Leaving the hustle and bustle of Marrakech behind, we headed out of the old city and through the dusty arid plains. The snow capped High Atlas slowly came into focus on the horizon and soon enough we were winding through the foothills. Guesthouse Samra sits in the foothills just above Imlil and is a civilized affair run by a very hospitable French lady named Jacqueline and manned by the multi talented Mohamed. Rumour had it that Mohamed was an expert at rustic Hammam, which is essentially like a Turkish bath and a massage. How could we refuse? After all we were about to surrender ourselves to freezing cold alpine trekking with no chance of showers or luxury for quite a few days. Mike, Seb, Alistair and I got dressed n the requisite onsies (see picture) and made our way to what could best be described an unlit stone igloo above a pizza oven. Having stripped to our underpants and sat cross legged in the humid steaming room we watched with nervous anticipation as Alistair…our first victim was subjected to boiling hot buckets of water, violent scrubbing and a display that resembled a wrestling match in which he had been heavily drugged and was basically non compliant. Limbs cracked, muscles popped, necks twisted and skin reddened (during Mikes bout he lost so many layers of skin on his arm that the injury was still visible some weeks later). Despite the aggressive nature on this experience I have to say that I felt very relax afterward……or maybe just exhausted. The next morning we would be trekking through the snow up to the refuge.
My Backpack had been sitting patiently in the corner of my room for a week begging to go. It’s been ten years or so since I pulled on the straps and set off without a phone or laptop….and how reliant I have become upon them. I’m often bemused on arriving in new and amazing locations to find travellers scrambling for reception or wi fi to update social networks. On this trip I wanted to be without that technology. Maybe it’s a foolish notion but being un-contactable installs a certain feeling of distance and removal from the buzzing, beeping, texting, ringing everyday life that has become so normal.
Fresh coffee and early morning goodbyes at the airport gave way to meeting old friends and climbing aboard a New Years Day flight to Marrakech. The plan; to climb the highest peak in the High Atlas Mountains named Mount Toubkal. December’s strict training regime of touring and catching up with friends over the festive period seemed the obvious choice for a climb to the summit 4167 meters above sea level. With New Years Eve still just about fresh in my mind we stepped from the Taxi into the pulsing madness of Marrakech with its snake charmers, monkeys on chains and the ever present hum of mopeds. The call of the hawkers in the square….. Bonjour, HELLO, MISTER, hey MISTERS… you want smoke the good shit, hotel, how much you wanna pay….mista. Good price. The main square Djamaa El Fna buzzes late into night with music, story tellers, stalls and all kinds of food sizzling in cast iron pans sending thick smoke and steam into the night air.
Stray cats nonchalantly weaved through the square like wide eyes scruffy ghosts. We find our lodgings for the night and prepare for the mountains.
Sooner or later (if you fly round the world with international playboy and music photographer Nigel ‘ the Attorney’ Crane) you’re going to find yourself semi naked on a beach in the West Indies being asked to touch your knees and look back over your left shoulder. In this incidence we protected ourselves with some dangerous looking brooms.