Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Morocco: The High Atlas Mountains

I'm not sure what led us to the High Atlas Mountains. Maybe it was a nice turn of phrase in The Rough Guide to Morocco, or just the allure of mountains named for the titan who once shouldered the earth.  Or maybe because the mountain village Imlil (a hiking and mountain-climbing center) was included in a suggested itinerary for Morocco.
    As it was, coming from Marrakesh, we drove through Imlil but didn't stop. We went a couple of kilometers beyond it to the even smaller village of Tamatert, which clings to a mountain slope below the road from Imlil. The sign to our lodge there, Douar Samra, on the side of the road points out into thin air. Going to the side of the abyss and looking down, one sees the first buildings of the village below and a gravelly, narrow series of switchbacks that leads down.
    Tamatert, at about 2,000 meters elevation, is the highest of the villages surrounding Jbel Toubkal, the 4,167-meter peak that is the highest in North Africa. All the other guests at Samra were much younger than us and  had come to hike. In mid-March, sunny spots in the mountains got warm during the day, but shadows, overcast days and nights were cold. Winter snow could still be seen in ravines and on the mountain tops. The inn's hiker guests were a diverse lot: a couple from London with their six-month-old daughter, two other international couples who were based in London, another couple from Norway, among others.
    Samra was built and is still owned and run by a Swiss woman who says she wanted a traditional Berber house. Without blueprints or professional architectural advice, she directed local workers to "put the walls here," "put the steps here," etc., as they assembled the stones and mud bricks until she got the inn she wanted. It's all very organic with few straight lines or even rooms on the same level. It reminded me of Moonhole (click HERE for posting), a rustic community in the Southern Caribbean.
    The inn has no electricity in the main building. The hammam in the basement is heated by wood fires under its floor. Outbuildings do have electricity, hair dryers, places to recharge phones and cameras, and heat supplied by wood-burning fireplaces. Dinner each night was by candlelight at low tables in the main building's lounge. Always a meat dish and a vegetarian dish.
    Samra and the High Atlas in general are not for people with mobility issues. Steep stairs and paths are everywhere. So are amazing mountain views, fresh mountain air, unexpected flowering plants and friendly, hospitable people.
    Here are some snapshots:
The road between Imlil and Tamatert.  We walked the mile or so down to Imlil in lieu of a real mountain hike.

The lounge/dining room at Douar Samra is heated by a wood-burning
fireplace. Breakfast and dinner are included in the rates.

Candles are lit as guests relax before dinner at Samra. Despite the absence of electric lights and outlets,
there was wifi access. 

The door on the right was our room. It had a full bathroom with
very welcome hot water in the shower.

The main street in Imlil. Some of the stores on the left
are hiking and mountain-climbing outfitters.

I think this is Jbel Toubkal, the 4,167-meter mountain that is the highest in North Africa.

As in many mountainous areas, terraces are used
in agriculture. We saw a lot of fruit trees here.

The terrace on the roof of our room was pleasant in March, as long as the sun was out.
In the distance far below is Imlil.
Here's the sign directing us down the steep hill to Douar Samra. The
buildings are the highest in the village of Tamatert, which continues
down the hill for several hundred meters. Samra is in the middle
of the village. Donkeys help with luggage.

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