Today was an interesting day, a kind of sandwich day. It started off good, it ended good but the middle section was just blah, I was mighty close to staging a mutiny and sitting down on the road and demanding to get picked up. It has taken me a quite few goes to write today, which is also why you are getting it a day late. I was almost tempted to just type out my journal entry from 1 October and leave it at that. In short, we walked, we drove, it was long, here are some photos.
Today was a day, where looking back at my GPS tracks from the trip, the logger dropped out for a large sections of the day, which shows I was in set and forget mode and also that coverage was not that great as we wound down the Azzaden valley from Tizi Oussem. As a result, I’ve remapped the walk in the morning to the best of my memory but I know parts of it are wrong in terms of the paths we walked when not on the road and it does not include the back tracking we had to do when the path that we were taking though the orchards was blocked by building of a new road up ahead. I didn’t take a lot of photos today either so it also a bit of a game to try to look at the satellite photos and trace the path from that.
We left Tizi Oussem and headed down to the road into town, which we planned to walk along for a little bit before heading down to the valley to follow the river down towards Tassa Wirgane where we would have lunch, say good bye to our mule crew and say hello again to our bus and Ibby and also Aunty Margaret.
However, in the name of progress, not far down the road from Tizi Oussem they were civil works underway to improve the road into town as there was a mine going the hills near town which of course would require a better access road. This was interesting to see, however with the road probably 100m above the river up a fairly steep screeish slope, the civil works were pushing quite a few large rocks/boulders down the slope. Whilst the odds of these rocks causing damage to us if we were talking in the river valley was low, the risk was pretty high. Imagine the headline, Australian hikers injured by falling rocks from road construction in Morocco… so in the name of risk mitigation, we did not walk along the river as planned but along the road. Our mule crew and Ali one of our cooks did take off down the river valley and I watched them go off into the distance with a pang of regret that I too was not following that river.
Walking along that road did have some redeeming features in that we had a generally clear view out into the valley from the road and you never knew what you might see also travelling on the road. Moustache the other one of our cooks, walked with us today and he seemed to always be running into people that he knew.
However, if there is one thing, I dislike more than walking loops round an oval or a block, it is walking on a road for extended distances. All that reflected heat, the hard bitumen beneath your feet, BLAH. Whilst we did spend some time walking through orchards, my memory today is filled with road walking. I think this is one reason why I’ve struggled so much with today’s post. As I sit here, on the other side of the world at my computer, all I can feel is that driving sun, that lack of a breeze and that seemingly never-ending road ahead. Yes, I can see those irrigation channels that we jumped back and forth across and the fig trees we brushed past or the house we stopped outside to regroup for a moment and we were given apples by the residents as a gift but that road dominates my memory.
It was peak apple harvest time in this valley and it was incredibly interesting to watch the various parts of the harvest process. From the apples getting brought up to the road in wooden crates on mules, then getting packed in a truck to go a few km down the road to a seemingly impromptu group of packing and sorting “sheds” on the side of the road where they were packed into plastic crates for road transport to their next destination which would have been part cold storage, part export and part local sales. The “sheds” were made from stacks of the plastic crates filled with apples with tarps over the top for shade.
We also saw on the other side of the valley at one point, a large apple orchard operation where the apples were getting packed straight into the plastic crates and the terraces that the apples were grown on were wide enough for a tractor to drive on. Quite a change from the other apple terrace orchards we had come across.
When we eventually came round the bend in the road after walking for about 3.5 hours (or about 9km) and could see “our” white bus gleaming in the early afternoon sun, oh I was delighted. I think I could have hugged the bus; I was that happy to see it. So happy to see it that I didn’t take a photo of it and writing this post a year on, I wish I had! For the last probably km, I was very much ready to chuck it in and just sit down on the road, stage a protest and refuse to walk any further along this road. I was most certainly getting a bit hangry by this stage and the reduced caloric intake over the past week since getting sick was most certainly a factor at play here. I had the phone numbers for both Aunty Margaret and Ibby so I could have sent off my demand for pick up however, mobile phone coverage here was very patchy so my ability to send off my demand was removed. Also, this was likely going to be a sit in staged by one and it really was the case of Helen, put your head down, and place one foot after another foot and keep walking.
We zig zagged down off the road to find our entire crew waiting for us. Our mule crew and with their mules unloaded of our gear enjoying a nibble on what grass they could find. The driver of the old yellow bus who would take over transporting our marvellous cooks and their gear to our final destination with them tonight, the young daughter of Moustache who was coming along for a little adventure with her dad, of course our cooks and Ibby, our bus driver. Ibby, who unlike the rest of the crew and us, had not been traipsing round the mountains for the last week. I recall thinking it was a quite a contrast, as I went past the crew; Ibby, the refreshed looking Marrakeshi bus driver and then the rest of the crew, looking a bit exhausted from the past 8 days looking after us.
We were of course also greeted by Aunty Margaret as well down at the picnic spot who had come over from Aroumd that morning with Ibby and our gear that we had left behind. It was a lovely final picnic lunch and like many things in the past few days, I wish I had taken more photos, especially of our picnic spots. Still, there was a mini siesta, there was good food, mint tea and chasing shade as the sun moved overhead. After lunch, we said farewell to our mule crew and they started to race back up the valley and away home. We then all loaded into the bus and it did feel a bit weird all crammed back into the bus after a week without the bus. We were all so close! We back to the seemingly constant request for more air-con.
We then drove, and drove, and drove. It seemed like we drove forever. However, on looking at the map, we didn’t actually drive very far at all. Only about 35km first to the town of Amizmiz. We said good bye to Mohamed who had been our second guide for the last 12 days at the taxi station here and also had an ice cream break. I had a very nice locally made orange calippo style ice block. By gosh, it was delightful. That 35km however, took us 1.5hrs. We were in a different part of the world, here, with lots of bends in the roads, hills to climb over, down and around.
We then drove out of Amizmiz and drove about 18km to our destination for the night, the village of Imi N’Tala. 18km, not a very long distance at all, however it took us about 50 minutes to drive this distance. The road was narrow, windy and steep in parts and we drove through some villages where the width of the road was fixed as the edge of the road, was the walls of the building on each side. If you were any wider than our bus, you were not going to get through. I made a note in my journal that to widen the road in a few of these villages, there was going to have to be quite a lot resumptions unless a completely new road was put in. However, that would be hard work in a lot of these places as the slopes of the valleys were steep and there would need to be a lot of cutting into the slopes to put new roads in.
Whilst we did only drive just over 50km in total from our lunch spot, it was the most interesting 50km and another drive that I would love do my self so I could stop as and when I pleased which would of course have been often! We went up through forestry plantations, down by salt basins, over wide river beds that flanked small rivers currently but in the coming months would be filled with snow melt, through olive groves, past very sad prickly pears and more.
When we arrived at our guest house, we found out that the plumbed water into the village had stopped working quite recently due to a pipe burst. Oh, what a terrible tragedy this was for some of our group who struggled to comprehend, how they were going to shower, be hygienic or wash their clothes. For others though in the group, it brought home once again, the absolute privilege we have at home with the water security we have and realistically are probably not thankful for it enough. The water storage in the guesthouse had been filled up and really we should have all been thankful that we had not had to all walk down to the spring and fill up water containers ourselves to top up the supply in the house. I imagine that could have caused all sorts of responses! From the roof terrace we watched a constant stream of mostly young kids go down to the road to the spring with a mule and empty water containers, to return a short while later with full water containers.
After we settled into the guest house, a number of us went a few doors up to watch a variety of breads getting made. The family that lived in the home owned the guest house that we were staying in and this was another part of their business. I still did at times feel like I was intruding into a home however nowhere near as much as I had felt at the nomad tent in the desert.
We had a late afternoon tea (it was 6pm!) on their roof terrace and watched one of the daughters make the Khobz. Most of us in the circle watching had all made bread before in some points of our lives. However, none of us had ever kneaded bread like this before. It was much more of a downwards kneading motion then the more diagonal kneading motion we were used to. This video here probably gives the best illustration I could find on YouTube of this kneading method. I went to see the movie Adam, the other week and part of the movie that I was most taken with was watching the Khobz dough getting kneaded, just like we had seen it kneaded. We then went back to our guesthouse and a group of us walked down to spring to enjoy the cool evening air.
After a late dinner, Mum, Fiona, Mary-Anne & I continued the support of the local economy by having henna designs painted on our hands by another one of the daughters of the family that owned the guest house. It was such a lovely, low stress experience. However, when you are getting your hand painted at 9:30pm, you are very conscious of the fact that is still fresh and not yet fully dry when you are going to sleep a little while later.
Tonight, a group of us ladies all slept on the roof terrace, just like the last time I had slept on the roof terrace back at Bou Tharar, I took quite a while to go to sleep and I would wake up early the following morning as well. Oh, the openness of the sky above.
As we went to sleep tonight, it seemed like almost a lifetime ago that we had left Tizi Oussem but in fact it was just that morning. It also seems like it has taken me almost a lifetime to write today’s (well yesterday’s) post!