The Life and Soul of the Underworld

Atlas Mountains

It’s always good to step out of the bustling city and run to the hills for some fresh air every once in a while. I suppose it stands to reason that when the city is as bustling as Marrakech the hills must be equally extreme. And so, Abby and I ventured into the Atlas Mountains for the day.

We were driven across the not so spectacular land that stretches between the city and the countryside. Soon the building developments and vast empty spaces gave way to more fertile land and impressive red hillsides. Up in the hills it’s easy to remember that you are in Africa.

Through berber villages and past stalls that seem to sell the same trinkets seen in the souks (competition must be fierce) we came to a valley 1,300 meters into the range. Water straight from the icy peaks coursed its way at one side. The river was lined with restaurants, each tightly packed with bright leather sofas. Prospective diners could enjoy their tajine while the water ran over their feet. We laughed to each other at how weird that would be. Little did we know that in a few hours time we couldn’t think of a better way to spend an hour.

Rock and roll

In the Ourika Valley there are seven waterfalls. Our guide told us that we would only be visiting five that day. We weren’t too disappointed, five waterfalls in one afternoon are plenty. In fact, as the day wore on I don’t think we even noticed the waterfalls.

Across a driftwood bridge, and through stalls that lined the rock path we started our ascent. Charming ‘natural fridges’ kept drinks cool as fresh spring water splashed along little water ducts and mills made out of old cans. Propellers spun as the water ran past them, spraying cold water over the beverages.

The start of our walk was fine, if a little unexpected. Steep steps soon turned to well trodden grooves between boulders. Well trodden grooves turned to streams. Streams turned to rivers with make shift bridges. More than once our guide turned into a device that helped launch us across the fast water.

The cascades were beautiful. Foamy white flumes poured into a crystal pool below. More of the ‘natural fridges’ lined the willow covered banks. The water was refreshing after our scrambled climb. Cold water rinsed sweat from our faces. But still, we climbed.

A short distance up more boulders, an old berber man stood next to a solid ladder. The top of the ladder rested against, what looked like from below, a sheer rock face. Water glistened on the stone surface from where other intrepid (or unsuspecting) explorers had part climbed/part slid their way along. Once again, our guide positioned himself in a position that rendered him more of a means of survival than a man. He reached down a hand and helped figure out the best way to the top of the rock.

It was at this point we decided that we would indulge in a sugary drink from a conveniently placed ‘natural fridge’. With shaky hands from where our bodies tried to adjust after the unusual contortions, we greedily downed the drinks.

The hills are Alive

The setting was stunning. Willow trees reached over the rock, as though they tried to mimic the waterfalls around them. Villages made of square buildings hid in the distant rocks.

As we made our descent along a more straightforward path we longed to be back by the water. We needed to plunge our feet in the river while we sat on bright coloured sofas.

The Atlas Mountains are well worth the visit from Marrakech. Even if you forget that the mountains are what remain of the son of a Titan after a brief encounter with Medusa’s head, the excursion certainly added a taste of real adventure to an already exciting trip.

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