Morocco 2010 - Ourika valley, Setti Fatma to Oukaimeden


The drive from Marrakech to Setti Fatma takes about two hours. At Setti Fatma, 1450metres, we meet our mules and guides - Khaled and Mohamed. At 11am we leave the village and walk on the stony paths that are the hallmark of the Atlas mountains. The path rises gently by other villages and walled fields, some terraced on the lower hillsides. We have a slow lunch in an orchard by the track near the village of Anfli.

After lunch the path rises more steeply and passes through more small villages, mostly mud brick construction though some houses are now being built with stone or concrete. Flat rooves, irregular lanes between the houses. Crooked wooden beams holding up external staircases. It’s mid afternoon and people are standing around passing the time of day, most of the work is done in the early morning and evening. A small shop in the village of Tiourdou sells bottles of orange juice, it’s a good source of glucose and I buy 2 bottles.

We cross a dry river bed and camp on hard ground in a walnut grove by the fork in the river opposite the village of Timguist. Across the valley the village of Aguerd n’Ourtane, perched on the hillside above, seems to be missing out on the evening sun. It’s a fertile valley with terraces and walnut trees. Women roam the hillsides gathering forage for the sheep and goats, they’ll store it for next winter.

Mint tea and biscuits before dinner. A decision is made to change the itinerary: the path over the Tachhedirt pass has been damaged by recent snow and the mules may not get through. Instead we’ll keep heading west over the Tizi n’Ouhattar to Oukaimeden. Altitude 1920metres. 5 hours, 16km, walking today; appox 760m ascent, 320m descent.

The path thinks it’s a stream, water flows over our boots on the stony track. We recross the river bed and rise up past Timguist; the valley runs east-west and we have the soft morning light behind us, catching on the village rooftops. I call out greetings of salaam alekum, labes, bihair, sabaa elhair, but it’s sometimes hard to interpret the reactions of the villagers as we pass through, some faces are friendly and call out a reply, others seem blank with indifference. Women are gathering wheat on the terraces near the large village of Agnouss. A group of French motorcyclists are descending the tracks in what seems an aggressive and disrepectful manner, cutting up the track, frightening the goats. The noise as they pass through the villages will be deafening.

We pass the last village and begin a long zig zag haul up to the Tizi n’Ouhattar. Cloud is building up in the valley behind but I’m feeling stronger as the day goes on. At 4 1/2 hours from camp we’re on the pass, 3130metres, and look down into a sunlit green valley of rounded hills - a huge contrast with the dark ridges and steep slopes of the Ourika valley. As we approach the pass we almost catch another group. On the summit they decide to rest and admire the view - a wise decision, it’s a beautiful place. Behind us sparse clumps of yellow vetch; ahead, an abundance of a tall yellow flowering plant which carpets the valley bottom.

I descend slowly to enjoy the intense colours, blue sky, yellow flowers, the odd red poppy, vivid green manganese rocks. At the bottom of the pass the lunch camp is ablaze with colour - red and yellow mule harnesses, red kit bags, white stone walls and red earth rooves of the shepherd’s huts. It’s hot and we feast on olives, salads, bread and vegetable tagine. In the summer the villagers bring their flocks of sheep and goats up to these summer pastures, the shelters seem to be communal but the villagers can’t come here until 20 April - if they come earlier they have to pay.

As we descend further and head towards Oukaimeden the weather suddenly turns cold, wet and misty. Frogs are croaking noisily in the invisible pond to our right. The ski resort of Oukaimeden is a shabby place - a fine example of inappropriate modern building style. We’re looking for prehistoric rock carvings but they’re not worth the effort. At the cafe we’re humourously pestered by local jewellery sellers. Altogether, a missable detour. And a very, very cold night. Thermal vest and leggings in the sleeping bag.

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