Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Trekking Into The Atlas Mountains Of Morocco.....

Travel is full of enlightening experiences that opens our eyes and minds as it teaches us about different cultures, religions and people. Today we spent a day in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco surrounded by Muslims, Berbers, Jews and many others.

For something different and as a way to beat the heat of Marrakesh, Clyde booked us on an all day tour. Our tour guide Youssef (the Moroccan version of Joseph) picked us up at our hotel around 9am and off we went. Our destination was to visit a traditional Berber village in the mountains with an optional trek to a waterfall. Youssef was 36 years old, spoke English and enlightened us with information about Morocco, Marrakesh and Muslims.

Whenever I get to pick the brain of a local I enjoy learning about their culture so I asked a bunch of silly questions. Muslim women in Morocco only cover up from head to tow when they are outside without their families. In their homes they wear regular clothes, let their hair down and do what any other woman might do. Yes Muslim women are allowed to go swimming in bathing suits in front of other people and they do wear shorts and tee shirts on holiday. Modern day Muslims in Morocco are allowed to choose whom they want to date and marriages are no longer arranged in most families. Just like anywhere else pre-marital sex is common and birth control is used to control unwanted pregnancies.

Selfie With Youssef

Moroccan children learn Arab as their first language and later French. When they are a bit older they can choose to study English, Spanish or other languages but they all realize that English will help them get jobs in touristy Marrakesh.

Youssef assured me that women are NOT looked down on or treated as second class citizens like I first felt on arrival to Morocco. Women here are allowed to become educated and work outside of the house, just as anywhere else.

When I asked about driving habits here just as in some other countries small motorcycles and tuk tuks do NOT require driver licenses, a true but scary truth.

Along the way up in to the mountains we stopped at a Jewish synagogue, a jewelry shop and a ceramic shop where people tried to get some money out of us. But because of our nomadic lifestyle we can't buy things along the way because we have no room to put it. Interesting enough Berbers were originally Jewish but later converted to Islam.

Ceramics Everywhere....These Are Tagines Used For Cooking

The Fancier Tagines Are Used For Presentation Only

Jewish Synagogue

Then we stopped in a Berber village that makes beauty products with Argan Oil. We have all heard of Moroccan Argan Oil but I had NO idea that argan trees ONLY grow in Morocco! Other countries with similar climates have tried to cultivate these trees without any success. The Moroccan people believe Argan is a gift from the gods that only they can have.

Making Argan Oil

Samples Of Argan Products

And More...

After learning how argan oil is made we were given pieces of bread to dip into some for tasting. We sampled and smelled a variety of oils and had time to look around the shop at the many products they sell. I did pick up a container of anti-aging cream to try out while we were there.
Next stop was for some lunch at a restaurant that literally had tables sitting in the river. First our guide parked the car and lead us over a tiny, rickety bridge that crossed over the river. We sat at a table overlooking the river below while the Atlas Mountains loomed above us. Another wonderful Moroccan meal for me included: a tomato salad with egg and cucumber, a Berber tagine of chicken and vegetables and for dessert some chocolate mousse. Clyde had some kabobs with mixed meat and vegetables, potatoes and rice, soup, and the same dessert as me.

Photo On The Bridge

Lunch Time Entertainment

Appetizers....Tomato Salad On Left (similar to pico de gallo but with different spices)
Vegetable Soup, Bread

Kabobs, Rice, Potatoes

Chicken And Veggies

The entire river was covered with restaurants that had some of their tables in chairs IN THE WATER!  Seems like the folks from the big cities want to come and cool down in the waters of the river in a big way.  What a novel idea.  We, however opted to keep our feet on dry land.

Tables In The River

Families In The River With Chairs, Tables, Blankets

After a nice relaxing lunch Youssef offered us an option to walk to a waterfall with another guide. The hike was supposed to take about an hour and he assured me that it was an easy walk. I pointed to the mountains in front of us and asked, "we're not walking up there are we?" And he said, "no, not like that it's an easy walk." So we agreed to go and were passed on to our Berber guide named Mohammed, another young, cute 31 year old.

Starting Out Walk To The Waterfall

Passing By Markets On The Way Up

Following Our Guide Mohammed

Natural Refrigerators Along The Way Filled With Cold River Water

Our walk began with some steps that went up, winding through a variety of souks selling all kinds of things. Soon the steps turned into rocks, boulders and ledge that sloped down to the river below. Mohammed was gracious enough to lend a hand to help me climb up the rocks and steep path while Clyde followed closely behind. Before long we were surrounded by hoards of people going up and down the steep, slippery, treacherous path that became more difficult with every step. Muslim women dressed in long gowns with their heads wrapped in scarves wearing only sandels crawled by us. Kids, backpacker types, tourists and many, many more were climbing over each other trying NOT to fall to their death over the cliffs. When I was not hanging onto Mohammed I was hanging onto a stranger passing by. I was scared to death the whole time thinking that I was going to fall off the cliff, break a leg or something worse. But with so many people coming and going there was NO way we could even stop to catch our breaths so we kept trudging along.

Other Hikers

Oh No....It's Getting Steep

Crossing Over Bridges Made Of Broken Sticks

Lots Of People Hiking To Waterfall

Mothers With Babies Too

The whole horrible time I kept thinking how Youssef assured us it was an easy walk and I could not wait to smack the boy upside the head IF we lived to see him again. Not to mention the elevation in the mountains that took us up to 5,700 feet where we could cool off in the mere 90 degree temperatures far away from the heat of Marrakesh.

Once we reached the top we sat down to enjoy a cold drink, marvel at the waterfall nearby and watch the thousands of people. It was the craziest thing I'd ever seen! Moroccan Muslim women dragging their long dresses through the water as they waded to cool off with their heads still wrapped in head scarves. The sound of French, Arab, Berber and many other languages filled the air as people climbed over each other to get into the water.

As I sat there resting I could not help but think for the rest of my life I would never, ever look at a Muslim the same again. Having had the opportunity to visit Morocco and today mingle with them up close and personal the reality of who they are has changed in my mind. Muslims in Morocco or any other country are JUST PEOPLE. They wear different clothes and go to a mosque instead of a church or synagogue put they are just people living their lives like we ALL are.

On the way back from the river, we had to stop for photo ops with some camels.  Oops!  Youssef said these were Dromedaries NOT camels.

NO This Is NOT A Camel
It's A Dromedary

Posing With The Dromedary

Morocco Has These PURELY For The Tourists

Take Me To The Kasbah......
A Kasbah In Morocco Is A Fort....
This One Is Now A Hotel

So perhaps climbing a mountain that we really did not want to climb forced us out of our comfort zone, to mingle with people of a culture we never understood? Yet despite our difference in clothes, beliefs and cultures we all made it to the top with a bit of help from each other. Tomorrow we are off to explore other parts of Morocco and see what else we learn in our travels.....along the gringo trail.

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