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Friday, 21 September 2012

Morocco, Part 4 and some very sad news


Day 25 – 26/8/12
A very exciting day for us – Gabrielle arrived from Australia to join us for a holiday in Morocco. She flew in early and we went back to Steve’s for a bit then Gabrielle and Ray flew to Marrakech for a bit of “serious” trekking. Arrival temperature was 41oC!
Avril elected to stay in Marlow, visiting old friends and playing some badminton and missing the hard work.
We stayed at Riad Bel Baraka

Day 26 – 27/8/12
Gabrielle and Ray were picked up at the Riad by their guide, Hassan and then drove via taxi to Imi Oghlad to commence the trek. At Imi Oghlad we picked up Hamid the muleteer and chef.
The 1st day’s trekking was an easy walk along the Azzaden valley to Tinzert. We trekked until ~ 12:00 and Hamid prepared a delicious lunch of salad and a lentil tagine.
Dinner was soup, salad and a meat tagine.
The guest house this day was very basic, but clean. The hardest part for us westerners was the “squat” dunny.

So, we will not comment further on the scenery. All along the way there were stunning views with fantastic vistas along the valleys and to the mountain peaks on either side. The lower levels of the valleys had Berber villages. Here they have terraced the valley walls for intensive agriculture. 

Day 27 – 28/8/12
A leisurely start to the day. We trekked again along the Azzaden valley to Tizi Oussem.
A nice slow introduction to the harder trekking to follow.
Again we stayed in a clean but basic guest house. This guest house had hot water in the showers (for an additional price) but still the “squat” dunnys.

Day 28 – 29/8/12
An earlier start to the day, we commenced trekking at ~ 06:30. We trekked up the Aguelzim Pass at 3,650 m. Along the way we passed the Tamsoult waterfalls. Apparently the zig-zag route in the last part of the ascent to the pass has 99 zig-zags. Apparently! We were panting too much to count.  
Heroes that we were? At the top of the pass there were a couple of goat herders tending their stock and also selling soft drinks they had carried from the village of Tizi Oussem. We bought a few drinks as we were so impressed with the enterprise. Lunch was a simple picnic as the mule, with the chef and supplies, took an easier path than us!
We arrived in Toubkal Refuge (mountain hut) at ~ 17:00, 3, 207 m. A long day’s trekking.
We elected to camp in a tent rather than share a dormitory with 18 other people in 3-level bunk beds. There were hot showers and the joy of western toilets.

Day 29 – 30/8/12
Again a very early start to the day; we were on the mountain by 06:00, walking with our head torches. The ascent up Mt Toubkal was strenuous, but both Gabrielle and Ray made it without too much stress. It has to be said Gabrielle a lot faster than Ray – but she had the courtesy to wait for Ray and they ascended the final 20 m together. At 4,167 m Mt Toubkal is the highest mountain in Morocco & North Africa.
After the ascent, the trek down the Toubkal valley to Imlil (the guest house of the tour company owner was at 1,800 m) was long and we arrived at ~ 17:00. After 11 hours (3 up and 7 down,1 for lunch) trekking, both Gabrielle and Ray were a little sore, but a touch proud to have made the assent..
At 19:00, Avril arrived at the guest house, wet from a rain storm, after flying into Marrakech from Gatwick. She had a steep (100 m rise) trek to the guest house.

Day 30 – 31/8/12
After the previous day’s effort, Gabrielle and Ray were appreciative of the late (09:00) start to the day. To cater for Avril’s luggage, we needed to employ another mule and driver! We all trekked up to Tamatert Pass, at 2, 200 m altitude, a “simple” ascent for some! Then along the Tacheddirt valley to Tacheddirt village and the wonderful Tacheddirt guest house 2,300m.

Day 31 – 1/9/12
A relatively easy day trekking over the Tizi N’ouddi pass (2,860 m) and along the Oukaimden valley. We elected to trek along the dirt road rather than the short but more difficult mule track. Nomads had made their annual trek to the high pastures and the valley was “full” of livestock, mainly goats and sheep. The nomads live in very basic/rough huts and it seems they have quite a tough life.

We arrived at the ski resort of Oukaimden (2,500 m) early in the afternoon. Our original accommodation was not up to scratch, so after some discussion we shifted to the very nice French Alpine club chalet.

Day 32 – 2/9/12
We trekked over the Tizi N’oukaimden pass (2,680 m) along the Tacheddirt valley to the Amsker village.
Unfortunately there was an all-night party at a house very close to the guest house, so we did not get a very good night’s sleep!

Day 33 – 3/9/12
After a very short trek (~ 3 hours) we finished the trek where Gabrielle and Ray started at Imi Oghlad.
We drove back to our comfortable riad in Marrakech and enjoyed a hot shower etc. Then we hit the markets for some shopping and snacking. The bazaar is colourful and the Moroccan store holders ensure a great “shopping experience”. The negotiations are carried out with great humour and good spirit and the store holders go out of their way to ensure you are happy with the end result. Best of all, if you say “no”, they take this in good spirit and do not continue to hassle you. We probably bought a bit more than we intended to, but enjoyed ourselves.
In the evening we went to the main square for the famous dining event. Lots of small stores set up with fresh produce which is cooked on the spot. We elected to have a seafood entrée, then walked around for a bit and went back the same store for a seafood main course. No room for dessert. Most of the stores have spruikers to encourage you to eat at their store. Again the good humour and no-hassle approach is fantastic.

Day 34 – 4/9/12
We made a very early start to the day to allow for the very long drive. Our plan to make a very early start was frustrated by the time it took to finalise the hire car arrangements and actually get on the road. We managed to exit Marrakech without getting lost and drove to the Ouzoud Falls. The falls are a big local attraction and there were plenty of places to eat, accommodation, boating activities at the bottom of the falls etc. the falls are probably not an international attraction, but a good diversion. We had lunch at one of the restaurants overlooking the falls.
We then had a very long drive to Fez. Apparently there is a very high death/casualty rate on Moroccan roads and to counter this, they have reduced the speed limits to quite low levels. And, as Ray discovered, the advisory speed limits on corners are legally enforceable – and if you break them a fine follows!
The drive crossing the Atlas Mountains was spectacular. Unfortunately we had probably set our destination for the day a bit far and we did not really fully appreciate the views. We arrived in Fez after dark. Avril was navigating using the carlight to read a map, when a fellow on a motor bike beside us asked if we needed help. Yep, we did! So, he went out of his way to take us to near the old medina and arranged for a friend to take us to a convenient spot near our accommodation. Yet again, the generosity of local folks was fantastic and humbling.
The manager of the riad met us at the well-known Blue gate and led us to the riad Dar Hafsa. After a long drive, we were happy to just collapse.

Day 35 – 5/9/12
After a large breakfast at the riad (we did manage to convince the owners to only provide food for 2 rather than 3), we spent the day, with a local guide, looking a Fez. This seemed to consist of looking at some wonderful buildings and visiting a lot of the artisans (which Fez is famous for).
We did not do a lot of shopping, but enjoyed the day.

Day 36 – 6/9/12
After heading the wrong way out of Fez, we managed to get onto the right road and drove to Mouley Idriss. Non-believers are not allowed to visit the tomb/mausoleum in the town, but the overall views of the city are impressive.
We then drove to Merzouga in the desert in the south of Morocco. We stayed at the Kasbah Erg Chebbi. Unfortunately they had had terrible storms in the previous days which had impacted the electrical systems. Worse still, they had recently had a English group through and they drank ALL the beer.
The  Kasbah provided a delicious evening meal & wine.

Day 37 – 7/9/12
Avril and Gabrielle got up early to view the sunrise. Ray slept in. After a hearty breakfast we went on a quad bike trip. Avril behind the guide and Gabrielle and Ray riding bikes. It was a great way to visit the spectacular dunes. The Erg Chebbi is the most visited bit of desert in Morocco and the trip through the dunes showed why.
We then drove to Todra George, where we stopped for a walk. One of the local chaps asked for a lift back to town and given all the assistance we had been given along the way, we could not refuse. Interestingly at the end of the drive he offered to pay and then invited us to his home for tea. Unfortunately we did not have time.
We spent the night at Kazbah Tizzarouine

Day 38 – 8/9/12
Tragically, very early in the morning we received news that Ray’s dad had died overnight. This was not unexpected, but a truly sad occasion for us.
We drove back to Marrekech to catch a flight back to the UK. We then flew back to Australia for the funeral. 

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