Marrakech – driving into the Atlas Mountains

Looking over the roof of our first Berber house

Looking over the roof of our first Berber house, Atlas Mountains, Marrakech

Marrakech – The Atlas Mountains and the Ourika Valley, winding mountain roads and satellite dishes

My third trip to Morocco was a long weekend with Commando, a kind of second honeymoon to make up for the fact we didn’t have a first one when we married ten years earlier. After two days looking at the majestic Atlas Mountains in the distance from our hotel balcony, Commando and I decided it was time to take a closer look. We booked a day trip through Complete Tours http://complete-tours.com/ to the Ourika Valley, about 30 kilometres outside the city. A  journey of about three hours each way on the meandering mountain roads in a little air conditioned Grand Taxi with our driver/guide, Driss.

Mountains rising up

Atlas Mountains rising up and the odd house, Marrakech

Hills turn to mountains

Hills turn to mountains, Atlas Mountains, Marrakech

As we left the madness of Marrakech the buildings thinned out and orchards of orange tress and olive groves, a few ramshackle buildings and the odd mosque, bordered the dusty road. Slowly the distant mountains grew larger and lost their painted backdrop appearance as we began our almost imperceptible climb. As we left the open plains the roads began to wind and the hills started to rise up around us, becoming higher and higher as we climbed. The further we went the greener everything looked. The snowy peaks were now just tantalising glimpses between trees and hills. I could feel the temperature dropping, which was refreshing after the heat of the city. The air felt crystal clear.

Glimpses of the snowy peaks along the road

Glimpses of the snowy peaks along the road -Atlas Mountains, Marrakech

Driss explained how the icy water, melting from the snow on the mountain peaks keeps the desert at bay. In Marrakech they have made a complicated system to use this water to irrigate the city, which is why it looks like such a green oasis as you fly in. Apart from the vegetation, the thing that struck me most was how red the earth was here. Deep, rich ochre red unlike anything I had seen before.

The road winding upwards and the ochre red earth

The road winding upwards and the ochre red earth, Atals Mountains, Marrakech

A Berber house, note the satellite dish

Atlas Mountains, Marrakech – A Berber house, note the satellite dish

Little Berber villages higgledy piggledy on the mountain

Little Berber villages higgledy piggledy on the Atlas Mountain, Marrakech

As we got higher we passed little villages, higgledy-piggledy houses clustered together on the hillsides.  Some seemed to be little more than mud huts but every single one, no matter how small had a satellite dish attached to it. Driss told us that these dishes are relatively cheap, even the poorest family can afford one and, unlike in the UK, once they have paid for it and set it up there is no monthly subscription just free TV channels from every country they can pick up. That explained the cries of ‘I give you good price, Asda price,’ in the souks. No wonder they all speak so many languages! I wondered how they power their TV’s as some of the houses have no electricity or running water and Driss explained that they have solar panels. As the sun shines 365 days a year they always have TV.

The distant high peaks

The distant high peaks of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakech

A monkey outside one of the little shops

A monkey outside one of the little shops, Atlas Mountains, Ourika Valley

Even here it’s obvious the Moroccans are a nation of merchants. Every so often we saw their wares set up at the side of the road, tagines and pots or textiles, jewellery and the usual bric-a-brac. Young boys ran beside each car as it passed holding out hand woven baskets filled with little red fruits. Whenever the car stopped to negotiate a tricky corner they were almost in the window. Driss told us they pick the fruits, which taste a bit like strawberries, from the local bushes. They will sell whatever is available, making things out of anything they can find. On Mondays and Fridays there is a day market but, as it was Tuesday, we missed it.

Cactus and the occasional power line

Cactus and the occasional power line, Ourika Valley, Marrakech

Smoke from a distant village

Smoke from a distant village, Ourika Valley, Marrakech

Once the river came into view we saw Berber women doing their washing. Driss explained that the Berbers who live up here are a hardy bunch. The women do most of the work and all the men seemed to be sitting around in the shade smoking, drinking mint tea and chatting. Needless to say Commando really liked this idea!

Berber women doing their washing

Berber women doing their washing, Ourika Valley, Marrakech

Donkeys stopping for lunch

Donkeys stopping for lunch, Ourika Valley, Marrakech

Berber men working for once

Berber men working for once, Ourika Valley, Marrakech