This is an account of my first ever familiarisation trekking holiday for KE to Morocco - a role whereby a KE employee joins a KE group to understand more about the ins and outs of that particular destination and trip in order to share knowledge, hints and tips with our customers travelling to Morocco. I hope you enjoy reading and manage to take away something useful for your holiday!
Before I start, just a short bit on me……..the day I found out about my particular destination will never be forgotten. Firstly because nine years ago, my husband and I after passing the office here in Keswick decided upon our honeymoon destination (Peru), and became customers of KE! We joined the Inca Trail and Beyond trek and never looked back. We well and truly caught the trekking bug. So when the position of Sales Manager became available back in December 2011, I knew it was for me. The perfect job – the ability to incorporate travel into your daily routine as after all, we do spend most of our life at work! And secondly, because Morocco is such a popular destination, I was really excited to experience this place for myself. So, here I am, sharing my experience of life on trek in Morocco.
Bye Bye Manchester – Hello Marrakech!
Flying Easy Jet into Marrakech Airport was so easy, everything on time and almost straight through customs. A slight wait of around 15-20 minutes but was just pleased we had landed safely - we arrived during a sandstorm so rather turbulent!
Landing at 730pm local time and Marrakech was still in the late 30’s! This heat continued all evening but of course we had the benefit of air con in our rooms. Luckily we had a supermarket located next to the hotel, so before going to bed, nipped in for extra supplies of water, and a brief walk down the refrigerated aisle to cool down.
Day 1 – Sightseeing with Mustafa, Awesome
Sightseeing in Marrakech was excellent - we did of course do this in the morning to try and keep in the shade as much as possible. Mustafa our sightseeing guide was brilliant and very knowledgeable. Firstly we were introduced to the main religion of Morocco – Islam, and how this is woven into every aspect of daily life along with Ramadan (our visit coincided with this) and what this meant. We also learnt about the various dynasties and how they impacted upon Marrakech as well as visiting key sites such as the Koutoubia Mosque, Saadian Tombs, Palais el Bahia to name just a few. We also visited (sorry, I mean survived!) the souks which are quite overwhelming – you could definitely get lost in there!
Day 2 – Escaping the heat and driving into the Mountains, arrival at Ait Souka
A wonderful sweeping drive up into the valley where our gite in Ait Souka village is housed – a beautiful building full of character with amazing views across the Mzik valley. Thankfully the heat has subsided, and we’re now more into the mid 20’s rather than the late 40’s of Marrakech. I love the mountains! We are rewarded with an amazing thunder and lightning show in the evening, clearing the air for the start of our trek.
Day 3 – Tizi N’ Mezzik – Freshly squeezed orange juice anyone?
Beautiful acclimatisation walk from our gite up into the opposite valley – it looked quite daunting from our terrace yesterday as the lighting struck all around, however today, the weather is gorgeous, clear and sunny. We get up early to make our way to the top of the pass, avoiding the heat of the midday sun as much as possible. I can’t believe that at the top we can take refreshment in the form of a freshly squeezed orange juice. There’s no one else around, yet the young owner has still made the journey to the top, and opened up! A couple of us take the opportunity to climb a little higher to look into the valley across, and notice a little patch of snow hidden away in shaded area of the mountain!
Day 4 – Tizi N’Tamatert – first night’s camp with an amazing sunset
Feels like the first real day on trek as our bags are packed onto the backs of our three mules ready for the start of our sustained trek and camping. We walk up through pine forest which offers shade from the early morning sun enjoying insights into Berber village life all around us – the men building a mosque, the ladies carrying corn, shepherding cows, or doing their washing by hand. Kids are happily wandering around helping their parents or simply playing. Today we reach the top of this rather windy pass and meet a small group of French trekkers, and a family – but it’s not long until they’re off in the other direction.
Once again we have the pass and the mountains to ourselves. Lunch is by the river – a long winding jeep road away. Upon arrival we have lots of time to relax and take a siesta from the midday sun, its just so, so chilled that I can’t stop writing! Afterwards we continue deeper into the valley and pass through more Berber villages, steadily climbing up a little before stopping at our first camp for the evening. We’re rewarded with an amazing sunset and the all too familiar sound of prayers across the valley. All in bed by 8pm!
Day 5 – Tizi N’Likemt – A long day but amazing time at Mohammed’s café!
Well getting up at 4.30am is never much fun! And certainly when you know what’s ahead of you in the climb to the pass. I definitely needed my porridge this morning to get me up the 1000m of ascent - a long zigzag across the mountain before the sun reached us. This particular Tizi was very windy at the top (a reoccurring theme) yet also very welcoming to have a lovely warm breeze! The descent was long, not particularly tough but long, dropping the 1000m we’d just gained. We drop into a variety of terrains and deeper into village life. A magnificent herd of goats and their kids pass right by us, just beautiful, with their glossy coats - there must have been hundreds. Our camp for the night is right next to the river, just superb. There are ladies and children washing their clothes, blankets and rugs in the river next to us. The men are returning on mules from the neighbouring valleys with supplies for their summer homes. We eat our freshly prepared lunch in the shade of a Berber shepherd hut. In the afternoon, we take a siesta, read or write…. then all enjoy a drink in the café on the opposite side of the river. Mohammed, a lovely resident of the village, has a make shift bar with fizzy bottled drinks chilling in the manmade cooler. None of us speak Berber but with phrase book in hand, we pin together a couple of conversations – smiles and laughs all round!
Day 6 – Tizi N’Ouria – A very busy highway
We start with an amazing walk through a gorge, before a steep ascent winds its way to the top of our pass. This is the first day we meet lots of people, not other trekkers, but locals transporting goods from the market to their summer homes. Mule after mule! Upon reaching the top we have our first spectacular view of Toubkal. Wow, it seems so far away yet only a couple of days and we’ll be on the top!
Day 7 – Lac Ifni – Definitely a highlight
This place is amazing and we’re so lucky with the weather. The clear and warm days continue giving us a great opportunity to swim in the lake. Although we’ve all seen the pictures, we are still surprised at our first glimpse, just beautiful. Upon reaching the lake there is such a feeling of tranquillity and remoteness – there are no other trekkers to share this place with! We all relax for the afternoon by swimming in the coolness of the lake, taking the chance to read more or again simply sleeping in the shaded Berber hut. And the highlight continues - with an amazing wilderness camping experience! We’re situated in the depths of a gorge, with no one else around, just our tents, surreal. We are so lucky to be here, at peace in the mountains.
Day 8 – Tizi N’Ouanoums – We’re almost there!
Another early morning start as we get ready to climb the gorge up to the Tizi N’Ouanoums. A cooler and duller day with the threat of rain but we manage to get to the top without any downpours. Upon reaching, the wind gathers speed and we are all quite shocked about the temperature. Such a drop that we need hat, gloves and windbreaker! Anyway on the other side, the sun comes out, still breezy but we make the short descent to our camp for the night – the Toubkal Refuge. We camp on the terrace and it’s dry at this point, but as the wind picks up so do the showers! Our first day of rain. However we can make use of the refuge, and it’s a rest day, which we means we all, take time to chill before the big day tomorrow! We fill ourselves up on pasta ready for the early morning challenge ahead.
Day 9 - Summit Day Success – Mount Toubkal 4167m
Up off the mountain with our head torches on at 430am to beat the crowds (although to be honest it’s really quiet!). Definitely recommend an early start, as there were only 3 who made it there before us. It’s a long gradual slog to the top. Upon reaching the summit our emotions build and a couple of tears appear - we recognise our achievement of the past couple of days. We all feel really fortunate too with the weather, considering the day before was raining - couldn’t have timed it this good if we’d have tried! The temperature was low upon ascent with a long sleeved base layer and windproof jacket, hat and gloves. It was pretty hard to believe when returning to the Refuge that in just around 5 hours we had climbed North Africa’s highest mountain. An early lunch followed, then off down and into the valley. Long and increasingly warmer temperatures, with the thought of a hot shower motivating us!
Day 10 – Bye Bye Mountains, Hello again Marrakech!
Saying goodbye to the mountains was quite a sad event, however we were all cheered by the news of Ramadan ending. It was so good to feel the warmth of family and friends celebrating the end of this month long fast. Driving through the valley back down to Marrakech we stopped several times as our local crew shook hands and acknowledged friends. Back in Marrakech, after a little bit of relaxation and shopping, we all met for our last group meal together. What a wonderful and delicious end to the holiday. Enormous amounts of local dishes such as Chicken Pastilla (rather than the traditional pigeon), Lamb Tagine, Vegetable Coucous, Roast Chicken, Bread, Fresh Fruit, Mint Tea and local pastries. All served on the terrace of a fantastic Riad. Then off into the madness of the Djeema El Fna. It really is true that the square is mad – snake charmers, fresh orange stalls, gambling, monkeys, storytellers, food stalls, and live music - this place is a definite must to visit. Ramadan had only recently ended, and with a couple of public holidays, the square and Marrakech really felt like festival time and upbeat. Not sure about New York never sleeping, Marrakech definitely doesn’t! After soaking in the atmosphere until the early hours of the morning, we retreated to our air-conditioned hotel room, reflecting upon the last week and a half of our lives – the madness of Marrakech and the magic of the High Atlas Mountains.
Ramadan – I certainly wouldn’t avoid travelling during this time again. In fact our trekking holiday coincided with the end of this annual observance, and it was wonderful to feel and see how much this means to the population. I would however recommend that if you do, to simply to be patient and understanding. Ramadan lasts for one month every year and Muslims worldwide refrain from consuming food and drinking fluids between dawn and sunset.
Weather in Summer –Although July and August are definitely the hottest months to visit Marrakech, please don’t let this put you off visiting the High Atlas mountains. As soon as you climb out of the city and into Ait Souka (1900m) as an example, you will find a drop of around 10 degrees, and further as you ascend into your trek. It was also the perfect time to have the place to yourself, it was rare to meet other western trekkers until we reached the Toubkal refuge, an uncommon experience at other busier times.