Moroccan Adventures 2: The Mountains of Imlil

It was early when we left our accommodation in search of a Grand Taxi to Imlil.

Petit Taxis operate inside of the city and Grand Taxis go between cities.

We struggled to find the place where the taxis depart from, and after asking several people and meandering around, we eventually found the place where they congregate. It is just inside of the Bab Agnaou gate.

We found a Grand Taxi and agreed to pay a reasonably large amount for both of us to go immediately.

The drive started in the mad streets of Marrakesh, which was understandably stressful, as the taxi weaved in and out of the dense traffic, narrowly avoiding pedestrians, scooters and donkeys as it went.

Out on the open road to Imlil, the driving was no less terrifying, with the driver overtaking slower vehicles on the wrong side of the road, with startlingly close oncoming traffic!

It was really fascinating to be out in the plains though. We passed tiny settlements and gazed out over the vast desert. The mountains rose abruptly in the distance, truly scraping the sky. It was hard to believe that they could be as big as they are.

Eventually we reached the Atlas mountains. The roads became twistier, the landscape became a red, rocky world, peppered with small towns. We rounded corners on the wrong side of the road, including blind hairpin bends, but we didn’t even have a near miss with another car.

I watched the journey intermittently on my map app, noting interesting place names and the remaining time to our destination.

I also attempted to take photos out of the window, with limited success.

Eventually, we reached Imlil. The main town was quite busy, with a massive digger-like vehicle blocking the street in the village centre – pounding the remains of a building with a neumatic drill attachment.

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Work being done in the village centre

We we driven up the hill towards our accommodation and dropped, with the vague instructions to follow a path down and it was “round the corner”.

We made our way down the little path, past some houses and over a bridge which crossed a dry riverbed. Presumably this river flowed strongly in the spring, after the snow in the higher mountains melted.

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Just down the steps from our accommodation

The path took us through some knarly trees and past an orchard. Sheep filled the road in front of us, so we passed then and climbed up a hill next to what was likely a waste water run-off.

At the top of some stairs, a woman greeted us and led us into a building that was our accommodation.

We waited for our room to be made ready and chose from two – the room we chose was the fancier of the two, with an ensuite and a double bed. The other room looked a bit dorm-like.

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Beautiful Imlil

We later realised that we had taken a room booked by a German couple. Oops!

We were given tea and snacks by the host, Jamal, which we enjoyed as he introduced us to his family.

After tea, we asked Jamal about walks in the area and he gave us a route that would take us up to the Berber village and give us great views of the mountains and the valley below.

We thanked him and headed out. The walk was hot, but not in the stifling way that Marrakech had been. The air was fresh and clean up in the mountains.

The walk took us up a steep hill, where we were greeted by Ibrahim, a man working for a Berber coop selling local crafts. The Berber people are the original peoples of North Africa.

We browsed the crafts, feeling relaxed in this shopping environment, unlike we had in Marrakech.

The coop was a large room, filled with pottery, carpets, clothing, jewellery and other assorted trinkets.

I took a shine to the carved and polished fossils. The fossils came from the dessert and were the remains of bones and shells of ancient sea creatures, from when the dessert was a sea.

Sam and I chose some to buy and had a little go at haggling. We didn’t feel like we were very good at it, but we also didn’t feel like we had over paid for what we bought.

We had a lovely chat with Ibrahim too, who also offered us tea.

We carried on up the steep hill and met two boys who talked to us a bit and told us some words in the Berber language. They also said there was a beautiful waterfall nearby which we should visit.

We carried on our climb up to the village and eventually reached a level with a gorgeous view.

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Wow.

There we met Abdul, another friendly store owner, who showed us his products – demonstrating a very cool little toy – a box you slide open to reveal a little wooden snake that pops out and hits your finger. He startled Sam with it, which was hilarious.

We bought some freshly pressed orange juice from Abdul and sat for a while gazing out down the valley.

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Fresh orange juice!

We wandered on through the village, admiring the views.

Our route took us round and over another bridge, then along a basic road back towards the place where we were staying.

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Arty shot of Sam and the mountains

We took a turn off down a rugged path that zig-zagged down a scree slope.

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View back to the Berber village

We saw a donkey using the path too, it’s back packed with a heavy load. The donkeys are used to transport both people and goods around various areas of Morocco and they work very hard. Occasionally we saw examples of cruelty, where a donkey was forced to go faster than it sensibly could.

We carried on down the hill and realised that the waterfall we had been told to visit was just below us. We walked along next to the narrow channels that directed the water until we reached the waterfall.

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How beautiful – one of many, many photos

There was a bar next to it and sets of tables and chairs for people who wanted to stay for a few hours. Sam and I took photos happily. Sam also decided to wander into the water, swamping her shoes, to explore and cool her feet!

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Sam after wading through the water

We wandered slowly back through the village to our accommodation, buying some more drinks on the way.

We wanted to eat dinner at the accommodation, but we couldn’t find the family to find out how that worked, so we explored the sunny terrace, which had amazing views and met the cow that lived behind the house.

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The lovely terrace

We decided to walk into the village to find food and after a false start, found a place by accident.

We were walking through the village and were asked to look in a store. Sam replied that we were actually looking for food. The store owner then led us into a restaurant.

Sadly, there wasn’t a vegetarian option there for me, so I decided to eat the chicken tagine. The food was nice and we had a beautiful view of the mountains.

We walked back up the dark hill to our accommodation. The walk was nice and relaxing, apart from the moment where I almost walking into a giant frog-like creature, which turned out to be a Berber Toad. I tried to take a photo, but it was basically impossible as the toad, understandably, wanted to leave very quickly.

We sat in the terrace and enjoyed the view of the stars. It was such an incredible place to sit at night. Imlil’s relative peace and quiet suited us much more than the mad streets of Marrakech, and we slightly wished that we had stayed in Imlil for longer.

Eventually, we headed down to bed. I slept well, apart from getting up to have a quick cold shower at one point because I was too hot – this happened constantly in Marrakech, and although Imlil was colder, it was still pretty warm.

In the morning, we received our included breakfast. We had eggs, tasty bread, butter, jams, nuts and copious tea. It was lovely.

There was a couple there two, from Germany. They were also leaving that day so we decided to get a Grand Taxi with them.

We packed up and ventured out, making our way towards the Grand Taxi station in the village centre.

We didn’t get that far, however.

We met a taxi driver coming the other way, who offered us a taxi at a tourist rate – similar to what Sam and I had paid on the way over. We really wanted to keep costs down, so we refused as we could get a much cheaper local rate in the village.

The taxi man bartered down, but we held our ground, and in the end, he told us that he would call someone he knew who would do it at the price we wanted. Success!

We waited in the heat for a while and exchanged stories with the couple. The taxi arrived and we began our windy journey away from the peace of the mountains back to the rush of the city.

We checked back in to our hotel – a different room this time. After unpacking, we went out in search of souvenirs in the souks.

This took a long long time, because I wanted to find an anklet I had seen with little camels on, which took forever to find. Like a couple of hours.

I didn’t buy it.

It wasn’t as nice as I remembered.

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The camel anklets were too small and not as good quality as I had remembered!

Sam managed to find a few things that she wanted though and we had a good explore of everything that the souks had to offer.

We also came across a man who showed us the dyes they use for cloth. He explained the process, including showing us a very dirty little room that they work in. Some of the colours were stunningly vibrant and some of the pigments even changed colour quite drastically when water was added to them.

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Dyed wools hanging out to dry

After our semi-successful shopping trip, we returned to the hotel for another very hot night before our journey out to Essaouira.

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Dyes being demonstrated

 

 

Canadian Adventures 5: Jasper National Park Maligne Lake Road

So, this blog is getting written before the end of 2017! This is good news.

We left off at the beautiful Pyramid Island in Jasper National Park. After admiring our beautiful surroundings (our main pastime on this trip), we drove on to find our campsite for the night. The campsite was quite out of the way, but didn’t take too long to get to. The last road before the campsite was partially unsealed and suddenly changed from sealed to unsealed with a sickening thump of the tyres, even if I drove very slowly.

At the campsite, we made dinner, which was, as usual, adequate. We decided to make some noodles, despite worries that we would run out of gas. I kept the gas low to make sure we didn’t use it all, so we had some left for our very important morning coffee (ground coffee brewed in cafetiere – we might have been living in a car, but we didn’t become complete savages)! Because of my conservative cooking method, it took what is technically known as f*cking ages for the noodles to cook. Meaning that when I accidentally knocked the pan off the tiny stove and spilled the finally-cooked noodles onto the floor, it was especially devastating.

Life goes on.

We made up for this loss by drinking some Kracken rum. See – not total savages!

In the morning, we did some more cold water hair washing. This never got less horrible. This was the day that we decided to drive down the gorgeous, winding Maligne Lake Road (we affectionately pronounced Maligne as “Ma-ligg-nee, apologies to my French/ French appreciating readers). Maligne Lake Road is such a perfect drive, with lots to see and do along its length – a must do for Jasper National Park.

Our first stop was Lake Edith, where we found yet another set of red chairs and did a “colour quest” from our Xplorers booklet. The idea was to find things of various colours. Eva and I decided we should only choose natural things, that made it much more difficult to find anything red.

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The softies at the Lake Edith red chairs

Our second stop was Maligne Canyon. The canyon was very beautiful, carved out of a moody grey rock. There were many bridges crossing the canyon, with bigger and bigger drops to the river below. We also found some fossils – another Xplorers task – but nowhere near as many as the booklet suggested. After our walk in the canyon, we did a quick tour of the gift shop, where I bought a large bottle of maple syrup in a maple leaf shaped bottle.

We carried on along the road. I was really enjoying the drive and thoroughly used to driving on the right. We stopped off at a random layby to find another set of red chairs located next to the river, which were harder to find than expected as they were hidden by a mass of foliage.

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Eva at the chairs

One of the most atmospheric stops on our journey along Maligne Lake Road was Medicine Lake, whose surrounding area was devastated by fire in 2015, meaning that there are hundreds of blackened trees lining most of the hills surrounding the lake. There were signs there about the Caribou, which are very rare to find in the park.

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Medicine Lake

After Medicine Lake, we continued on to Maligne Lake, stopping on the way for a quick look at a black bear close to the road. These bears are becoming habituated and aren’t scared enough of humans. This means they are more likely to scavenge and become “problem bears” which means they will likely have to be killed before they hurt any humans. The recommendation is to just drive past them or stop briefly to look or take a photo while remaining in the car.

Sadly, we saw many tourists approaching the wildlife to take photos, not understanding the impact they are having.

We saw two more bears down a bank further round Medicine Lake, potentially one was a grizzly, but we couldn’t stop to look as it was on an awkward bend.

We carried on, keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife, driving slowly and having lots of cars overtake us. I couldn’t really understand why people wanted to drive so fast – it’s a stunning drive to be enjoyed.

Eventually, we spotted two cars pulling over just ahead of us, so slowed down to look for the animal they were stopping for, Eva readying her camera excitedly. As we slowed, one of the men, who had got out of his car began waving his arms like a runaway windmill and shouting “there’s nothing here!”. It was then that we realised that they had simply stopped to pee.

And that’s how Eva nearly took a picture of a random man peeing.

We carried on to Maligne Lake and saw a mule deer. We parked up carefully and headed into the visitor centre to get a map of the hikes in the area. Our Xplorers booklet asked us to hike the Mary Schaffer Trail and find various types of pretty lichens. The walk followed the edge of the beautiful lake and had great views.

We realised pretty soon after starting the walk that it was sleeting. In June. It was really odd, but likely due to the high altitude of where we were.

After our walk we headed into the cafe at the visitor centre for drinks. There was a man doing a talk about the wildlife of the national park and how humans fit in with it. He had furs and skulls to show people and told a few stories, including some that sounded a bit unlikely. He explained that bear bells are useless and you should only give them to people you don’t like.

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View from the trail

We drove back along the wonderful road to Jasper. At one point,  we turned a corner and there was a bear in the road! Luckily I was doing the speed limit, which is set quite low in case of such encounters, so I was easily able to avoid the bear.

As we neared Jasper, we saw another wildlife jam. The cars had all stopped because there was a small herd of elk hanging out by the road, some with babies! It was great to see them, but again we were dissapointed by the number of people who had got out of their cars to take photos.

In Jasper we went to a tasty buffet curry place for dinner, which was good, but not like British curry houses. We are lots! After curry, Eva wanted ice cream, so we found a pot of mango pineapple sorbetto and took it back to the campsite with us. We had to eat the whole thing, else it would melt by morning. We almost managed it. As we stuffed our faces with copious amounts of sorbetto, we watched a group of friends on the pitch in front of us, the one man dancing very camply on the roof of one of their cars.

In the morning, I got Eva to drive us to the front of the campsite to fill up our water. She hadn’t driven before, but this was an automatic, so there wasn’t much teaching involved. She did well, but underestimated (as most people do) how sensitive the pedals would be. We jerkily approached the tap and pulled up next to some Parcs Canada rangers.

Eva decided we should pretend she just hadn’t driven for a while, so we made conversation to that effect as we went to fill our water.

We drove into Jasper to fuel up and pick up some more camping gas, then went into the visitor centre to finish our tasks and hand in our Xplorers booklet for a prize. We had to swear an oath to protect Canada and the world, which seemed like a bit of a responsibility, but we got some pretty dog tags saying we had Xplorer Jasper National Park.

We then headed through the national park to visit Miette Hot Springs. The drive up was again rather stunning, with beautiful water and incredible mountains.

The hot springs were quite cheap to go in, only $6 or so and had two large hot pools and two smaller cold pools. We spent an hour or so dipping in and out. It was a lovely place to be, but got swarmed by teenagers on a school trip.

As we were having a decadent afternoon, we decided to go to a proper campsite and pay to stay the night! We drove in and set up for the night. It was very swanky, with actual warm water! We had soup and kale for our adequate dinner and tidied the car.

After much chatting, laughing and run drinks, we went to bed in our comfy car home.

Our Jasper adventure was at an end and we were very sad to leave the next day for Edmonton, but excited by the prospect of beds and showers.

The drive went smoothly and mostly long straight flat roads through countryside. It was nice, but a far cry from the beautiful mountain roads of BC and the Canadian Rockies.

We stopped at subway for lunch and eventually reached Edmonton. Eva’s expert navigation got us to our hostel where we grabbed a free tofu-dog, watched TV and did washing – our exciting Edmonton adventure!

Soon I will write a blog about our adventures in Calgary as well as Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks.

By soon, I mean sometime within the next month.