Morocco 2010 - Oukaimeden to Neltner Refuge


A cold night, frozen water in the washing bowls. The sun moves slowly across the damp camping ground and eventually brings a little warmth. Today we trek to Aremd. Heading south the track rises very gently past more shepherd’s huts then somewhat more steeply to the Tizi n’ou Addi, 2960m. The views ahead are beautiful, the mountains pierce through the clouds that fill the valley bottoms. Most of the mules will follow the road that countours round to Tacheddirt but we drop steeply down to Ouaneskra; two mules go ahead with our lunch.

It’s a steep descent and when we finally arrive at the lunch spot there are no mules. It seems we’ve been denied permission to lunch here. A shame because it’s a beautiful location by a stream with a view of the village in the distance. We locate the mules 5 minutes away in a walnut orchard. 1900m.

Walking through the woods I’m approached by a teenage girl very pleasantly asking for money, pens etc. I decline but later find that Khaled has met her and seen the house where she lives with her mother. She’s poor and needs 10Dh to join some school activity that’s happening tomorrow. Khaled gives her the money and I feel regret about not doing so earlier. The incident highlights the difficulty of how to respond when asked for help.

We follow the path that zig zags up from the village to the Tizi n’Tamatert (2300m); a new road makes a longer but more gradual ascent to the pass which is graced by a small cafe. A motorbike comes up the road bringing another jewellery seller to charm us at the cafe. He achieves some success.

The path descends through pine woods and weaves in and out of contact with the road. We drop down through a village and glimpse a couple relaxing on sun loungers - we’re arriving at the popular Imlil valley, at the bottom of the main route up to Toubkal.

We camp at 1805m under trees, by an irrigation canal, a segua. The local shop sells water and sweet drinks. Khaled demonstrates the ritual of making mint tea. During the night I’m half aware of a loud noise of rushing water, someone seems to have released a torrent of water into the segua.

A beautiful start to the day - the path rises very gently as it follows the segua through walnut woods. Mohamed points out a new house with ochre walls built in a traditional kasbah style - this is the style of the new guest house he's starting to build in his village in M'goun. The path emerges onto open hillside with views across the valley to Imlil.

We have pens to give to a school in the next village, but the school is closed. A crowd of children are gathered by the riverbed and the guides suggest we give them the pens. More children run over to see what's happening. An older man from the village is very angry about this idea; we offer to give the pens to him so that he can take charge or pass them on to the teacher but he doesn't want to be involved. Perhaps outside help undermines the village elders. The girls form a line apart from the boys. It's very unsatisfactory and descends into chaos when the boys start fighting for the pens. It's survival of the roughest, some boys have several pens which they'll probably sell. It confirms my view that the chance of finding the right person to fairly distribute things like pens is very remote. Two days ago we passed a school in a more remote village where we could have given them to the teacher but the pens were in the bags on the mules.

A long gradual ascent up a stony path all the way to the refuge. Wayside shops are selling water and drinks. And the long blue scarves that the guides are wearing as multipurpose headgear. Which I feel compelled to buy so that I can look stupid. Which I do. But they're very cool and, as is always the case, they do the job better than our our own headgear.

The shrine of Sidi Chamharouch is dedicated to a marabout or wandering mystic; like all religions Islam makes space for these figures who hark back to a pre Islamic era of worshipping the spirits of the mountains, (a rough interpretation). Childless women who want to conceive and the mentally disturbed come here looking for a 'cure'. Several small rooms are set aside for short stay accommodation. Infidels are not allowed to approach the shrine. Lunch is higher up, by large rocks at the side of the stream that runs down the valley. A French group lunching nearby, have run out of beer and attempt to requisition supplies that we don't have; no respecter’s of local culture.

It's a relatively busy path, people going up and down, more people in ten minutes than we've previously seen all day. Clear blue sky. No shade. No breeze. Acid yellow and orange butterflies, yellow vetch, small clumps of pink flowers. A long walk but suddenly we're at the refuge - I expected a hut but it's a couple of large three storey stone buildings that can sleep 300. Showers and toilets. We camp on the bare terraces below. Cold. The white mule rolls on it's back in the dust. I think we all feel elated to be here. 3208 metres.

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