Big plans for the year 2014 and as my birthday was close I thought it wouldn’t be a better present than a trip to Africa in High Atlas. I have been before in Morocco but just to visit Marrakech and even though at first I was a bit shocked in the end I felt in love with it. The food is absolutely delicious and the people are nice and friendly if you know how to talk to them.

I’ve got in touch with my friend Tantawi, that I met in my first trip there, and he joined me and Cosmin in our quest to conquer the highest point in Morocco – Toublak. On the 5th of May we took the morning flight from Stansted¬† to Marrakech after about 4 hours we were on African land. There are several reasons for which I always get a windows seat and taking pictures is one of them. Superb view over the High Atlas mountains from the plane that I took in my first trip in winter.

High Atlas - view from the plane window

Once arrived at Menara airport we have to complete some forms and pass security to get the visa permit. It’s also advisable to exchange some money for the taxi. Exchange the rest in the city as the rate is better. Something you should know about Morocco, they like to bargain. It’s almost as you insult them if you refuse to engage in such behaviour. And of course the first price can vary from 3 to 10 times more than it actually is worth. Haven’t paid more than 40 dirhams per person to the city and neither should you.

Menara Airport - Morocco

The taxi ride is short but be aware, if you stay in Medina cars are not allowed inside the centre. The best way is to stop in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square and market place, and continue by foot. Don’t trust nobody but yourself. The streets are narrow without any names and you feel like in a labyrinth. The first day will be hard but after that you’ll get used to it. Everybody wants to make a penny there so they’ll offer to guide you and ask you money at the end. Most probably you’ll get nowhere as they tend to circle around and leave you there. It took me about an hour to find the hotel first time.

Jemaa el-Fnaa

The main square is one of the biggest attractions in Marrakech and while during day time you can find some souvenirs shops it bursts with life at night. The famous souks where you can find food, tea and sweets. Street performers and tons of tourists.

Jemaa el-Fnaa at night

Everything has a price, even when you are told is free so keep that in mind. My advice is to go to a restaurant. Is more expensive but you can sit nicely at the table listening to some traditional music. Tip is implied obviously. Trust me when I say Tagine (Tajine) is one of the best food I’ve ever had. And no it doesn’t taste like the one you had in your local restaurant.

Beef and Chicken tagine

If you are looking to spend the night, which you should because you need at least 4 days in Marrakech to truly understand and like it, I suggest a riad, which is basically a traditional B&B. I’ve stayed at Riad Al Mamoune and it was superb comparing to others I’ve seen. No wonder is always fully booked.

Riad Al Mamoune

But enough about Marrakech. A cheap and nice destination, I’ve been twice and for sure I will return. May was hot, very hot so I can’t imagine how summer is and winter was nice, about 15 degrees C, but I think early spring/late autumn is the best time to visit.
The night before leaving the city I went to bed early so I can catch the sunset. I wasn’t disappointed. I wish the roof was taller so I can get a panoramic view

Sunrise from the roof of Riad Al Mamoune

After breakfast we got our packs and head to the main square. It took a while to find a cab willing to take us to Imlil for the price we asked. 350 dirhams for 3 people for 1 hour drive. The starting point of the route is from this barber village situated at 1700m above sea level. There are no directions whatsoever but at first we just followed the main road. There a few shops there where water, bread, sweets and other toiletries can be bought.

Berber village

The trip to the refugee, our first stop, it usually takes between 3 and 5 hours depending on how fit one is. It took us about 6 as I was coming right after a surgery and there was no need to push it. Rocky terrain with very little vegetation and a few patches of snow.

The trek is fairly long and gains about 1300m elevation. A few villages along the road and a lot of mules. They’ll take you up to the refugee for about 150 dirhams.

Berber village at high altitude

We also stopped for about 30mins for tea and lunch.

Tea time

It was past 5pm when we got to the Refugee du Toubkal. Pretty chilly and harder to breath when you are at 3200m. We set up the tents and went straight to shower. Yes I was surprised to. A hot shower for just 10 dirhams. Make sure you got slippers with you otherwise you’ll have to go barefoot which is not very hygienic. There are 2 different refuges, haven’t been into the new one but the 1st seems to be in good condition. They let us eat our food and we bought some tea before going to bed. Cold night and didn’t get much sleep. Cosmin felt the altitude but fortunately was nothing to worry about.

 

Refugee du Toubkal seen from above

The next morning we woke up early and by 7am were already on the way to the top. The climb starts with a steep slope and the altitude really kicks in. I can’t imagine how those climbers can breathe at over 8000m without oxygen. I haven’t had any training since my surgery and I’m moving quite slowly. Tantawi and Cosmin decide to go ahead and for most of the climb I’m alone. Most of the people heading for the summit have a guide. I didn’t see the point of hiring one as the mountain is nor technical neither too dangerous. Mix terrain, mostly rock climbing in the first part.

 

On the way tot he summit

Once you get to the col is pretty straight forward. Took me about 3hours and a half to the top without any training after my surgery. In conclusion not a difficult climb. The altitude makes it a bit more harder than it is but other than that quite an easy 4000m. Nevertheless splendid views and I will most certainly return for a winter ascent. Too many people on the summit, even a dog found its way up

Last summit steps

Jebel Toubkal - 4167m

We returned to the refuge to pick up the rest of the equipment. For our excitement it was still in the tents. Then we head back to Imlil. Most of the taxis leave before 3pm and also the last bus. It took 500dirhams for somebody to take us to the city.  The next evening we took the flight to London, just in time for a perfect sunset.

Sunset in Africa

 

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