Some time has now passed since my last footsteps in Africa yet the one man travel plan lives on as I try to write up my experiences and hone my travel writing talents with the aim of publishing and funding more odessies of curiosity.

As well as the writing side I am organsing exhibitions of photgraphs and paintings from my trip, partly for their asthetic beauty and partly so I can share and hopefully inform people about some lesser known parts of the world.

And then there is always the next trip... the journey never ends.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Marrakesh and the High Atlas

A man on the roof of his house in the High Atlas

I’ve been in and around Marrakesh for some time now. When I first got here I was ill after an arduous journey which I’ll talk about in a moment. After my illness I spent time trying to organise the posting of my much needed software so as to be able to show my filming. Unfortunately for me it was the Muslim holiday of Eid so the post office wasn’t open for three days. Since then I’ve been waiting patiently for my package.

A dried food stall in Place Jemaa-El-Fna Marrakesh.

Marrakesh is a vibrant colourful city. It’s modern with lots of construction and luxury flats for wealthy Moroccans. It has fashion boutiques, fancy restaurants and all the consumer trappings of a modern city. Plus lots of tourists but the life in the Ville neuvele (new town) doesn’t interest me much. I’m more attracted to the ancient rhythms of the medina.

Food stalls Place Jemaa-El-Fna with the tower of the Koutoubia mosque in the background Marrakesh’s most famous landmark

The main attraction for tourists and the centre around which Marrakesh revolves is the Place Jemaa El Fna . Jemaa El Fna is a large irregular shaped square that is startling in its size and openness being surrounded by the dark claustrophobic streets of the old town. However it’s not these qualities that make it special it’s the chaotic life of the place. For instance there are snake charmers and men with monkeys. There are traditional musicians and all manner of oddities. It’s not until night though that it really comes into its own. As the sun sets many food stalls are set up which great big flames and wafts of smoke that catch the dying sunlight and spread evocative charcoal smells. As if this wasn’t atmospheric enough this is when the tribal sounds of drumming starts, creating a palpable electric buzz of excitement and a real festival atmosphere every single night!

Men stirring steaming pots of snail soup Place Jemaa-El-Fna

Over the last few days I’ve been hanging out with a Belgium punk rocker and a Canadian tree planter. I’ve met some peace corps workers, three American girls who have just spent two years in The Gambia, in rural villages. Two years! They were also planting trees and had lots to say about the strangeness of living with large families with two or more wives per husband in rural Africa and of a prime minister who claims to have cured cancer. This is just to mention a few of the interesting people I’ve met in Marrakesh.

Washing hanging up in the village the High Atlas

While waiting for my software to arrive I went to a place called Imlil for four days. Imlil is high up in the Atlas Mountains at just below two thousand meters and not far from North Africa’s highest peak Toubkal at 4167 meters.

Id spied the distinct peaks of the Atlas when I first arrived. They are clearly visible from Marrakesh as a high solid wall of shimmering white against a blue sky. So when I finally arrived in the frosty cold of Imlil amid towering snow clad peaks I was very happy, especially after the noise and dirt of Marrakesh.

Imlil is a small collection of shops at the bottom of a deep valley that splits four ways at Imlil. The surrounding slopes are where the inhabitants live in beautiful mud brick houses that hang preciously from rocky slopes.

The valleys rang with the sounds of roosters and goats, the call to prayer (a soulful wailing that proclaims the greatness of God and summons the faithful to worship 5 times a day) and the sound a whooping and laughter. The whooping and laughter were due to a local custom where after sacrificing a sheep for Eid as done all over the Muslim world the inhabitants of the high atlas would then ware the sheepskin with the sheep’s horns fitted to a mask. Thus kitted out, the man in the costume then runs around the steep rocky paths of the villages chasing everyone with a stick. This appears to make everyone feverish with excitement and goes on, at least where I was, for around 6 days. Six days of madness.

Mosque and mountains Armoud High Atlas

My host in Imlil was the crafty Ibrahim who like many Moroccans was a keen business man. I shared a comfortable but freezing cold mud brick guest house with three runners from Leicester who had come to Imlil to train in the high altitude.
During the day I walked up into the snow line and down into pretty valleys while at night I played cards with the Leicester lads while eating huge steaming mounds of couscous and tajine. Ibrahim would come in to talk to us softly in a mixture a French and English with a wry smile on his face and sly chuckle.

A house Imlil - the villiage I stayed in, in the High Atlas

Im now back in Marrekesh waiting for my software. I feel thourghly refreshed after the calm of the mountains and am enjoiying the relative warmth of Marrekesh. 17 to 18 degrees in the day and a little above freezing at night.

Ive met a thuorghly nice Morrocan guy who has introduced me to his family and fed me generously. Plus there are always new faces at the hostel Im staying at.
So things are ok at the moment but Im itching to get my software and push on south to Muaritania.

The view from my window across Imlil the High Atlas

The view from the top of a moutain I strugeled to climb in the thin air and snow

Some strange rock formations the High Atlas

Oh nearly forgot to talk about my arduous journey to Marrakesh. After feeling rough in Rabat I foolishly thought I was well enough to travel. But it being Eid the trains were packed and I mean really packed so that people were squashed up against windows and put on intimate terms: I witnessed many colourful arguments which arose in the cramped tense atmosphere but always seemed to end in laughter. All in all it was certainly an experience but one I couldn’t really appreciate as my flue like suffering became painful diarrhoea which made the journey very long indeed. This kept me from eating and detained me with bowel problems for the next day. I feel healthy now and am very much looking forward to what will happen next as I have no idea, which for me is the joy of travelling, the unknown. So till next time ...

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