High Atlas Hike, October 5, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
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Trip End Jan 05, 2008


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Flag of Morocco  ,
Friday, October 5, 2007

Despite all the first night's commotion up the canyon, I suppose I did get some sleep the first night there because I was able to get up early to go do one of my favorite things - wandering about in the mountains all by my lonseome.  So armed only with plenty of water and my hand drawn copy of a map Eggplant House manager Youssef drew for us, I set off in search of adventure.  Since there wasn't much of a trail system through the canyon and up to the pass, I figured my best bet was to try to follow the donkey droppings, figuring that was the way other trekkers with pack animals had gone. 
The views at the top of the pass were great, but still unsatisfied I decided to go up further to the peaks along a ridge.  From the crest of the ridge there were stunning views in all directions, the main range of the High Atlas across a wide valley to the north and canyons petering out into the Sahara Desert to the south.  Feeling inspired I began to sing (as I am inclined to do in isolated spots when no one can hear me)
"The hills are alive with the sound of music,.....................blah, blah, blah......" 
After napping on the peak at what felt like the top of the world for a while and eating my apples and peanut butter sandwich, I started on my way down.  It wasn't long before I came across a heard of black goats and started snapping photos, now having something to focus on in the foreground for my scenic backdrops.  I began making up my own words as I sand to the goats. 
"The hills are alive with the sound of GOATs,
With sounds they have made for a thousand years.
The hills fill my heart with the sound of GOATs,
My heart wants to photograph every goat I hear,
             Every goat that I hear." 
The goats were unresponsive to my serenade, but I then noticed a goatherd in a turban and jelaba come running towards me from over the hill yelling something at me.  I waved and then realized what he was yelling.   
"Ashara dirham, ashara dirham!!" 
"What?  No, I am not paying 10 dirhams for pictures of your goats" I thought and made a run for it with the goatherd in hot pursuit.  Fortunately, he didn't pursue me too far because at that altitude he would have quickly caught up with me and busted my head with his staff had I not paid him what he wanted for the goat photos.  Whew, another close brush with death! 
The incident got me thinking about and singing a new song on my way down the mountain, this one to the tune of The Sound of Music's "Lonely Goatherd". 
"High on a hill was a surly goatherd.
Ashara dirham, ashara dirham!
A tourist on a hill that was quite remote heard,
'Ashara dirham, ashara dirham!'
             Nothing's free in Morocco;
             You must pay for a photo.
             Nothing's free in Morocco,
             Too to doo do doo!" 
Perhaps half an hour later a great photo opportunity suddenly presented itself - a turbaned man with a mule coming up the trail.  This old guy was 10 dirham photogenic, and I was ready to negotiate a photo.  I can usually successfully exchange greetings and talk numbers (but little else) in French and Arabic, but my attempts at verbal communication were a failure.  This man spoke only Berber, and we negotiated our photo fee after I pointed to my camera using fingers and nods and pointing to coins of various values.  
Once down the mountain I walked through some cornfields and into a Berber town named Tamtattouchte, which was surrounded by numerous interesting casbahs, some very well kept up and looking lived in while others in various states of crumbliness.  In town I was approached by many Berber ladies with interesting tattoos on their faces, some of whom begged me for dirham or bonbons for the babies on their backs but none willing to earn those dirhams by posing for the camera.   
Numerous young children weren't so shy, though, about wanting to pose for the camera, but one of the things I learned in Tamtattouchte is "don't pay until after services are rendered" as two little girls turned their heads away from the camera as I was having them pose (after I had already paid them each a dirham).  Little cheats!  I don't necessarily object to paying for photos of people since I suppose they have the rightful ownership of their images and in poorer countries it can significantly supplement low incomes, but doing so still seems to make beggars out of local people. 
I thought I was on the home stretch when I was back on the paved road and entered the winding sheer-sided red rock canyon and knew I wasn't far from camp as the crow flies.  How crows fly doesn't mean much, though, when on a canyon road that's more crooked than a New Jersey politician and "almost there" turned into another 90 minute slog.  And the fact that it was down hill was only a small consolation at that hour of the evening.  All told my day hike that was described to me as a six-hour walk took me nearly twelve hours to complete.
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