Explore’s Matt Cook travelled to Morocco on our High Atlas Trek.
After an evening flight into Casablanca and a transfer to Marrakech, we arrived into this fascinating city with little on our agenda other than sleep. Having been greeted by our tour leader Ali, we all took our keys and looked forward to the adventures tomorrow would behold.
Suitably re-invigorated, and roused by a chorus of chants from the famous Koutoubia Mosque, the group congregated for breakfast and began our introductions. Having not experienced small-group adventure travel up until this point, I was encouraged to see that we had a diverse mix of ages and personalities within our group and felt comforted by the good humour with which introductions were made.
Our first day in Marrakesh began with a walking tour of the city. We started at the Koutoubia Mosque where we were given an overview of the history of the mosque and its construction. The tour visited the Saadian tombs and the Badii Palace.
Then came our first taste of the infamous souks.
The souks offered some of my best and worst experiences of Morocco. A bustling market with surprises around every corner provided some of the most interesting shopping I have ever experienced. Vivid colours, enchanting sounds and enticing smells made this somewhere I could have explored for days. However, when coupled with the hassle of some very determined stall holders, this quickly became a very tiring experience.
We left the souks to visit Djemaa el-Fna square on our way back to our hotel which continued in much the same vein as the souks. Stall holders offering the opportunity to have a picture taken with a snake or monkey were again very forthright; however this particular experience was far from high on my bucket list.
After a relaxing lunch atop the hotel roof garden, we were given the opportunity to explore the city independently. I, somewhat unexpectedly, headed straight for another experience of the Souks. There is something about a bargain that I cannot resist and I soon found myself haggling like a local.
The next morning we were off to Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains, the base for many trekking and mountaineering tours in the area and the start of our trek. We stopped en-route to gather some essential provisions (a couple of bottles of wine). Upon arrival, we started off with three hours of walking to the next village. This was a good way to get accustomed to our location, and also provided a unique opportunity to visit a local Berber household for afternoon tea, where Ali explained local habits and Berber customs.
The following day began early with a hearty breakfast, followed by a walk to Sidi Chamharouch using well-established mule trails (or the “highway”, as Ali called it). One of the main highlights of the walk (and the week) was having lunch by a stream before our return to Imlil. The muleteer would take the provisions to the chosen location each day, ensuring that we were always well fed and watered for the return journey.
After the walk we had the opportunity to visit a local hammam. The ladies went first while the gents relaxed in the hotel. Upon their return we were told how the hammam hostess was apparently a large and bubbly lady who did not speak a word of English. She had promptly removed all of her clothing and beckoned the others to do the same. Being predominantly British most refused and were subsequently treated to a thorough (if enjoyable) massage and a lot of laughing.
The etiquette for males is slightly different and, thankfully, few clothes were removed. We returned refreshed, having apparently escaped somewhat lightly in comparison, much to the annoyance of the ladies in our group.
The next day took us up the Tizi Mzik pass which consisted of steep winding ascents with the reward of some great views from the top. A stall was setup at the peak of the pass selling an array of soft-drinks, making the summit somewhat surreal.
Our final day in Imlil was to be the most demanding of the week, around eight hours of trekking around one of the main peaks in the region. The walks on each day covered new areas, yet this was the first day in which we would not back-track. We walked on paths which were much less frequently used by mules and hence were a tougher experience to traverse. However we were rewarded with some breath-taking views throughout the walk.
Lunch and an afternoon siesta were greatly appreciated and this final day was a fitting conclusion to our High Atlas adventure. After our evening meal I ventured onto the roof of the hotel to enjoy the spectacular views of the Milky Way from this corner of Africa. Being so far into the mountains, I felt that I could gauge the distance between the stars just by looking at them.
Having stocked up with tagines and other gifts for family and friends we headed back to Marrakech. Our last day in Morocco allowed us another free day to explore this wonderful city. We took a taxi to the Majorelle Gardens, which immediately transplanted us from hustle and bustle to calm and serenity. Our evening meal provided a fitting opportunity to thank Ali for his expert guidance and bid farewell to new friends.
I really enjoyed my first experience of Morocco and also of small-group adventure travel. The group itself really made the experience for me as we all helped each other out. The keen-ness to experience and have fun amongst our group accompanied by an excellent tour and tour guide made trekking in Morocco an experience I will never forget.