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  • Brian Johnson

Morocco Journal: High Atlas and Kasbah Toubkal, March 22-24, 2024

Updated: May 13

March 22, 2024

Morocco, land of mystery and enchantment, right? If you’ve followed any of our past adventures, you’ll know that I like to plan a Mystery Night at a special location, and if ever there was a place made for Mystery Night, it’s Morocco.

Our driver picked us up at the lovely L’Ma Lodge in the Skoura oasis at 10 a.m. and we set off for what can only be described as an adventurous drive. I mean even more so than any so far. We crossed the parched desert plains and headed back up into the Atlas Mountains. When we were only ten miles away my intermittent cell coverage kicked in and the map app showed us with still a forty minute drive, causing me to question my choice of destination. It would not be the last time. As the road wound up through the mountains we entered into areas that had been hard hit by the earthquake last November, and the road, though mostly cleared, was still strewn with rubble in places, with only a single lane open in some sections, making for some harrowing times when we encountered oncoming traffic. We finally made it through, but I think our driver was none too pleased with the abuse his poor yellow Grand Taxi took.

The village of Imlil sits in a valley high in the Atlas Mountains, surrounded by snow capped peaks, and serves as the jumping off point for various mountain treks, including the trek to the top of nearby Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa at 4,167 meters (13,671 feet). Perched on a rocky outcropping overlooking the valley, the Kasbah du Toubkal is not exactly an easy place to get to. When I told Lynn before the trip that our lodge was not exactly a drive up kind of lodging, she was unsurprised and unfazed. When I offered that it was possible to ride a donkey up, or at least have it carry our luggage up, I got a hard no on that. A really hard no. Until we got to the village checkin below the Kasbah. The little Berber gentleman looked at us like we were crazy when we told him we would carry our own luggage up, and was pretty insistent we should at least use the donkey to carry our luggage, so we relented and allowed him to load up his offered beast of burden. We chose wisely. The trail up was only half a mile, but steep and rocky, and we huffed and puffed trying to keep up with the donkey. By this point I was seriously questioning whether I had maybe taken things just a bit too far with this adventure. Let’s say I took it right to the edge, but the location bailed me out. We stepped through the wooden doors of the Kasbah into another world, with outdoor terraces and an enclosed square room at the top with glass windows all around, providing views back down to the village and up to the snow capped peak of Mount Toubkal. Our cozy little room has a balcony where we enjoyed a little happy hour after the long drive and savored the view up to Mount Toubkal between the breaks in the clouds. Our late dinner of lamb and figs with potatoes and carrots was delicious, but left us sleepy and full, and we were in bed by 9:30.

Continued below...

March 23, 2024

After breakfast we set off on a little hike up the Imlil Valley, in the direction of Mount Toubkal, the tallest in North Africa. I say “in the direction of” because even though on a clear day it dominates the valley, it’s another 7,000+ foot climb from our Kasbah, making it a two day trek for all but the most fit athletes. Not even in my younger days. While 13,671 feet may sound like a poor second to those of you who have been to Colorado and seen the 14,000+ foot mountains, the difference is that the Rockies rise from a high plateau that’s already over 5,000 feet in elevation above sea level, while the High Atlas Mountains rise from the desert plains, making for some truly impressive geographic relief.

As we made our way up we passed the first of two waterfalls, and stopped long enough to take some pictures and let Lynn film me as I got my feet wet trying to pose too close to the waterfall. A few other watching hikers got a good chuckle. There’s me, spreading laughter and joy wherever I go.  We continued on around the head of the valley to the other side, with nice views across to our Kasbah on the other side, before coming to another waterfall, and shortly after a path that lead down and across the valley and back up to our Kasbah. The floor of the valley was green and we passed by some Berber houses and sheep grazing nearby. It was a nice little hike; enough to say that we have now hiked in the Atlas Mountains.

Back at the Kasbah we relaxed for a bit in our room before moving up to the square room at the top, which was a cozy little gathering spot where meals were served when it was too cold to eat on the terrace, which it was. At 5 we headed for the hammam, which is a kind of Moroccan spa based on the ancient Roman bathhouse concept. You start in the steam room where you scrub some kind of stuff on your skin, then I guess you’re supposed to rinse before heading for the cold plunge pool, which I call the Suckers Pool, and then to the showers. Being a spa virgin I had no idea what I was doing, so Lynn had to guide me through. Except that no amount of persuasion or coercion was getting me to dunk my whole body in that freezing cold pool. I dipped a toe and moved on.

Dinners are not served until at least 7:30, to give the staff a chance to break their fast (Ramadan), so our evenings have followed a pattern of late dinners and early to bed. We did linger a bit after dinner and chatted with a nice British couple we had met, exchanging travel stories and perspectives on world events from both sides of the big pond, but we need to be up early in the morning in order to make it back to Marrakech to catch our flight, and as a cold front had moved in, and we were exhausted, the call of our warm bed was strong.

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