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How to make the best of two days trekking over Tafraoute

Guided trek above Tafraoute at sunrise

 

Tafraoute is also home to spectacular Morocco trekking, when the High Atlas is covered in snow.

It’s a glorious morning in Ameln valley, perhaps a little too warm for this milder- than- usual November. Leaving Tafraoute behind, Lion’s Head is winking at us. Or so it seems from down here. The lush valley spreads out in the morning gaze, its palm trees and agran trees in stark contrast to the ochre, cupreous bluffs towering over, culminating at 2500 meters high in Jebel Kest. And that’s where we are headed today. It’s uncanny how the route zig zags its way into the escarpment, and then curb after curb, hand must be steady as the concrete road clings its way just about over the sheer ravine. Crossing a tiny shoulder, a village appears ahead of us, hitherto hidden from view.

Old and new alternate, mosque shining new, a few locals going about their business. The village lies at 1400 meters high – we park near the main shop and, soon, backpacks well- roped, we stride our way through the orchards. Stream- faucets siding the route invite visitors to taste the local source water. The trail meanders past old adobes, deserted and derelict, victims of an age where sheerness and impregnability mattered more than running water and electricity.

Ahmed and Moustapha guides in Tafraoute mountains

Ahmed is almost 60 but has the demeanor of a 40 something. He brought along a friend, Moustapha – a 30 years merry youth, always smiling, almost coltish. As we gain in altitude, we encounter abandoned terraced cultures. Rocks piled together, showing false trails, used to be terraces where cereals would grow. Only fig trees grace these altitudes nowadays, their light green leaves shining in the sun. The wind is picking up from the south and a light gaze hovers in.

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The end of October followed a long and hot summer, brooks all dried up – it’s a miracle the village wells still draw water. It’s almost noon now, so we stop for… Moroccan tea –expeditiously concocted by our guides, complemented by dates, figs and almonds – and the best for it, as some of us find it hard to catch the rhythm. The taste is divine, due also to local fresh thyme thrown in. Casting about, a splash of red catches the eye – vine leaves turned by the season.

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Not so far, what I take for a white painted arrow on a stone, turns out to be a sign saying: ‘Shepherding forbidden’. As odd as it seems, it makes sense – thyme, lavender and figs can fetch a good few pennies at the local souk, instead of being munched on by herds of sheep and cattle. Slowly the figs and terraced banks give way to argan trees and a sort of local oak.

One local custom still enjoins locals from the valley to come up here on a sort of pilgrimage at different times of year and pray collectively.

The oaks acorn, fruit and cask litter the trail, yet we are grateful for it as it shades us. A second break is had by the entrance of a cave, where shepherds used to shield their cattle for the night or from heavy rain. Ahmed proposed tea but I’d rather push for the summit as we’re a mere hour away from it.

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Creepers flow through stone crevasses. And now two silhouettes appear ahead, spindly and light footed as they approach. A couple of youngsters exploring the mountains. We exchange a few phrases – turns out they couldn’t find water on top.

{ Read: a 5 day desert Morocco itinerary that can include a trek around Tafraoute. }

As we pass the 2000 meter limit, vegetation grows scarce and our path runs on huge rock slabs and stairs, at times slick as marble. It’s not even 3 PM as we reach the summit, and after due celebrations and taking in the astounding views, we tour the premises.

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Is there really no water up here ? Turns out it’s sheltered in a natural tank, under carefully piled rock slabs shelter. Several dens lie across the summit, all made of rock slabs carefully propped. One of them used to serve as a mosque, its narrow corridor just wide enough for a file of 20 believers to prostate, a protuberance midway indicating the spot for the imam. Contiguous to it, huge rock slabs jutting out from the ground indicate the burial site of the local saint, Sidi Brahim. One local custom still impels locals from the valley to come up here on a sort of pilgrimage at different times of year and pray collectively.

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Loads of plastic bottles, used sandals, gas canisters and all sorts of picnic paraphernalia pile up in the corner of the sleeping den, of a more recent errection, rock shards  all wedged up with clay, keeping the mean wind gusts at bay. Thankfully, someone also thought of leaving a good pile of wood behind – we boil the water to build up reserves for next day.

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We set up for lunch, crowned with abundant tea and coffee, and a good many stories. It’s late afternoon that we set up guard, binoculars and camera zoom in hand, scouting the other peaks and crests, slopes, hoping for a wild animal to appear.

Mouflons, falcons and wild gazelles are not rare around these parts, but as dusk falls and the gusts swell, we have to content ourselves with the sunset and the views on the villages and Tafraoute, shining in the distance like an eery landing lane, waiting for planes that fail to arrive.

After dinner, we set out our sleeping bags inside and bless the unknown builders for the quality of the insulation. Before bedtime, we share stories and I smile in the dark as I listen to my guides’ depiction of Tafraoute women and their proclivity for lucre ( sic). It’s every now and then that the wind lashes out against the walls, waking me. My two companions are carelessly snoring away.

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How bewildering the sunrise from these heights… Tafraoute and the surrounding valleys lie under a gaze of fine cloud veil, only the Adrar and other peaks jutting out from it, as the sun makes its appearance. As ephemeral as it is, cramps, blisters and sweat, fade away and an overarching beauty enshrines all.

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Coffee is brewed and tafernout bread is warmed up on the fire. Breakfast concluded, fire extinguished and garbage collected, we set out into the glorious day. First stop, the next peak, with its majestic cairn. Then, the descent. As yesterday we climbed up the south face, today we descend on the north one and immediately it strikes out as greener, as we are walking in its shade.

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We stop now and then to divine the trail ahead or try new tracks. Who knows where Scrambling was invented, but it might as well have been here as the rock is grippy and solid, with stone stairs all over. I’ve trekked in many parts of Morocco but this rock feels different – perhaps that’s why Tafraoute is so popular with rock climbers. Later, Ahmed takes us off trail and up on a ledge in the northern slope, starting a man’s height and culminating at 50 meters above the valley.

The trail is merely two feet wide, so better watch your steps… Back in the valley we’re lost in a reverie when Moustapha suddenly beckons us to glimpse the mouflons. It’s too late. Nevertheless, I give chase, jumping from slab to slab. How can anyone keep up with them ?

Quite a few pantings after, I return to join my companions, in the shade of an oak, inside a runnel bed. At least, no strained ankles. Thank goodness, Ahmed had set up for tea and I join them. In between the laughters and chat, a flap is heard. Before I pivot, the sight is gone. A falcon, swift as a bullet. Later, we spot some spread out houses and the tarmac, far ahead in the distance. We now enter a thicket of oaks and walk on dried leaves, great for slipping and falling.

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As Moustapha is humming Berber chants behind me, it’s my turn to spot the mouflons. They rockjump on the other slope, some 200 meters away, 3 ghosts in a rock window, a blink of an eye. A solitary one follows, just as diaphanous as its brethren, too fleet to catch on camera. Fig trees greet us, giving away human settlement.

Almonds await February when their bloom shall color the whole valley. Is it long that rain fell here ? So it seems. A man treads on his house roof, repatching the clay insulation, a satellite dish in his way. Stray dogs come out of their dozing, curious. A driver awaits for us by the road, smiling and greeting. Our transport back to Tafraoute is not a brand new Toyota 4×4 we use for our Morocco private tours, but a decrepit Peugeot and  we pretty much don’t leave the first gear. The route meanders its way up the mountains and past sleepy hamlets, clay adobes mixing with concrete, some on their way back into the ground, some not yet complete. As we share stories over kebabs at a local snack, it feels like a week has gone by.

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A 2 day trek around Tafraoute is best included between the Sahara desert and Marrakech, as part of a  Morocco 7 day itinerary.

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