Wednesday, September 7, 2016


We left the wild craziness of the Berber Market and drove the last few miles to Imlil.

On the way, I spotted this delivery truck on the road and wondered how many mothers in this area have the luxury of disposable diapers, and how the trash collection system works in the many small villages we passed.
There are some things you just don't learn when you are a tourist. 

The spectacular Atlas Mountains stretch more than 1500 miles across the north end of Africa. We had already spent some significant time driving through other sections of the Atlas (see here and here), but we were really looking forward to seeing Jebel [Mount] Toubkal, the tallest mountain in Northern Africa at 13,665 feet.

Aziz took us to the upper edge of Imlil, which serves as the starting point for those who want to make the trek to Jebel Toubkal's summit. Most people take a day to hike 5-7 hours to the base camp, spend the night there, and then rise early for the final ascent, which takes 2.5 to 4.5 hours, depending on the route. (For a complete description, see this site.)

At first we thought this majestic specimen was The Great Mountain:

However, later we got a better view of the real Jebel Toubkal, located to the left of and behind the mountain in the above photo:

Here it is, just over Bob's head:

Aziz had convinced us to hire a guide to take us "hiking" into the Atlas. We had to pay the guide, whose name was Hossain, 400 dirham (about $40) for a little more than two hours of walking on a dirt road--no real hiking, although the scenery was spectacular. (By comparison, we paid our fabulous, well-educated, fluent English-speaking guide in Marrakech 900 dirham for a full day of work.) By Moroccan standards, we'd been had, and I'm guessing that yet again, Aziz got his cut. By American standards, of course, it was not a big deal, but it's hard to feel comfortable in a country when you feel everyone is on the take.  Not a good tourism move.

Anyway, we left from this lodge, a nice place where trekkers and other tourists stay:
From this point we walked a total of about four or five miles, taking many photos along the way. We had several good views of Jebel Toubkal, and the High Atlas Mountains with their patches of snow were as grand as we had expected them to be.

Hossain told us there had been a massive flood down this valley in August 1995 caused by a heavy thunderstorm that dumped almost three inches of water in 2.5 hours. It swept away part of the village of Aroumd (also spelled Aremd), which we later walked through, and killed up to 150 people, including quite a few tourists. The little stream we saw winding down the valley had been a raging torrent of water as deep as twenty feet.

Picture this twenty feet deep:

We were visiting on an early spring day in March. Many of the fruit trees, planted on a series of terraces that reminded me of football stadium seating, had yet to bloom:

Hossain said that these are apple, peach, and cherry trees. It's hard to believe these trees thrive up here, but apparently they do, even though, according to Hossain, the snow in the orchard area had been a meter deep in February, just a month ago.

In another orchard, however, we did find some trees in bloom:

Although the orchards were just beginning to flower, there were plenty of oranges on hand that had been picked in groves at lower elevations, and so we were able to have a glass of our favorite Moroccan beverage before we got too serious about our long walk:

Across the valley we could see another very large hotel. There must be a lot of hikers who come here in the summer. I can't imagine another reason to spend the night in this remote place.

We always hope to see some wild animals, but no such luck. We did see some some good-lookin' chickens:

And of course there were horses and donkeys--more common than dogs in Morocco--carrying supplies to who knows where. By the way, this picture shows a good example of how the natives ride these beasts of burden when the saddle bags are full. They would have to be able to do the splits to ride astride the load, and it wouldn't be very comfortable:

I have a thing for sheep, and there were some wonderfully woolly white ones in this valley:

One advantage of having the guide along was that he could be our personal photographer:

Soon we approached the picturesque village of Aroumd ( or Aremd), perched on the steep hills of a moraine spur. Internet sources say that 1200 people live in this village, which includes a school that children attend four hours every day until they are 16:

Another view:

Aroumd/Aremd was a little less picturesque when we actually slogged through its streets (although you can't argue with that backdrop!):

However, one thing the Moroccans always do well is doors. Why is that?

Just beyond Aroumd/Aremd we came to the U in the road where we would cross the gorge and start walking back towards Imlil. Below us, we saw what seems to be a rather large community, complete with quite a few multi-story buildings. Perhaps this is part of Aroumd/Aremd? I'm not sure how the flood would have reached the section up on the hillside, but it could have done a lot of damage here:

We also saw this dirt road zig-zagging across the hillside. Just looking at it made me carsick:

On the other side of the gorge, where we were headed, we could see what appeared to be a rug shop. Oh joy.

Straight ahead, before we turned right at the bottom of the "U," stood powerful majestic Jebel Toubkal and its threatening henchmen:

We headed down the trail to the bridge crossing the bottom of the gorge, the same gorge a 20-foot wall of water crashed down in 1995. I'm assuming this bridge was built since then:
I wonder if the hotel is also new?

We sat on the bridge for a while with our legs hanging over the edge. Hossain told us that there are trout in this stream, but that since this is a national park, it is illegal to catch them. I would guess the locals catch them anyway. High-quality free food swimming in their stream? It's a no-brainer.

We rounded the bend of the "U" and headed back towards our starting point. We navigated safely past the rug shop without having to endure another lengthy demonstration of how rugs are made. It was fun to follow this man and horse past the last rug tacked to the rocks:

Looking back across the gorge at Aroumd/Aremd, we got another good view of Jebel Toubkal:

At the lower end of the gorge, water rushing down three small cataracts is used to power a mill, which is used to grind the grains grown in this little valley:

I was surprised by how many conglomerations of large buildings dot both sides of the gorge:

We passed by a "Kasbah," another word for a wayside inn for travelers. In the height of spring, this might appear to be the door to Shangri-La, and in the depths of winter it might look more like snow-covered Narnia:

Our guide Hossain indicates the sign. He was a fun, friendly young man, if a bit over-priced. In general, we found the Moroccans to be an amenable people:

Finally, we passed this old, rather unadorned mosque. (Every village of any size has a mosque.)

. . . but the front doors were beautiful--as always:

I love Morocco's doors.


  1. I'd tried to get our Marrakech guide for this day as well, but he was already booked, nearly a year in advance. If we'd have gotten him, we would have had a much better day, both at the Berber market and our hiking to Aremd.

  2. Interesting countryside, as yes, it does look like Riverside and SoCal (but without those big mountains).