Intrepid Women’s trip
A tale of nine Intrepid women on a trip in the Atlas Mountains.
Rasputim howls in outrage from the stairs to the roof terrace. I speak fluent Cat so am able to decipher. ‘Muuuuuum, what is this water stuff coming from the sky? I don’t like it. And I can’t get into the house, because I will get my paws wet. Come and get me!’ Obediently I duck out into the pouring rain and rescue my not-very-rufty-tufty kitten. It has been raining solidly for twelve hours.
Cakes and Rain
Rain in Morocco is in such short supply that everyone is happy when it comes. ‘Alhamdullilah, Thanks be to God,’ is the response when you remark upon the weather. Today, though, it’s causing me some worry. I have been cake-baking all day in preparation for a visit from eight women. Seven hardy souls have signed up to hike with me for three days in the mountains with Hafida Hdboubane, my friend and guide. Hafida and I first met doing the Morocco to Timbuktu series for BBC2 and have stayed in touch ever since.
Rain down here, means snow where we are heading to – Base Camp for Toubkal. I know we won’t be going as it will be too treacherous and Hafida confirms that as we tuck into the cake.
One of the great things about the Atlas Mountains, though, is the infinite variety of routes and we quickly come up with plan B. Day 1 to Armd and then Sidi Chamharouch, Day 2 a big climb over Tizi Mizik and on to Azeeb Tamsoult and Day 3 down to Tizi Oussem and on to the Agafay Desert for some star gazing and camel riding (yes!).
The next day dawns bright and clear and I kiss Rasputim and Squeaky goodbye and set off to meet the team: Amelia, Caroline, Catherine, Debbie, Catherine, Lesley, Lucy and Sam. Rainbows arch over the valley and the air is fresh. Our mules soon overtake us and all is right with the world.
Water sounds all around from the waterfalls and in the river rushing down through the oued. We encounter a quick five minutes of rain but that is all.
The walk to the shrine of Sidi Chamharouch is a great introduction to the Atlas. We walk through the apple orchards, pass giant walnut trees and then climb up, over the rocks and on to the shrine. Pilgrims pass us on mules or on foot. They are coming to ask for intercession and purification from their illnesses. Clouds scud overhead but the weather stays good and we chat and laugh as we climb working up an appetite for tagine later around a splendid fire.
My perfect day
Day two is a personal favourite. The combination of the steep climb up to Mizik and then the gentle (ish!) descent through the juniper trees towards Azeeb Tamsoult showcases the mountains. We stop for juice at Hamed’s stall. ‘Please can I have a picture with this beautiful girl,’ he begs, pointing to Lucy. She gamely agrees and makes his heart happy.
I am really enjoying the company of my comrades. Sam is an excellent hiker, totally at home in the terrain. Lucy is chatty and interested in everything, taking loads of photos and videos. Catherine is brave and fights her fear of falling on the rocky paths. Lesley and Amelia are a brilliant mother, daughter double act, ‘Mum forgets I am a grown up,’ groans Amelia. Debbie is full of light and enjoyment and spends her free time skating round London. Caroline is an old friend from London. She walks with grace and dabs sparkly eye shadow on me. She is also a first time camper, ‘Never again,’ she says as we emerge from our little neon tents after our night in Azeeb Tamsoult.
Azeeb Tamsoult nestles in a terraced valley between the high peaks. It is a tiny agricultural paradise where every spare piece of soil grows wheat, onions, courgettes and tomatoes and the shepherds bed down their goats and sheep in the azeeb (shelters) for the night. One lady is sitting on the roof having a break. ‘Come and have tea with me,’ she calls. ‘I have fresh bread and tammoudit – freshly-churned butter – from my cow. She is down there grazing.’ We all clamber up on to the roof and share her little feast.
That night we eat couscous and drink hot chocolate in the mess tent, talking over our day’s adventures. Laughter and camaraderie fill the air and Lucy and I sneak out to give apples and carrots to our mules, tethered up the hill.
Our last day dawns and we walk out of the green of the mountains, driving over the red mountains towards Amizmiz and into the Agafay desert. The temperatures goes from cool to sweltering and our feet boil in our hiking boots.
There is much to enjoy, not least the erudite explanations of our Astronomer that night but the highlight for me is always going to be the camels. I am introduced to Michael, the oldest male and the leader of the group and it is love at first sight. I would never betray Hamish but…….
This was a special Adventure trip run by Intrepid. If you are interested in doing it next year or doing something similar check them out here.
For more photos, check out my Instagram.