I do like a good trek up a high mountain so where better than the highest mountain in North Africa? At 4,167 metres, Mount Toubkal was my destination. But first I had to get to Marrakesh. As usual, my Dad and I arrived at Manchester airport over three hours prior to the flight departure. My Dad quoting his favourite mantras, “well you never know what the traffic will be like” or the more recent “what with airport security nowadays you could be queuing for quite some time and miss your flight.” On arrival, Thomas Cook Airlines announced their check in computer systems had crashed and their IT specialists were fixing it. This no doubt meant a computer reboot. Five hours later I boarded the plane. Three months later Thomas Cook went bust. Clearly it was more than just their computers that needed attention.
Finally I was at Marrakesh searching for my promised complimentary transfer to the hotel. My instructions were to look out for a KE Adventure Travel signboard, but after nearly twelve hours of travelling I was not at all alert. In fact, I would describe myself as dozy and incapable of stringing a sentence together. never mind trying to read names on signs. Some passenger names looked like they had been hastily scribbled on the back of a cornflakes box. Having reluctantly paid for a local taxi I was eventually in my hotel room tucking into a three course meal that had been provided. Leftovers I presumed from the group meet and greet meal that I missed.
My unknown roommate entered an hour later at 12.30 pm and she was not happy. In fact, with her luggage missing from her connecting flight she was in a foul mood. Even the same three course meal that was delivered to our room did nothing to lift her spirits.
“This is ridiculous! Who is going to eat this much food at 12.45 in the morning? This is such a waste” was her reaction to the oversized meal as she picked at a bread roll.
My initial thought was ‘what a diva’, but considering she had lost her entire luggage and equipment for the trek, I was hoping the morning would bring a happier roomie together with her lost luggage. Thankfully it did. Iranian born Ghazaleh had lived and worked in London since she was eighteen and now in her thirties, she was to become my trekking and tent partner for the next five days.
The trek notes stated the maximum group size was twelve, but to my delight there were only seven of us plus Ismail our guide, four muleteers and a chef.
Ken, short for Kennedy not Kenneth had the most amazing head of hair. Thick and wavy, his white mane shone like a beacon in the Moroccan sun. With his matching beard he looked more like Virgin Group owner Richard Branson than a retired Cumbrian from Whitehaven. His old mate and walking buddy, John was just as cheerful but without the locks and beard.
Ex-army Alister from Australia was the youngest trekker and a loner who often took to walking at the rear of the group. I did question if he actually remembered that he had left the army and had entered the civilian world when he disappeared into the darkness one morning. With no head torch, he climbed over rocks and boulders as if on a top secret military mission. Doctor Nathan kept our plethora of batteries powered up with his very effective solar charger. His lightweight foldable solar panel made him a very popular trekker. Unlike my cheap Groupon solar power bank the size of a mobile phone which failed miserably. The packaging claimed it could charge two gadgets simultaneously which stupidly I believed.
The seventh trekker was family man, Brian from Middlesbrough. Nice bloke but just a tad unaware of his surrounding at times which made for good entertainment value. What wasn’t entertaining was his persistent foul flatulence which, from day one, we all quickly learnt never to walk behind Brian.
At 4,167 metres, Mount Toubkal is the highest mountain in North Africa located in the High Atlas Mountains just a short distance from the city of Marrakesh in Morocco. Every day brought the most spectacular mountain views. Range after range faded into the horizon with peaks and troughs that resembled a heart graph. The mountains appeared to shimmer as they were scorched by the relentless harsh Moroccan sun. The backdrop was the bluest of skies with not one cloud in sight. The vast Atlas Mountains stretch around 1,600 miles through the countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
The four musketeers and their mules had their work cut out with the daily packing and unpacking of their heavy ware. Heavy clay tagines, large silver teapots for our nightly camomile tea, pans, plates, cutlery, cups, serving plates, not to mention all the food. Fresh and tinned. Even jars of jam were carried up and down for our breakfast condiments. Lastly, there was Brian’s plethora of ointments for his fungal diseased feet which he gleefully confessed to only hours after meeting us.
Another rather large item was Ghazaleh’s vintage sleeping bag. ‘Made in Iran’ it was cumbersome and oversized. When I was introduced to her antique sleeping bag it felt like a third person was in our tent. She had borrowed it from her Mum who, back in the day, was quite the adventurer. Ghazaleh has since purchased a compact and lightweight Mountain Warehouse sleeping bag which I’m sure the mules on her next trek will appreciate.
We ate like kings. Our chef was a genius at rustling up huge lunchtime platters of olives, tomato, cucumber, cheese, couscous plus much more. Dinner was a huge tagine with enough meat and vegetables to feed an army. The early cold mornings were warmed by a pan of steaming porridge with bread and spreads on the side.
After forcing down some vegemite on bread at some unearthly hour we set off in the dark with Private Alister jumping over boulders in the distance somewhere. The other six of us scrabbled over rocks in a line of bobbing head torches like fairy lights on a Christmas tree. With every step we took towards the summit, the sun rose and the temperature dropped. The scree covered ground made for a tricky ascent not to mention an even trickier descent, of which I spent most of it on my backside sliding down the incline.
When we finally reached the summit we were not disappointed. As we stood above the clouds, the craggy landscape could be seen from every angle and rolled on for as far as the eye could see. It was as if fairy floss had been draped across the mountain range. Puffs of white clouds floated across the rugged peaks. It felt unreal.
Reality soon hit home as I bounced on my bottom over the loose scree for what seemed like an eternity and wishing I’d eaten more couscous for padding. But it was worth it.
During the five day trek Ken regularly amused us with his banter, a recurring line would be when he was buying a fizzy drink. Whether it be from a stall or a mud shack, he would declare he was ‘helping the community’.
Back in Marrakesh Ken continued to do his bit for the community by purchasing material to wrap around his head transforming it into a Moroccan headscarf. Not sure Ken would get much opportunity in Whitehaven to wear his headscarf, let alone remember how to tie it! But as they say, when in Morocco…
For this and other worldwide treks: KE Adventure Travel