Morocco 2017 – Berber Girl in the High Atlas

We are back in the lands of well-rounded breakfasts, complete with fresh yogurt and one-egg omelets which will fuel our excursion into the High Atlas Mountains.

I have enjoyed three weeks of temperate temperatures, sun and brilliant blue skies. Today would be no exception.  We drive through lush landscape of palms, weeping willows and bougainvilleas in full bloom, progressing through lesser populated, more rugged areas.

Photo courtesy of Mark Charteris

We stop at a scenic outlook, where camels and aggressive trinket salesmen outnumber the tourists.  Camel men vie with each other to convince passersby to mount their camels for photos (you may remember where that nearly led me in the Forest of Cedars…). We are in awe as we watch Doug converse with one of the camel men. He can start a conversation with pretty much everyone he meets.  

We arrive at Oukaimden, a ski resort and town at about 10,000 ft. elevation.  It’s windy but not as chilly as I was expecting. Doug points to the area where some sheep are grazing. “Usually there’s still snow there this time of year.”

Doug orders lunch from a roadside restaurant –  tagines of beef, chicken and goat, under layers of potatoes, carrots and canned green peas.  The goat is fatty, but the dishes are all piping hot and satisfying in spite of the complete lack of spice that is an unexpected deficit in the cuisine here.

After lunch, I climb about halfway up the hill to investigate some old stone ruins.  Doug says that shepherds shelter here when they bring their sheep to graze during the summer season.  The grass is emerald green but very boggy, and there’s a lot of rock outcrop.  But the scenery is fantastic, especially the view of Mt. Toubkal, the second tallest mountain in Africa behind Kilimanjaro.  

I have brief thoughts of just staying here…

But the van pulls up, it’s time to go. Doug says I look like a Berber girl, and takes my camera to snap a few photos, motioning me to move closer to “my sheep and my horse in front of my summer shelter.”  It’s one of my favorite photos from this trip.

We drive down to the valley floor to the town of Ourika. The main road through this little town is lined on one side with hotels and shops, and on the other side with restaurants along the banks of a fast-moving river, accessible by foot bridges. Some of the tables are actually sitting in the rushing water. The roar of the river is so loud that it must be hard to hear your waiter…

Then it’s back to Marrakech for our final night in Morocco.

Back at our riad, I start tossing non-essentials to get a visual on the size of suitcase I need to buy for the flight home.  I pour my remaining vodka into a water bottle, and peel the label off to visually separate it from my actual water bottle, pack my purse, and head out.

Back in the Jemaa el Fna, Brenda, Mark and Catherine look for a restaurant, and Doug fulfills has a shopping list. I head towards the tannery souk to find the fancy shoes I had seen yesterday, and successfully barter with the shopkeeper for most of the money I have.

Night has descended and a carnival atmosphere blankets the square. I dine on street food, and wash it down with a big swig from my water bottle, to find it’s the one I had filled with vodka … 

After dinner and feeling no pain, I flit in and out of souks, adding a pair of leather slippers, a prayer cap, and an embroidered pillow top to my collection. The sky is filled stars hanging over smoke from the food braziers.  Neon whirligigs shoot up through the haze before falling back down for the teenage vendors to chase after. I’m surrounded by the noisy clamor of a thousand strangers, as I relish my final hours here in the carnival that is the Jemaa el Fna of Marrakech.

Photo courtesy of Mark Charteris

I find Doug and Mohamed at the designated meeting place, and after about a half an hour, the rest of our party arrive, happy to have found a tourist spot for dinner where they enjoyed wine bellydance with their dinner.  All of us collected, we return to the riad…

…. and I find that I have completely forgotten to buy a suitcase … 

To see how this story ends, see “Epilogue” on July 17 at August Phoenix Hats.

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