops our guide was making sure we were well fed, our cook with a donkey carried plenty of food for elaborate meals. We enjoyed those pleasantries and shared fruit and veggie leftovers with the curious mountain goats.
Our second and final night of the trek we spend at well located base camp: Refuge du Toubkal (3,207 m). From here it’s a day hike to the top and back. Our ascent starts long before sunrise, we climb steep path in the shade of the mountain. When we reach the peak we are surrounded by an amazing view of the Atlas mountains and the Sahara desert stretched further in the horizon. We have a short break to contemplate the view and munch on the fresh oranges our guide was kind enough to bring from the valley. While we enjoy the surroundings we are already getting inspired for a return trip to Morocco.
Our guide estimates our strength quite ambitiously and takes us through a more challenging north-west descent route. We cross sowed in fields where we pass by debris of an aircraft which crashed there in 1969. The story goes that it was filled with cash, gold and guns. The knowledge that rescue operation was unsuccessful, and all passengers had died in this crash gave us cold chills down the spine. On the way down, on elevation 2350 meters, we encounter a mountain village with a sacrifice rock, home of The Sidi Chamharouch (King of all Jinns). Our guide tells us that animals are slaughtered here until this day in offerings with requests to lift the curse or to heal family members. Our descent is longer than expected, but the sights of Imlil Valley definitely compensate any tiredness or sore feet. When we reach the town, the common tourist path is lined up with gorgeous Berber carpets for sale.
We have a quick tea in Imlil and head back to our riad in Marrakech, to spend one more night in comfort. Kai also manages to grab some street food for our last meal which we have on the rooftop terrace. The nostalgia of short but eventful trip hits in while the sun sets over the old town. We are falling asleep and dreaming of our recent adventure. Next day we are heading by train to Casablanca airport.
Warning: couple years after our trek, in the same area unfortunate incident happened to less lucky tourists. Two Swedish women were decapitated by a group of local attackers, read a Wikipedia article here. For that reason, we advise caution while planning visits in this region.
Photos by Kai Chan
© Natural Born Vagabond, 2019