01 August 2018

Mountain Villages, Morocco 2017

A major part of the joy in travelling with the "Texas camel corps" is the off-beat itinerary and impromptu daily contacts. From Marrakesh, we take a day trip into the High Atlas mountains. On a good road we wind and switchback higher and higher. At a viewpoint we briefly browse the crafts for sale, and Doug never misses a chance to talk camels and saddles.

Later reaching a fork, the route on the right will take us to Ouikaimeden, our high destination. But first, the cops sitting in their car at the fork stop us. Our driver Mohamed is told to get out of our vehicle and go to their car. Eh?! Lengthy conversation takes place; finally Doug gets out to see what's up. Back and forth to our van for paperwork. Phone calls ensue. We are resigned to a potentially new twist in our agenda.

However the police were only checking out the rental contract for our van. Some of us suspect they were merely bored sitting there all day with next to no traffic. Having been stopped occasionally before, the big difference here – Mohamed grins at this – no baksheesh changed hands.

We're heading to the snow line, more hairpin curves, the road becomes one lane, then ultimately fades away into a sheep path. The highest mountain in Africa, Toubkall at 4,167 metres, is just beyond us; we are at about 9,000 feet elevation. There's a ski resort here but it's spring, season over. Flocks of sheep feasting on green grass. Heather goes off to a shepherd hut to commune with her new Berber self.

Seasonal homes dot the mountainside above the road. Tagines are bubbling at a nearby outdoor restaurant; lunch time. We share beef, lamb, and goat. A man selling bracelets and necklaces comes, persisting, but otherwise it's all pretty deserted. The royal gendarmerie next door looks semi-abandoned.

On a new route, we follow the course of a steep-sided river to come down from great heights. Lots of kids playing along the way; it's a school holiday.

The road runs along one side of the valley, carved out of the mountainsides; people live on the opposite side of the river. Their homes are connected to the road side by crazy foot bridges, some in better shape than others. Their balancing skills must be excellent.

Courtesy Mark Charteris
The lower we descend, the more the scene turns into a sort of endless restaurant row: patios facing the river with umbrellas and plastic chairs. Often the rocky river bank is the patio. At times when we stop, enterprising youngsters appear out of nowhere, ready to sell us souvenirs. We park at Ourika village, today very much catering to the holiday crowd; horse and camel rides are available.

Mohamed and I drink coffee while the others shop along the village street. It's a market atmosphere, congenial crowds.

Courtesy Heather Daveno
Just as darkness falls we are back in Marrakesh. We split up for dinner, spreading out from the main square, Jemaa el Fna. I only mention this — quite unconnected with the mountain villages — because the vin gris on the dinner menu amuses me. Well, it's not actually grey. It's much like a dry rosé, a good accompaniment for many dishes. Vin gris is unique to Morocco and a perfect companion for ending a very fine day.

© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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