The Atlas Mountains

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Before I get started recapping our trek in the mountains, I’ll allow myself a bit of a tangent. While we’ve definitely become more travel savvy over the last few years, we still make mistakes…feel we should share the good with the bad.

So, we hadn’t planned to trek in the Atlas Mountains during our stay in Marrakech—we were enticed to do so by our Villa’s staff. Since we hadn’t planned this particular outdoorsy excursion, this meant that I was scaling waterfalls in inappropriate shoes AGAIN. Why do all our trips involve scaling waterfalls? [Because we like waterfalls J] And why didn’t I learn my lesson in Mallorca last year? [Ryan Air’s baggage restrictions J] This time though I was in Dansko clogs and jeans (a bit better than last year in sandals and a skirt). Though, those Dansko’s get pretty slippery when wet. Climbing up is okay, but down’s another issue. Will I ever learn? [Probably not :) ]
Now, back to the regularly scheduled post.

Imagine. Two English-speaking couples who have never met (all 30-something except me :) ) piled into an old, beige Mercedez taxi with a driver who doesn’t speak English out on an expedition—an 8 hour road trip with stops along the way for hiking (in 70+ degree weather) and window air conditioning. That’s right. On the way to the mountains, I was piled into the back seat with a couple random strangers as G sat in the front (he wasn’t too pleased as our driver was a bit swervy). Interesting.

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So, with the car fully loaded and bottled water reserves supplied by our villa’s staff, we were off on our way. Along the way to the mountains, we noted local shepherds herding their sheep along the road (eating the nice tender green grass), beautiful Morrocan mothers waiting with their children for the bus, mechanics and artisans at work. And when we finally stopped for a scenic overlook, we saw olive trees stretching to the horizon and the Atlas Mountain Range—not to mention a man who balanced a huge pile of tree trimmings balanced precariously atop his head and with a stick he held in this hands….quite impressive.

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As we neared the mountains, the temperature cooled—as you would expect. And we came around a corner to see camels awaiting their charters with a misplaced brick castle looming overhead. We stopped along with the other tourist cars—snapped a few photos and trooped back in. Then, on up the hill we stopped again—a Berber family living in a primitive hut has opened their home to passersby in order to bring in a bit of income. They live on the riverside and have channeled a bit of the stream through their house—it provides running water and cools their food stuff. The grandmother sat churning butter in a canister with a baby on her hip. Their beds used sheep skins as quilts. The dairy cow out back provided their daily milk and chickens hopped across the yard. But yet they still had a nice silver tea service for company. While their accommodations were basic, I dare say their standards were more modern than the first houses that my mom and dad grew up in as children. So funny to think now, 50 years later folks are living that way and offering ‘tours’. :)

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Our next stop was in the valley leading to our main Atlas Mountain trek. In the distance, we could see a snowcapped peak and a cable foodbridge leading to scenic spot on the other side of the river. We dodged the sparse parts of the bridge floor (missing sticks) to make our way and were rewarded with a jaw-dropping view. Gorgeous. As we enjoyed the view, we noted a few guys running down the main road that had brought us to the spot. Their goats were making their way down the mountainside—they had to keep up.

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Then, off to the waterfall. As we hiked along the way, we were reminded of why we like to get off the beaten path and DO NOT do large group tours. G and I like to meander and stop at will in order to enjoy a coffee at the local dive or to chat with friendly folks, or to just stop and enjoy the view. Since another couple shared our taxi on this trek—and our driver was somewhat intent on only making the required stops, we felt we missed out. We weren’t able to stop often or take additional time to enjoy. While last year’s waterfall hike was long and grueling in Mallorca—it was authentic and we rarely saw others. We were off the beaten path. This hike, however, felt canned.

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Our driver hired a guide for us as we approached the falls (you’re required to have one). Luckily, he spoke English and was quite helpful. Multiple ‘refrigerated’ stands had been set-up along the way to sell refreshments and chilled oranges or fresh squeezed juice and souvenirs. They rerouted the cool stream water—running it through the open air “coolers” in order to keep their goods at the ideal temperature—pretty crafty. The waterfall was actually a series of falls—three, in fact. With slippery shoes, I nearly turned around until I finally figured out how to slide down the stones. Going up is fine—it’s getting down that’s a problem when your shoes aren’t appropriate for rock climbing. J

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We made it up and the falls were beautiful, but the hike was more enjoyable than the reward—especially since our guide urged us to go right back down (we would normally have picnicked there :( ). We snapped a few photos and back down we went.

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Then, we had our most enjoyable part of the day. G and I at a table for two at a riverside restaurant where the tables were literally nestled at the rivers edge. No railings. No signage warming of possible hazards. Just the sound of the river and a nice Couscous lunch. Yum. We had a leisurely riverside lunch and soaked up the views of distant snow-capped peaks and the cool, crystal clear waters. Ahhhh….perfect.

Not surprisingly, we were all a bit happier in the afternoon. First, G and I were able to sit side by side (we switched spots with the other couple)—way more fun. And, we were all in better spirits and had something in common we could chat about. We drove along the river and made our way to the Botanical Gardens—another favorite of the day.

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Here, we saw lots of plants and herbs (of course),, but as I’ve drug G through countless gardens before, we took some time to soak up the sun on this comfy sofa bench. It was a dreamy 10 minutes. As we made our way to leave, a cute little local boy made a special effort to open the gate for us and gave us a friendly smile. While he seemed happy enough to interact with us, I had a sneaking suspicion he used this task as an excuse to keep up with his friends antics on the other side of the wall…somethings are universal.

While the day got off to a rocky start, it ended well and we enjoyed the experience…though it did reinforce that large group travel (or even small group piled into a small taxi with complete strangers) is not our bag.

Click here to see additional photos from the Atlas Mountains.

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