Looking through some old photos recently it occurred to me that there have been some walking trips I have taken that I have not written about, so if you would like to indulge me I will set about rectifying this little oversight over the coming weeks…

Some trips may not get written up for a while as the photographs predate digital photography so I will need to get them turned into jpgs. So the first trip to be written up is a walking holiday I took with Explore in 2007- a two-week circuit of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco with an ascent of North Africa’s highest mountain, Jebel Toubkal. I remember choosing this trip partly because I was training for the Marathon des Sables, which would also be in Morocco, and partly because it was cheap!

There were around ten of us on the tour, plus our guide Ali, a local guy who spoke excellent English and who gave us valuable information on local customs throughout our tour. We had some free time in Marrakech, so, teaming up with Sandra, a fit lady in her 60s, I took a walk round the rose red walls of the old city. After a lunch overlooking the Koutoubia Mosque we were bundled in a minibus for a two hour drive, over switchback roads with sheer drops to one side, to the start of our trek in Imlil, where we were to meet our muleteers and porters.

Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech

Imlil is the starting point for most Atlas treks and has a real ‘wild west’ feel to it, with its tumbledown houses, mule hiring yards and a plethora of locals riding mules and donkeys along its dusty streets. Today’s walk was to be a short one to nearby Aroumd, where we were to stay the night in one of the village gites- these are available to hire in most villages, offering dormitories and basic washing, toilet and cooking facilities for trekkers.


Our trek took us uphill, gradually climbing past stone villages that blended into the rocky slopes, and we could see the peak of Toubkal shyly peeking above a skyline of mountains.

Looking towards Jebel Toukbal

Aroumd, when we reached it, was a revelation to our western eyes. The houses are very basic. Just mud and brick walls, with crude wooden door frames and ill-fitting wooden or metal doors. They are built into the steep hillsides, the roof of one house forming a terrace for the house above. Livestock, such as cows or small black and white goats, are kept on the ground floor and driven outside to graze during the day by the women or children. The women go into the mountains and valleys to gather long grasses, which they carry home on their backs to be dried out on the roof for winter feed.

Downtown Aroumd

There were no proper roads in Aroumd, or indeed in any of the high Atlas villages. Transport along the rocky paths is by foot, mule and donkey only. Many houses don’t have electricity, running water or toilet facilities, although Ali told us that the King, Mohammed V1, has promised electricity for all of Morocco, although there is no telling when this will happen.

Aroumd mode of transport

The government have provided schools to most of the villages, characterised by their somewhat square, bright orange appearance, and children are expected to attend between 8am to 12pm and 2pm until 5pm. Most mornings as we passed through the village to start our trek we saw a crowd of children waiting patiently outside the school doors. We were very aware that with our technical walking clothes and fancy cameras we must have appeared rich, and whenever we passed through a village we would be greeted with cries of ‘Bon-bon? Un Stylo? Dirham?’ Sadly I feel that although the country benefits from tourism and the trekking groups, it is bound to create a certain amount of resentment as understandably the younger generation of villagers see and want a different lifestyle to their parents.

Evening light

Another feature of Morocco is copious amounts of highly sugared mint tea- honestly, you are offered it everywhere you go. When Ali offered us a choice of sweetened or unsweetened mint tea most of us decided to drink it unsweetened- after all, we were health conscious hikers. We grimaced at the bitter taste, so when a brave member of the group suggested having half and half we all jumped in and so half and half mint tea became the order of the week for the whole group.

I shared a dormitory with Sandra and, lying my sleeping bag on top of the mattress, prepared for my first night’s sleep in the High Atlas.

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