Friday, May 27, 2016

This is most definitely not health and safety territory


In recent years I have followed in the footsteps of Alma Mahler on the wartime refugee route from Vichy France into Spain, descended through the Samaria Gorge in Crete, and travelled overland from Delhi to the Tibetan Buddhist heartland of Ladakh. My peregrinations continued this month with a trek in Morocco's Atlas Mountains which started in the village of Setti Fatma, seen in the photo below.


Nestled in the Ourika Valley at 1500 metres, Setti Fatma is where the road into the Atlas Mountains ends, and it is a favourite bolt-hole for Moroccans escaping from the desert heat and tawdry commercialism of Marrakech on the plain below. There is scarcely space for the road and houses in the narrow valley, so the restaurant tables are set on the riverbed; in the photo below a waiter is crossing the river carrying the Moroccan national dish, the tagine.


This is Berber country; the unique music of the Berbers (Amazigh) was captured by Paul Bowles' 1959 field recordings in this region, and Dust to Digital's exemplary remastering of these seminal recordings were on my iPod during my Moroccan travels. From Setti Fatma a path climbs following the route of a stream that plunges down the mountainside in a series of breathtaking waterfalls. In fact the description 'path' is a misnomer as the route up involves leaping from boulder to boulder, many of which are submerged in the stream. Somewhere in the photo below is the trail.


Ascending is more like rock climbing than trekking. I hired the Berber guide seen in the photo below and with me in the footer image; he was a cross between a rock climber and a mountain goat, and the expedition was something of a challenge for his charge, a 66 year old vertigo sufferer.


As can be seen here, this is most definitely not health and safety territory.


The photo below shows one of the hi-tech climbing aids used on the trail. Getting my feet back onto the top of that ladder when descending was interesting - those rocks are lethal when your boots are wet.


There is a Sufi saying that life is a gift that consists of three days and two are gone. So I am determined to make the most of that one day remaining on my mystical timescale, health and safety not withstanding. This view back down the mountain was for me the visual equivalent of a transcendental experience.


The descent was if anything even more scary than the ascent. When we returned to Setti Fatma I was treated to a meal in one of the riverside restaurants; this involved eating meat of somewhat dubious provenance while water lapped around my Gore-Tex approach boots. Which just goes to prove that it is better to have your head in the clouds than your feet in a stream eating a dodgy tagine.


My thanks go to Youssef of Riad Tibibt in Marrakech for logistical support. But no complimentary goods or services were involved in this post. Also on Facebook and Twitter.

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