The High Atlas – Trek day 5

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This morning we woke up in yet another berber room with a berber rug snuggled up to our chins. We could hear the soft chirping of the birds on the terraces out our window, and the laughter of children accompanying their mothers to harvest hay. Ahmed was on form as usual “TEA! GOOD, YEAH!”. Poor Joel will likely never put his lips to a mint tea again after having been forced to down many a cup by Ahmed despite bowel protests. After a sad goodbye to our smiley faced berber friends, Ahmed and Harriet, we were on our way.

I will never tire of passing through these humble Berber villages, each so unique, authentic, and beautiful in their simplicity. Lasson showed us how they were constructed with river stone and clay and wood – cool in summer and warm in winter. I have also continually been fascinated by the irrigation system the Berbers have constructed to harness the ever constant flow of river water. The result being that you are rarely more than a few metres away from rushing water so clear you could drink it.

The children are grubby and delightful. Joel and I had no idea what they were saying to us unless it was “chocolate Madame!” hence we had to rely on Lasson for interpretation. We were gutted to learn that one group of kids were asking for pens, pencils and books. Something we take for granted and easily could have brought along had we known. An image that springs to mind was of a little boy and his mother standing on the roof of their house, outlined by the valley on either side and the mighty snow-capped Atlas mountains behind. It was picture perfect and as the little boy waved and called out Bonjour repeatedly, I took a mental picture. He then piped up with a “bye bye” which sounded foreign from his mouth and was absolutely adorable. We followed the river alongside the local life. Lasson had his stick and Arabic music and was in his happy place!

One thing we have grown to love about the Berber Villages is the sense of community. Lasson seems to know everyone and will stop at least 2-4 times in and around each village to greet young and old. It is not enough to simply wave….on each occasion there must be physical touch, usually holding each other’s hands throughout the whole conversation. We wandered through apple and walnut tree plantations, wheat and grain, purple lilacs and sprawling mint along the riverbank which smelt like an eternal cup of tea. One of the most endearing things we learnt from our perpetual questioning of Lasson was about the voting system in the villages. On the wall of the school they draw numbers 1-18. This is for the candidates. Then the village people come and mark the box with their vote. Then it gets tallied up for the winner. We were sharing this with a Belgium couple tonight and straight away they pointed out “but how easy to cheat!!”.  However, we have come to know the Berber people are nothing but honest.

The remainder of the walk was compiled of far more river crossings than was strictly necessary. We suspect that Lasson was not only fond of his stick, but of heaving bolders into the river to play hopscotch as a crossing! Lasson flagged down a ride back to Acni where we trailed behind him in the Souk, known as the “Market of the Four Valleys”. This was a visual feast and could not have been more different than the civilized Borough Markets….at least, I’ve never seen goat heads going for 70 dirham there!

We are still chuckling about the taxi ride back to Imlil. Lasson dashed around the souk to procure us 3 sacred spots in a automobile. This would have been something to cheer about had these seats not been shared by 6 others! There was the driver, 2 in the passenger seat, 4 in the backseat and 2 in the boot with the loot! I asked Lasson if this was legal given there were only 5 seats. He said “of course not, he tips the police”. I was wedged up against an old man in a robe and Islamic cap, and he was acting like it was completely normal.

Back to the guesthouse with Ahmed and his wife. We had a lovely time chatting late into the night and consuming our 30th tagine – clearly the national dish. We learnt how Ahmed and his wife met and fell in love. After enquiries about wedding culture, we were fascinated to hear it is a one week affair with invites issued in person to each house in the neighbouring villages. She even fetched her wedding dress for us – a fuchsia gown embroidered with beads and jewels. Ahmed added that she was not skinny enough to fit it anymore! Another reason to love the Berber people!

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