Morocco 2011 – Sing songs after dinner

Our last day of trekking saw us climb slightly out of camp to a high point on a ridge. Kate was not feeling too well and after a dose of sickness and diarrhoea I put her on a course of cypro. It had certainly worked with Ben who made a quick recovery. From the top of the ridge it was downhill all the way. The group was well spread out and came together for a brief rest stop, but soon spread out again as soon as we started walking again. Some were better able to cope with the terrain than others. Kate was struggling and Angela and I both took turns to guide her. When we reached lunch she realised she had not put her walking socks on. She had several very angry looking blisters. Her trek was over. After lunch she covered the rest of the distance on a mule. Soon after lunch we came to the first village, quite a large one on the other side of the valley. It coincided with the weather looking as if it was going to change for the worse. Having started out very clear and sunny, dark, heavy, clouds now loomed and the base of them obliterated the ridges above. Fortunately it did not rain. The rock formations were also very interesting with wind carved features forming a cliff to our right.
Eventually we reached the next village where our camp was to be by a school. When we got there the muleteers had pitched the tents in a lay-by opposite the school. Jamal was not impressed but the muleteers could not pitch camp where Jamal wanted because they did not have the camping fee. For a few minutes there was chaos as the tents were moved to a more suitable site as the light rapidly faded.
Today was Harriet’s 19th birthday and we were expecting a cake but nothing materialised. We did, however, have a sing song after dinner led by by the irrepressible Tom!

Morocco 2011 – Fabulous views from the summit

Climbing GuilizWoke up to a beautiful morning with not a cloud in the sky. Our target for the morning, Guiliz, stood out in the morning sunshine. After breakfast we set out, crossing the valley to then climb steadily up to the ridge. The summit looked quite close but the summit dome was deceptively large. As we progressed up the dome it became steeper, with lots of loose rocks about the size of large dinner plates. It was tough for the NCW students but they stuck to the task fantastically.

On the summit of GuilizEventually we reached the summit and had fabulous views all round. To the north the High Atlas were covered in fresh snow from the bad weather of the previous two days. No wonder it was proving quite cold at night. We spent about half an hour on the top before we set off in threes back to camp. If anything the going down was much harder, hence the trees – two sighted to each NCW student.

Coming down the dome was particularly hard. Having done the worst of it I lost my balance, possibly because I had Kate pulling on my rucksack, fell and placed my arm into a particularly prickly bush, which deposited numerous thorns into me. I remember thinking ‘I’m glad I am not a balloon’.

After lunch we left camp and continued on our trek to the next camp. We traversed around the valley, eventually reaching a high point on the ridge, which afforded fantastic views to the west of layer upon layer of ridges with a slightly varying blue tinge to them. From there it was only a short distance down to camp, another relatively high spot at just over 2600m, and quite cold once the sun had gone down.

Morocco 2011 – Communication is vital

En route to high campWoke up to an overcast morning where the cloud base was quite low. There was some light rain in the air. As we left camp at 8.15am there was some discussion among the crew which started to get a little heated. There was some concern about the muleteers being able to navigate in such conditions. We were told that there might be some changes to the itinerary.

Heading towards high campThe route continued up the valley along the dirt road through several villages. They were all very close to each other and it was hard to see how they could all make a living on the land that was available to farm. In days gone by it would have been subsistence farming but now many are involved in the growing of almonds and fruit for market. Some are able to make a good living out of it. However, the tendency is that not all the family will be involved as many family members will travel to the cities to work in construction, which seems to be booming in Morocco. Whatever they earn, whether it be through farming or construction, the earnings are for the family, which maintains very strong bonds in Morocco, particularly in rural communities. Those that move to the cities often make the move a temporary affair for economic reasons but eventually return to their roots.

Eventually we came to the end of the road and had our first steep climb over rough ground. Immediately our speed slowed. No longer were the pairs able to walk side by side; the guide led while their partner walked behind holding on to the rucksack in front. Communication became vital.

The climb continued and although we were encouraged by the thought of lunch not being far away, it never came. The issue for the cooks was water and an area large enough for them to function in and for the group to sit.

As the day progressed the weather improved and we returned to a revised plan A. It soon became apparent that the terrain was proving a barrier to the expected progress and that our climb of Guiliz was not possible and we would head straight to camp. But we had to reach lunch first! Finally, we saw the tent just below the path by the stream. It was now 3.00pm. How much further was it to camp? I began to wonder if we were going to reach camp before the light faded. We took lunch fairly quickly and by the time we were ready to continue we had about 2 hours left of daylight and then it would get dark very quickly. As it turned out we reached camp just in time. The sun had disappeared behind the mountains but cast a stunning, rich light on the summit of Guiliz which still had a necklace of cloud around its neck. It proved to be quite a chilly spot.

Sunset on GuilizAfter dinner we discussed the possibility of successfully climbing Siroua (3304m). Jamal described the day, the length (it would be long), the route to the summit (the last 100m is a scramble). In the light of today’s performance, which was brilliant, we all felt that Siroua would be too much, particularly as it involved scrambling, which might be possible on the ascent but would be extremely difficult on the descent. Instead, we decided to climb Guiliz (2905m) in the morning, return to camp for lunch, before continuing to our next camp.
Richard Hymen had had charge of Humph for the day but having lost him three times during the course of the morning he did not have him for long and had the forfeit of learning the months in Berber. Rhiannon did a good job of learning the number 1 – 10. Tom was nominated for a number of reasons.

Morocco 2011 – Counting 1 to 10 in Berber

Mess tent conversationSlept really well in the tent despite being woken at, I assume, about 4.00am by a group of young people talking noisily as they were walking past camp. At 5.15 the call to prayer echoed around the valley, followed by a reminder a few minutes later. Despite the interruptions I felt I had slept really well by the time I finally woke up at 6.30am.

Following a breakfast of very thick porridge, bread and various spreads, we set out walking at 8.30am. up the valley on a wide track. This later became a river bed. The going was easy and very little guiding was needed as obstacles we few and far between. The ascent was gradual throughout the day. At one point I climbed above the river to film the group. Having done so, I put my camera away as a fox ran past me in an arc about 15m from me. By the time I had got the camera out, remembered to turn it on, it had almost gone. I got one blurred shot. Lunch was in a leafy glade by a river on the edge of a village. Naturally we proved interesting to some of the village children, who had just come out of school, and who sat watching us from an elevated position.

In the afternoon we had only about an hour and a half before we reached camp. It had been sunny all day but there had been a cool breeze. By the time we arrived at camp the clouds had filled the sky and it began to look threatening. Without the sun the cool breeze became decidedly cold. This was not what we were expecting of Morocco; it is significantly colder than any previous visit I have made.
During the walk in the afternoon Rhiannon lost Humph. In camp her lack of care was highlighted and as a forfeit she was given the task of learning to count from 1 – 10 in Berber.

Ben developed sickness and diarrhoea after lunch. By the evening he was no better so I put him on a course of cypro.

Morocco 2011 crossing the High Atlas

Layered ridges

Having sorted out some currency back at the airport, we set out on our journey to Akhfamane, the start point of the trek. We started across the flat plain that surrounds Marrakech, on dead straight roads with little traffic, making quick progress. Soon the land began to rise and the road developed some bends, but still the surface was good. The only disappointing aspect of the day was the mountains were shrouded in cloud and there was potential for some rain, which materialised from time to time but not in any great quantity. After about 2½ hours we stopped briefly for toilets and for the crew to buy bread for lunch.

Lunch was at Tizi n Test, a high point in the road, in a room attached to an auberge. As we were at 2000m and the weather was not brilliant, it proved to be quite chilly and I regretted having no more than a T shirt and shorts. Lunch consisted of bread, cheeses and salad followed by bananas, biscuits and mint tea.
After lunch, having crossed the High Atlas, we descended to a flat plain again before more mountains, the Anti Atlas, appeared and the clouds cleared. We had another stop to buy 110 1½ litre bottles of water at Talioune, before we took the last short leg to camp. However, it was not all straight forward as, for the last 7km, we transferred into ancient Ford Transit vehicles as the road was a little rough and there was a river crossing.
We arrived at camp in time to help put up the tents as the light was fading rapidly. Soon everybody was sorted and we had dinner at 7.30pm, which consisted of lentil soup, vegetable tagine followed by pineapple and banana. The best nominations for the ‘wally’ award was Rhiannon. During the day she turned round and hit Caz, thinking she was hitting Jordan. For that she was given Humph, a soft toy camel, to look after for 24 hours. Tracey came a close second for getting up early, not having adjusted her watch to Moroccan time