Monday, March 09, 2015

Out of the mountains

Another beautiful morning in the mountains. Up at 6:45 for a 7:30 start. We only had 12 kilometres today. I say only but the majority of it was up — up to the highest pass we'd seen and a quick, very steep drop down back into Imlil to close the loop. We descended to the bottom of the valley, alongside irrigation canals, fruit trees coming into bud and the occasional flowering almond tree exploding in pale pink. Through a village or two. Again, we were amazed by the construction of these little homes, the lintels over the doors, the way the houses blended into the landscape and the warmth of the inhabitants. We stopped outside a couple of schools and listened to the kids reciting the Koran. Some of the boys were wandering around outside holding "ardoise", one by two foot tablets covered in verse from the Koran. The boys take them home and return them for another when they can recite them by heart.

We really started climbing. Steeper than anything we'd seen yet, the track was loose gravel that shifted underfoot. We all took turns sliding off the path. Majid learned the word "slippery". The climb was tough. Alice got on the mule. The rest of us were grateful for Mustafa setting a very relaxed pace as we huffed and puffed behind him. Henri ran ahead with the muleteers, who took turns trying on his hat, laughing hysterically or putting their blue scarves on his head. A barbed wire fence appeared on the right. Mustafa explained that it was a nature reserve and the fence was meant to discourage goats grazing and locals foraging for firewood in the junipers. We stood aside to let by a pair of muleteers carrying a table and stools, shiny, red plastic luggage with wheels looking very out of place in the mule's saddlebags. We never saw the hikers. Another man came through leading a mule with empty saddlebags save the rough handle of what we thought was a hoe. He greeted us warmly and then turned off through a broken section of the fence. The tool in his saddelbag was an axe.

I chatted to Mustafa about finding a wife. He'd said earlier that most villagers married within the same village, that girls were reluctant to leave what they knew to join their husband's family. I asked whether he would prefer a Berber wife or if an Arab girl would do. He said many of the Imlil guides had married foreign girls, English or Dutch. I got the sense he was hoping for the same. One thing that is certain, he said, was that his wife would have to convert to Islam. She could choose to wear the headscarf or not but she would have to be Muslim.

As we curved around onto the north face, the mountain side was covered with snow. At first the snow was only to our right, uphill of the track but soon enough we were ploughing through the slushy, slippery mess. It was a bit hairy. The hill dropped away very abruptly on the left. I made a couple of snowballs and let them go to the left of the track. The way they rolled off out of sight made me decide to pay more attention to where I was putting my feet.

Soon enough we were at the pass. The mules in their colourful harnesses were scattered on the small plateau chomping on whatever grass they could find. Henri and the muleteers were lounging on the other side of a tiny stone structure, sipping mint tea. In front of the structure's door was a rough wooden countertop with a bowl of oranges and a press. The owner emerged and made us a glass of fresh orange juice. We munched a few figs and nuts. Henri horsed around with the mule guys. We sat down around the back of the hut. Behind it was a very small fire tucked into a corner, in the shelter of the wind, where the owner had a kettle of mint tea on the boil.

We started down into the valley, on switchback goat tracks on more sketchy loose gravel. Majid practiced his new words "slippery, challenging, flat, flock" and I practiced my Berber "Abfel (snow), ihalla & ishwa (delicious/very good), tanemirt (thank you). The boys had set up lunch on a water break, a stone and concrete construction which straddled a stream to slow the melt water down in the spring. The view was knock your socks off. Imlil lay in the centre of the valley. At the far end of the valley was the pine forest where we were visited by the goats and the first pass we crossed to leave the valley. There is something so satisfying about hiking in a place that is so wide open. You can look behind you, up to the pass, or down to the valley floor and see how just far you've come. We keep pinching ourselves, astounded at our good fortune that this kind of beauty exists and that we're lucky enough to be able to experience it.

Henri practices palming tips into Wil's hand before going over and tipping the mule guys. Wil does the same for Mustafa & Majid. The path levels out and is clear of rocks. What a relief. We end up on a road leading into the village. We pass men pruning apple trees, others wiring together rebar for a new construction and a woman walking alone with her new baby. Majid tells me she is on her way home from vaccinating her son. Do you know her? I ask. No, he says. Then how do you know where she's coming from? She is out alone and a woman out alone is either visiting family or going to the hospital. What if she needs something at the store? I ask. She sends someone for her. Aargh. Back to our car parked on the hill. The parking attendant thanks us profusely, then follows me around the car to ask if I have any spare jackets for his four daughters. I try to explain that we packed very light for the hiking and that we don't have any to spare until after our trip. He smiles, pats his chest and says Marhaba (welcome).

We say goodbye and thank the muleteers (and find out later that Abdu has befriended Henri on Facebook). We exchange details with Mustafa & Majid, shake hands warmly with a lot of thank you so much/tanemirt bzeff and, with heavy hearts, drive off out of the valley.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

beautiful, Sarah! Keep it coming and let us know when you get a book deal. seriously.