Musings from Morocco 2: Atlas Mountains
Updated: Jul 26
Acting as a natural barricade between the mild coastlines of the Atlantic and Mediterranean against the fiery Sahara, the Atlas mountains stretch across the Moroccan landscape like a lizard's backbone for almost 1000km. Their purple and russet slopes provide home settlements to many of North Africa's indigenous people, the Berbers, and it wasn't long after Ali had picked me up that they rose majestically from the road in front of us.
Every now and then our climb would plateau and offer us opportunities to take in the scenic backdrop on our way to our first stop in Dou Igri where we would search out a traditional Berber home. These simple dwellings point to times long gone in the developed world but the keenest sense that impresses as we walk through the spartan quarters is the strong sense of identity which exists within the clay walls, Tajine pots and silverware. A small water driven mill used for grinding ultra fine flour stood in its own room near the entrance while, next door, flatbreads lay warming over an open fire in a sparsely furnished kitchen.
We live in image obsessed times but Moroccan women are often displeased at being the subject of unscrupulous holiday snappers, so undertaking street photography and portraiture has greater limitations in such a society. It can, however, offer greater returns if we are genuinely interested in our subjects and, as we made our way out through the kitchen, a Berber woman sat tending the flatbreads. I partially raised my lens and communicated "May I take your portrait?" through a tip of my head and facial expression. Her relaxed gaze implied acceptance as she sat perfectly still for me to shoot a photograph that I consider to be one of the true pearls of this trip.
On leaving, Ali took us further into the mountains to Setti Fadma where he linked me up with a local guide who was surprised to find that I wanted to see his local neighbourhood rather than the waterfalls. This was the guide's back yard where he played as a child and he climbed like a mountain goat as we took shortcuts from the well worn, winding paths. I was thankful that I had selected some decent walking shoes with grips on their soles and, in the distance, other small Berber towns and apple orchards sat on the rocky slopes as we climed higher. Proud to show me his home, we went on to visit his neighbour where I was immediately offered Moroccan tea while women sat weaving carpets at the loom and cattle and sheep stood in the stables below. Returning to the town centre it was time for lunch and I was presented with a mountain of couscous to get through at a riverside restaurant. Small birds visited the tables looking for scraps while local musicians did likewise, looking for tips, as the peaceful waters flowed in this idyllic spot.
It was soon time to meet up with Ali again to start our journey back down the slopes to Marrakech and our penultimate stop was at a roadside pottery where a veritable Aladdin's Cave of sumptuous stoneware and hand painted, glazed artefacts greeted us as the potter showed us his phenomenal handiwork. Of all the wonderful images I captured in Morocco, the portrait of this artisan at the wheel was to prove to be the one which I cherish the most and I couldn't help to wonder that he demonstrated what any true craftsman does as he sculpted the clay with his hands; he made it look so easy.
The evening was sublime as I lazed up on the roof terrace back at the Riad, content with my day spent getting to know Ali, his country and its people and certainly knowing I had bagged some beautiful images for post-processing.
Travelling shows us that there are many ways of living and so many points of view we could consider as we are challenged to step outside our comfort zone, especially in a wonderful country like Morocco. After all, where else might you find camels on the side of the road and telephone masts made to look like palm trees?
I hope that sharing these experiences with you here gives you much pleasure and encouragement to travel. Make sure you check out the images under 'Latest Images' from the Portfolio (or click the image below) and the other blogs on the Blog page .
For those of you who might like to follow in these mountainous footsteps, then you can drop Ali a line at Ali Travel here.
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