High Atlas Crossing, Morocco, October 7, 2007

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


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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Between Ouarzazate and Marrakech, a rather short distance on the map, we crossed a pass over the High Atlas range which took up much of the day.  Although only around 7,000 feet, not high by most mountain standards, the Tizi 'n' Tichka Pass was still as spectacularly terrifying as anything I've experienced in the Rockies, Alps. or Tian Shan.  I normally handle heights well when I'm in the driver's seat of my Jeep when a passenger in a tour truck I'm torn between hanging out the window snapping photos and hiding under my seat.  The scenery on the way down from the pass was especially interesting as it changed from rocky barren alpine country to a human landscape of villages set in terraced fields on hillsides high above the valley and busy Berber market towns like Taddert. 
The Berbers are the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa west of the Nile Valley who speak several languages and to varying degrees have adopted other aspects of Arab culture besides the Muslim religion.  In Morocco, the country where the Berber influence is strongest, Berbers actually make up numerous tribes and call themselves "Imazighen", meaning "Free Men".   
Morocco's population is mostly of Berber origin, but the majority is now "Arabized", having over many centuries adopted much of the culture of the 7th century Arab invaders.  The term "Arabized" rather than Arab is often used to distinguish peoples such as those in the Near East and North Africa whose languages and culture have been largely Arab since the Arab conquest but whose ancestry is mostly pre-Arab, from the true Arab tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.  Perhaps because it was one of the most distant parts of the Arab world or because many people were able to remain isolated in the rugged mountain landscape, in Morocco much of the pre-Arab Berber culture and language remains.  At least a third of Moroccans speak Berber as their primary language, and as I found in some remote areas, some Berbers even speak very little Arabic. 
At 13,665 feet or 4,165 meters, Jebel Toubkal is the highest point in Morocco and all of North Africa.  On clear day's it's visible from Marrakech, and it and the High Atlas's other highest peaks were briefly covered with snow in early October after a storm a few days earlier.  Climbing Toubkal was an optional two-day excursion from Marrakech that really interested me, but doing so would have meant sacrificing almost all my time in Marrakech.  I'm sure I'll climb it when I trek the High Atlas at some point in the future, though.
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