The small village of Imlil was the setting-off point for our 3-day hike into the mountains. Fancying ourselves mildly energetic, yet not totally masochistic, we chose to attempt the 30 km hike through the Atlas mountains to Setti Fatma rather than climbing straight up Jebel Toubkal. The “relatively leisurely” (kiss my ass, Lonely Planet) hike featured 2 high passes, both involving over 1,000 metres of ascent (and, of course, descent). The beauty of this, though, was that there were small homestays, or “gites”, along the way, removing the need to carry much food (we had little) or camping gear (we had none). Well, all I can say about that is, good thing. I’m starting to think that if man were intended to climb mountains God wouldn’t have provided bulldozers.

Anyhow, off we went, cruising along on an easy dirt road that gradually became steeper, and rockier, and steeper, and rockier, etc. until we finally reached Tizi ‘n Tamatert pass, which featured outstanding views and a tiny little shack selling tea and Coke. A little sugar jump, just what the doctor ordered. From there it was mostly downhill to our first stop, the village of Tacheddirt (which we found on only the second try), but by the time we arrived the clouds had rolled in and it was like a heavy fog, limiting visibility and creating a haunting Lord of the Rings-type atmosphere. Not a problem, though, since the owner of the village gite, Mohammed, also apparently farms right next to the path leading up to the village, and was the first person we ran into. We were skeptical at first (I mean what are the chances?) until we later realized that there may have only been half a dozen adults in the entire place. Suddenly it seemed like less of a fortunate coincidence. Mohammed then got us set up in a little cave-like room that did have the nice feature of a small terrace (providing us with marvellous views of the fog). It wasn’t long before we were drawn outside by a real barnyard ruckus. It turned out that all the village goats and sheep were being herded home for the night. We stood there watching (as usual, we had nothing else to do), thinking it was pretty cool, seeing them bleat and baa their way in waves among the shacks.

“Hey, look, some of them are coming up this way. Oh, here they all come. Wow, look at ’em go. Hey, where’d the front ones go? Is there a pen down there? But that’s…..that can’t be… THAT the pen? Wow, they live right under our room? Hmmph, well, I’m sure they’ve all been taught to properly respect ‘quiet time'”.

An interesting note to the evening: Having brought only two books on the hike we were quite fortunate that we managed to finish almost simultaneously (unfortunately not a word we’ve used often in the past).

The following morning the fog had lifted and it was once again clear and sunny. We had to make our way up a long, steep valley to the Tizi ‘n Tacheddirt pass at over 3,200 metres. The path was, by this time, far less defined and was becoming trickier by the minute. Luckily for us, many years of being in close proximity to Gordie Dupre’s considerable Cree Indian tracking skills has rubbed off on Laynni, and it served her well as she led us up the rocky slope. However, it was the first, and hopefully last, time I have ever heard her utter the phrase, “Boy, I sure am glad donkey’s shit so much”.

About half way up we spotted a guy well below us carrying some type of bag over his shoulder. The next time we saw him he was above us, apparently taking a more direct line to the top than our switchback-filled route of gasping and moaning. The third time we saw him was upon reaching the top of the pass, a 3-hour climb, where he sat quietly with his back against a rock, an assortment of soft drinks arranged neatly beside him. Welcome to the Tizi ‘n Tacheddirt Refreshment Stand. I must say, that was one of the few times I didn’t begrudge someone charging us 1.5X the going rate.

One thing I somehow haven’t mentioned yet: absolutely incredible views and scenery all the way through. Over and around jagged cliffs, through lush, terraced valleys, rushing rivers and tiny villages – it was one great photo-op after another (as you’re sure to notice when you see our pictures), and to top it all off – we didn’t see even one annoying leprechaun.

After seven hours of extremely rough hiking we finally dragged our weary, complaining asses (Laynni’s was getting pretty loud) through the gathering clouds, and dropping temperature, into Timichi and Gite d’Etape. This one was much bigger (more than one room), busier (a whole family rather than one dysfunctional bachelor) and posher (a candle for each room). In fact, Hussein even made quite a deal about the hot water shower. Now here was something my aching body could appreciate! In I went, dancing and hopping on the cold cement floor with the wind howling though the holes in the walls. I turn the hot tap…..six drops. What the…..c’mon, you bastard. Turn the cold tap…..tons of pressure. Turn off the cold, hey, there we go, the “hot” is still going strong, even if it is only really lukewarm. Get my hair wet, get some soap in there, lather up (easy there, girls), whoah, hold on
there, Chip, where’d the water go? Holy shit that’s cold! Ok, maybe I’ll try that thing with the cold tap again. Nope, apparently that only works once. I guess I should have asked if I was working with an eight second window here, my fault. No choice now, gotta rinse.

– Tortured cries of pain send chills down spines and leave children crying in terror –

Laynni (politely curious): So, how was the hot shower?

Dean (assuming tough-guy role): Not very hot, but I feel pretty good now

The final day was another four hours, mostly downhill, which seems easier at first but usually ends up causing more pain in the end. Then there was some confusion near Setti Fatma as the river level was up and had eliminated part of the road into town. After completing a half hour detour on the advice of some locals we realized that the main obstacle was about a foot and a half of water, maybe ten feet across. Obviously they pegged us for the kind of people that dissolve when coming into contact with liquid. Possibly due to our hygiene level at the time.

One more note: 30 km? By helicopter maybe….

Now we find ourselves in the ocean town of Essaouira, a laid-back kind of place famous for wind-surfing, it’s ancient Portuguese fort, and having a good time even when it doesn’t feel fresh. Yet another abrupt change from the mountains, deserts and cities we’ve seen so far in Morocco.

It’s a bit strange here right now as they are currently filming a movie (Kingdom of Heaven, set during the Crusades, Orlando Bloom and Liam Neeson). There are lots of areas blocked off and old medieval sets and props all over the place. In fact, we’re hoping for a chance to hijack one of the old wooden carts to re-enact the plague scene from the Holy Grail. We haven’t decided yet who will yell “Bring out your dead!” and who gets to say “I’m not quite dead yet. In fact, I’m feeling much better.”

Anyway, time to go. We plan to putz around here for a couple days, letting our bodies recuperate, and then finish off back in Marrakesh before starting our marathon return flight late Saturday night. Talk to you later.