Morocco Taghia - Part 1: Travel, People and Landscape

I've just returned from a trip to Taghia in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains. This was a trip I had been looking forward to for a long time. Not just because I'd heard stories of a stunning 800m big wall limestone climbing oasis but also for the experience of travelling to Morocco. This has been the first time I've travelled outside of Europe, and even though Morocco is only a short hop from Spain the experience is very different.

We started the trip by flying into Marrakesh. Our first point of call was the market in the central square to purchase supplies of dried fruit and nuts to take with us to Taghia. 'Hectic chaos' I think are the words that best describe the market in the central square. There was no shortage of stalls selling all sorts of food and drink items from meat to snails, freshly squeezed orange juice, spicy tea as well as many crafts items. Luckily the price of food items seemed to be the only thing that you don't have to barter for. Everything thing else, including taxis, requires some stressful bartering, having some idea of how much something is really worth and what the exchange rate is (1 GBP = 13.7 MAD) helps a lot as the initial price offered is no indicator as to what should be paid. Walking around Marrakesh you can't help but notice the reality of being a wealthy tourist in a much poorer country.

Plenty of choice of olives, and all very much cheaper than in the UK

Epic fruit and nut selection! 

The further we travelled from Marrakesh up into the mountains the slower the pace of life around us became. 

Village we passed on route to Zaouiat which is the last village at the end of the mountain dirt road

We soon learnt that nothing happens quickly, a bus or taxi will leave when it's full, this takes as long as it takes. Sweet mint tea, Berber whiskey as it's nicknamed, is drank often and regularly at any time of day, always poured from a slender spouted metal teapot held at height into an espresso sized glass cup.

'Berber Whiskey' Sweet Moroccan mint tea

It took us two days to get from Marrakesh to Taghia, on the first day we got a shared taxi to Azilal then a local bus (over loaded minivan) up the mountain dirt road to Zaouiat Ahansal. This is as far as the road goes, since we left Marrakesh late we stayed a night in a gite in Zaouiat then walked up to Taghia with a donkey helping to carry our bags the next day. It would easily be possible to do the journey in one day if we had left Marrakesh sooner or took a shared taxi all the way to Zaouiat.

Zaouiat Ahansal

I took pity on the donkeys and carried a heavy sack on my back, however this donkey who was carrying the bags of another party was no so lucky

Walking up to Taghia with our 'taxis of the mountains'

For the two weeks we were in Taghia we stayed in Gite Said with about 20 other climbers. The gite is simple and comfortable with electricity and a warm shower. Said and his family are local Berber Taghia inhabitants and are very welcoming. The gite cost 120 MAD per night including a breakfast of bread, jam and occasionally crepe pancakes and a tasty evening meal of cous-cous, tagine or pasta  with some vegetables, olives and various types of meat served in a big communal bowl; quite amazing considering most food is brought up on the back of a donkey!

Gite Said in Taghia

Rest day team omelet!

Taghia village is beautiful, it's a real little oasis blessed with plentiful fresh spring water which spurts out from the bottom of the mountain. The water is fed by an ingenious network of irrigation troughs to water the crops which are grown all around the village. Last year Sophie and Luke put the effort into translate the Taghia guidebook introduction from French, so here is Christian Ravier's excellent description of Taghia:  

 Christian Ravier's excellent description of Taghia transalted from the guidebook

Berber are the indigenous mountain folk in Morocco, they speak Berber which sounds very different (more soft tones) than the Arabic which is spoken in Marrakesh. The younger generations are also able to speak a little bit of French and Arabic. 

Village Children - Thanks to Goisa for the photo

Village donkey doing some light work for a change - thanks Goisa for the photo

Village Children - Thanks to Goisa for the photo

The Berbers in Taghia farm the land and look after herds of goats, sheep and cows. All over the mountains 'Berber bridges' can be found, built to to aid the movement of people and livestock over tricky sections. Some are very impressive indeed:

Very impressive 'Berber Bridge' walkway!

We found the local Berbers to be unbelievably friendly and welcoming. Once when we were stumbling down through the small remote village of Tamdarote below Taghia we accidentally ended up wandering through the back yard of one of the houses. We were greeted by a friendly woman who offered us some tea, even though we could not speak a world of Berber and she could not speak a word of French let alone English we managed to understand each other. We sat next to her two kittens and pet kid (baby goat) as she made us some super tasty fresh mint sweet tea and some brown flat bread straight from a wood fired mud oven served with a little bowl of olive oil to dip. 

Village of Tamdarote, between Zaouiat and Taghia

Living room

We must have timed our visit perfectly as she was just in the process of making a large quantity (probably a weeks worth) of bread. This was the best bread we had all trip, wholemeal and as fresh at it gets! It was fascinating to watch her stoke the fire and skilfully bake the bread in her clay oven sheltered under a sheet of corrugated Iron (actually a tail-board from an old Toyota pickup!).

Bread baking
Many routes in Taghia start from impressively deep water worn gorges 

Green oasis of Taghia

Panorama from a ridge looking down on Taghia and across to the mountains