Friday, September 9, 2011

Morocco Day 3: Berber Villages in the Atlas Mountains

Monday, September 5, 2011

Rooftop neighbor in Ait Zitoune
Waking up in Ait Zitoune

Sunrise over the High Atlas Mountains to the Northeast was a lovely way to start our second day of hiking – striking to watch 36 fellow travelers slowly come to life on our rooftop bed.  

Leaving Ait Zitoune

After a light breakfast of bread, coffee and hot chocolate, we bade our Berber hosts farewell and began our hike south up a broad ravine and for the first time into the Atlas Mountains themselves.

Gardens atop Vertical Strata
Vertical Strata & Horizontal Terraces

I was so struck by the changing geology along our route: passing through ancient sedimentary rocks now standing vertically on end as the more resistant limestone and sandstone ridges stood out in relief from the softer shales and mudstones.  The horizontal terraces crossing the steep hillsides everywhere to provide space for crops and herding met the rock formations at 90-degree angles, forming a fascinating grid structure.

Berber gardens

After an hour of walking we left the arroyo floor, passing through a series of verdant gardens in a village clinging to the steep canyon wall, and we found ourselves now in a reforested zone of Syrian pine.  Deforestation and years of overgrazing have removed virtually all the soil from these slopes, so the government has been encouraging reforestation for many years now to try to reverse the degradation.

Berber Village on slopes above the Arroyo we hiked up on the edge of the Atlas Mountains
The Haouz plain, showing the route of yesterday's trek
Pat & Dan with Mohamed

We now had gained about 1500 vertical feet over the Haouz plain, and we could trace the path of our trek from the previous day as we gazed north toward Marrakech.  At our rest stop in the Reforestation zone, we feasted on "Moroccan Gorp: dried figs, dates, and various nuts -- Yum!

After nearly 4 hours of walking we had traversed the foothills from east to west and we finally stopped in a shaded area for another long lunch and rest.
Group atop final pass above Ait Hmad, looking southwest into the High Atlas Mountains

Following lunch we hiked up over a pass – the high point of our trip – and over jumbled sedimentary layers, to begin our long descent down to the village of Ait Hmad, our resting place for the night.  After nearly 9 hours in the Moroccan sun, we reached the gîte and feasted on cold soft drinks to quench our thirst. 

Gîte in Ait Hmad
Ait Hmad is much larger than Ait Zitoune, and much drier, set on the steep slopes of the Atlas Mountains.  Here I took my first traditional “hamman” or steam bath in a tiled enclosed room, before our leisurely late afternoon tea and fried bread on the roof of the gîte. 

Donkeys bringing our gear enter Ait Hmad

Mosque and Cornfield, Ait Hmad

Berber boys who befriended me in Ait Hmad
Just as music and dancing proved to be the universal language yesterday, soccer served that function today, as locals mixed with our Berber cooks and several students in an energetic game in the gîte courtyard.  A half moon lit our rooftop sleeping area, and after it set, the Milky Way once again blazed overhead.  Tired from our long day of walking, we slept soundly until dawn and the second call to prayer.

1 comment:

  1. Hello I am Ibrahim ASQUARRAY Morocco with 10 years of experience, typically navigates the Atlas and the Moroccan desert, walking tours are organized camel through Morocco. Various circuits: mountains, desert expeditions in 4 × 4, camel rides, luxury camping in the desert ... * We want to work with those who can work together and strive to provide better service to customers and work around the kingdom to meet with clients and provide a different experience. We toured the Atlas Mountains and the desert of Morocco, and we'v been organizing trips all around the mountains and desert are organized as complementary services A and sports associations.