We explored this beautiful area, trekking a 10km circuit that took about 4 hours, under the guidance of La’Hassim, a member of the family that owns the Gite D’Atape where we are staying. Our party down to two after about one area, we walked past Berber villages -red slammed-earth buildings camouflaged into the hillsides with an occasional, astoundingly coloured door. The mosque marks the approach to another village, and some of the houses are very well cared for, with gardens in front and straight fences. Our guide even proudly pointed out one which had wooden windows and was made of very well constructed bricks.
The highlight was meeting Berber children and the occasional adult, along the way, greeting them with “salam alicom” (at least, that’s how I pronounced the Berber for Hello). I had packed some dates for the trek but found that giving them away to the kids was much more enjoyable. And may I say, there are a few more children in the Berber villages that know how to “high Five” and count to five in English now, because of my urge to play with them. The girls are very shy from a concerningly young age, having been taught already, in this very religiously conservative area, that they should not draw attention to themselves. I did, however, catch one of them who smiled happily for the camera and I nearly started a riot when I asked La’Hassim to buy some “bon bons” for the children at the village “Alimentar”.
Throughout the trek, it was patently obvious that the women of the area work very hard, washing clothes in the river, fetching alfalfa for the animals and carrying it in large sacks on their backs, tending to the crops, cooking the meals and keeping the interior of their homes clean and tidy. When I asked what the men do, Atika, our guide, said that they shop once a week for the family….. Apparently, they decide all purchases, including what the women will wear. They hold the money, and the power.
The walk also included the famous Rose Valley, a rich, cultivated area which borders the river flowing from the Atlas Mountains, where “Grain” (wheat) onion, carrot, potato and broad beans (the Berber staples) are grown in small family owned plots. This valley also has wild “damacien” roses growing along the river, providing a truly sensational setting for a long trek. The roses have a distinctive perfume and are harvested for rose water and for the paste used in the Hammam, among other applications.
Another highlight of the day was trying to communicate with La’Hassim, who speaks French, Berber, Arabic, a little Spanish and no English. I know a few French words, a few Italian and Spanish words and I learnt from him a few Berber words, and some Arabic – woah! One language at a time! He gave me the names for river, good, bad, wheat, thank you, and many others I will never remember. And somehow I found out that his pronounced limp – one leg is about 4-6inches shorter than the other and he walks constantly on his toes on this leg, whilst his back swivels around to carry this leg forward- was caused by a fall from a terrace in the mosque. I assume he was not able to get proper medical attention or to get it in time. It causes him pain in his leg and a lot of pain in his lower back, but still he manages to lead this trek! He also managed to apply a “muy intelligente” Berber trick to my foot that was giving me trouble due to an ill-fitting shoe, (no comparison in the pain compared to his, I am sure) so that I was able to finish the trek in relative comfort. “Doctor Berber” is now his nick-name.
We returned to a lunch of Berber Omelette – containing the locally grown vegetables and one egg, mixed with Moroccan spices and cooked in a Tagine dish and very tasty, accompanied by the wonderful freshly squeezed orange juice that is a staple of Morocco. A short siesta followed and an afternoon of drawing this amazing “Panoramique”.
We then had dinner, and a wonderful display of drumming from all the family - apparently all cousins, no brothers, but I can't see how this is possible. However, a great family likeness and all handsome - what's a girl to do? We danced and I was asked to sing, so fortified with a couple of beers (ONLY! I Promise) I sand "father and Son" as Yusef Islam (alias cat Stevens) is due to perform in Rabat in a week or two, so the locals know some of his work. Anyway, the night finished with logic tricks (the kind I used to play in the pub after work with the Engineers) and so , despite the language barrier in the instructions, I solved two of the puzzles to great surprise from the berbers. I had to prove that women are smart, so tried particularly hard. This was one of the highlights of the trip, amongst very generous, very funny , very musical and very beautiful people.