We headed off to Morocco with no plans other than the first few nights' accommodation booked in a riad in Marrakesh. Certainly no plans for hiking in the Atlas mountains. And definitely no plans for getting lost there!
Marrakesh was delightfully and heavingly full of life, especially Djemaa El-Fna Square at night. We'd inadvertently arrived right in the middle of Ramadan, which made getting food during the day a bit of challenge, but meant that come nightfall, the atmosphere was electric in the square, and the call to prayer in the city's mosque was something to behold.
The square was pretty chaotic, with horses and carts, motorbikes, pedestrians, snake charmers, food stall operators and meandering tourists all using up the same space, with no clear notion of rights of way. When it all got a bit too much, there were lots of eateries around the edge of the square with open verandas so you could get out of the fray for a while, but still enjoy the show.
After a few days in Marrakesh, soaking up the colours, and enjoying our beautiful riad, we hopped on a bus towards the Atlas Mountains. First stop was the Unesco kasbah, Ait Benhaddou. We stayed in a kasbah where the family that lived and ran the place offered free bikes to allow you to go exploring all around. It was very hot for walking, so the bikes were very welcome.
Then we headed on around towards Todra Gorge, where we were able to stay in a cave hotel, Auberge Le Festival, which was spectacular. The gorge walls were so high, that sunlight only hit the road for an hour or so a day, which was a very welcome reprieve for us, as we wilt pretty quickly in the heat. We went out walking, following a little marked trail through the mountains that the owner of the hotel had laid out, by putting small piles of stones every few metres.
Unfortunately, we must have got distracted along the way, and once we lost the path, it was impossible to find again, as the stone piles were so small, and the whole mountain side was pretty stony!
We didn't panic initially, and just followed our instinct on what seemed like the most sensible way to get back to the hotel. But the sun went down. And much quicker than we were used to. Suddenly we found ourselves in darkness, but we had luckily by this stage arrived at a dried river bed. As our hotel was overlooking a large dried up riverbed, we thought following this little riverbed would probably lead us back.
And it would have done, but as we were scrambling along it in the pitch dark, we came to a sudden drop - a dried up waterfall. We dropped a stone, and tried to take a flash photo to see how steep and high it was. It was hard to tell, but definitely not safe to try to get down it. We had no option but to just sit down and wait for morning...
While we were wondering what dangerous animals Morocco might have, and I was doing a bit of panicking, we noticed some lights in the distance - people with torches. We started to take a lot of flash photos, in case they could see us, and knew we were lost. The torch light seemed to continue in our direction, but then disappeared.
After what felt like a very very long time, two young guys popped round the corner to our right (the opposite direction from the hotel). They beckoned to us to follow, and began to leg it down the mountain side. It was steep, with lots of loose stones, but at least it was a path. I was only wearing sandals, but these guys were in flip flops so I didn't like to show myself up by going too slow, and was so grateful for the rescue mission. Turns out, the hotel owner had noticed we'd not shown up for dinner, and had remembered us asking about the walk, so had sent some people out to look for us. They'd found us because of the flash on our camera when we were trying to figure out if we could clamber down the dried up waterfall.
Dinner has never tasted so good!
Fancy hiking in the Atlas mountains?
We had no plans to go hiking in the Atlas mountains, which is why we rocked up with nothing more than sandals, and a lonely planet guide. But the landscape is incredible, and once there, we were dying to get out into it.
Thinking of a trip there? Bring these bits and bobs to make sure your hike is more successful than ours!
Hiking boots - while it is hot, the terrain is difficult enough, and so a good pair of light weight hiking boots would keep the grit off your toes, and protect your ankles from any twists.
Sunscreen - even up high in the mountains, the sun is really strong. If you're anything like me, you'll burn in no time, so bring a high factor sunscreen.
Detailed maps and routes of the area - we had nothing more than the little maps in the Lonely Planet - clearly not enough to go for a hike! Atlas Mountains Trekking Cicerone guide by Karl Smith would be a good start for planning your hiking adventure.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out Mandy Sinclair's blog post "The 3 best hiking trips in the High Atlas"