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Atlas trek, Part 2

Typical Berber village in the Atlas

The M’Goun Massif is part of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, North-West Africa. Its highest peaks are well over 3000m (Mount M’Goun is over 4000m). These days many of the small villages are connected with good quality paved roads but if you want to discover the higher regions, you’ll have to follow old mule tracks.
This is the second part (days 3 and 4) of our Atlas trek, which crosses the range from Agouti to Ait Hamza. (Of course, you can change the start and end points.)

Quick facts:
Total distance: 55 km (if you don’t get lost)
Time needed: 3-4 days
Accommodation: camping by the rivers and near villages, homestays in some villages
Food on the way: There are very basic foodstores in most of the small villages but don’t count on much more than canned fish and biscuits
Water: there are plenty of sources and brooks in the mountains but take water purification tablets
Highlights: the traditional Berber villages, where time seems to have stopped and the breathtaking landscapes
Photos taken during our Atlas trek in late June

 

The way to the Rougoult Pass (3000 m)

From Rougoult, you continue your Atlas trek along the Tifra River (now just a humble mountain brook) that leads you close to 3000 m.  Some descriptions of the route say it should take only 2 hours. Well, it took us much longer than that. Maybe it was because we were hiking with our 8-year-old son, I don’t know. But anyway, don’t be surprised if you’re still struggling uphill after four long hours. Sooner or later you’ll be there 🙂

It's a challenge to walk the path at places. And great fun!
It’s a challenge to walk the path at places. And great fun!

The route is physically demanding but extremely interesting at the same time. First, there are rock formations. You can see how the mighty forces of the Earth shaped the mountains into what we see today. The rocks come in various colours, too, from shades of white to red.

Craggy cliff face high above Rougoult
Craggy cliff face high above Rougoult
A lone tree holds on against all odds.
A lone tree holds on against all odds. Look at the crazy geology of the mountain!
Red rocks not much before reaching the pass
Red rocks not much before reaching the pass. Look at the ancient mule path on the left.

Then there are the people you can meet while on the way. We met elderly men crossing the mountain on muleback, young boys leading horses and an entire family passed us on mules. It was a funny situation as we were just refreshing ourselves, sitting in a pond of cool water in swimming clothes. But they just smiled and carried on. We heard the whistles of shepherds looking after the sheep hundreds of metres higher. Then we saw a woman collecting grass and carrying it back to her house.

Not an easy life
Not an easy life
Some of the people we met on our way
Some of the people we met on our Atlas trek

Amezri

If you are running out of drinking water you can fill up your bottles at the spring just under the pass. And here are many others along this Atlas trek but it’s better to have purification tablets just in case. We reached the top around 6 pm and I think we got a bit lost, too. In fact we walked higher than necessary. Then we caught sight of two young women, collecting dry bushes. They were very helpful and offered to show us the way down to Taisgawalt. But they were so fast that we were almost running for the next hour!

On the Rougoult Pass, the highest point of our Atlas trek
On the Rougoult Pass, the highest point of our Atlas trek
We had to walk really fast after the two young women
We had to walk really fast after the two young women. You can see one of them in front with a bunch of dry branches on her head

We still had a little time to admire the views from the top. It was interesting that the colours and shapes on the two sides of the pass were so distinct. The northern valley was much dryer and less colourful.

Looking back from the pass
Looking back from the pass
This view greeted us at 3000 metres
This view greeted us at 3000 metres

By the time we arrived in the next village (Amezri) it was getting cooler. There is a basic food store in the village. We bought tinned fish again and some biscuits, plus a big bottle of coke for the local kids. They followed us down to the bank of the Tessaout river, where we put up our tent. We found a gîte (simple hostel) but it was so badly maintained that we rather stayed in the open air and enjoyed the now usual bath in the river (when the boys had gone).

Day 4 to Ait Hamza

What’s good for the locals is not always so good for travellers. These days the old paths are mostly replaced by gravel roads high above the river. So the route from Amezri to Ait Hamza won’t be the highlight of your trip, especially after the beauties of the previous day.

Still, we enjoyed the sight of the carefully cultivated terraces of land by the river. For centuries, the Berber population of the mountains have developed sophisticated ways to get the limited water of the river to the mountainside. As a result, the bottom of the valley is lively green despite the dry climate. Hopefully, this doesn’t change in the future. Because if the big cities attract these people with the promises of an easier life, this paradise will be gone for good.

The terraced fields of the Tessault Valley
The terraced fields of the Tessault Valley

Two boys from Amezri followed us on a donkey till we got to the next village. They were trying to convince us that Aron would feel better on the donkey.  We were afraid of the fleas so refused the service. But they deserved something for their perseverance so we bought them a coke and said goodbye.

The houses of Itchebakan
The houses of Itchebakan

The route passes by the village of Itchebakan, another example of traditional Berber architecture. They feature kasbahs (large fortified buildings for one or more families) and agadirs (granaries) made from compacted mud, stones and wood. If you’d like to learn more about them, you can find a great article here.

Back to Azilal

At the end of the 4th day you arrive in Ait Hamza, another typical Berber village of the Atlas Mountains. It is locally known for the traditional rugs woven by the women of the village. We decided to finish our Atlas trek here as we didn’t want to spend another day walking mostly on paved roads. We found an affordable room in a smaller kasbah. The next day the owner took us to Demnat, from where there are buses and/or shared taxis to Azilal.

Rock formations high above the valley
Rock formations high above the valley near Ait Hamza

All in all it was a demanding but highly memorable trip. It’s suitable for anyone of average fitness and some hiking past. We only met one tourist on the 4th day but many locals, without whom the whole experience would have been poorer.

Thank you for your attention! If you liked my post, why not check out this hike in the Bohemian Paradise of Czechia?

M’Goun Traverse in the Atlas, Morocco – Part 1

The M’Goun Massif is part of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, North-West Africa. Its highest peaks are well over 3000m (Mount M’Goun is over 4000m). These days many of the small villages are connected with good quality paved roads but if you want to discover the higher regions, you’ll have to follow old mule tracks. The M’Goun offers several opportunities for multi-day hikes. One of the most popular routes is the M’Goun Traverse, which crosses the range from Agouti to Ait Hamza. (Of course, you can change the start and end points.)

Quick facts:
Total distance: 55 km (if you don’t get lost)
Time needed: 3-4 days
Accommodation: camping by the rivers and near villages, homestays in some villages
Food on the way: There are very basic foodstores in most of the small villages but don’t count on much more than canned fish and biscuits
Water: there are plenty of sources and brooks in the mountains but take water purification tablets
Highlights: the traditional Berber villages, where time seems to have stopped and the breathtaking landscapes
Photos taken in late June

 

Azilal to Agouti by taxi

The M’Goun Traverse is a medium difficult hiking route but the beauty of the place is definitely five-star. To reach the starting point, I recommend taking a bus from Marrakech to Azilal. There you can stay a night or carry straight on to Agouti village deep in the mountains if you arrive early enough. The waterfalls of Ouzoud are also definitely worth a visit and you can easily reach them from Azilal.

You can take a bus or a shared taxi from Azilal. We chose the taxi and we had to wait 2 hours for the car to fill up. Then it’s a 3-hour ride to Agouti, which lies on 1850 m. But before that the taxi has to climb a 2200 metre-high pass. 

The grand (shared) taxi station in Azilal
The grand (shared) taxi station in Azilal

The Lakhdar Valley

In Agouti, we had lunch at a lodge (gîte), where it would also be possible to sleep it you arrive too late. If not, you can start walking straigthaway. First you walk south along the same road you took by taxi. After about an hour there’s a gravel road to the left. If you follow this road, you’ll soon notice the houses of a village (Agerssif) in the valley on the left. You can have a gorgeous view of the Lakhdar Valley from this point. Instead of walking all along the bends, we followed a mule path down to the river and then crossed the small bridge. 

View of the Lakhdar Valley
The Lakhdar Valley

There are several places suitable for camping in Agerssif by the river (1470 m). We preferred to stop a few hundred meters later in order to avoid the unwanted attention. The locals were usually surprised to see foreigners and children were downright scared. The sandy riverbank was perfect for the tent and the water in late June was OK for washing.

Camping spot near Agerssif, Morocco
Our camp near Agerrsif

The second day begins

The valley is perhaps even more enchanting in the morning in the first rays of the sun. It’s a leisurely walk for the first 8-9 km because you just follow the paved road along the Lakhdar River.

The sun rises over the mountain
The sun rises over the mountain near Agerssif

You’ll certainly not be bored as there is plenty to see. People are working on the fields by the river and you will see men piling hay or women carrying it on the road. I was surprised to see local women performing hard jobs while most of the men I saw were on horseback or muleback, looking after the animals.

Women carrying hay
Women carrying hay from the fields
OK, men also work
A man is working outside his home in a small village
But female mules have the hardest job :)
A mule on its way

It’s exciting to see how the colour of the landscape changes here from brown to red to white and back to brown again. Across the road on the left, you can see a crumbling kasbah and simple houses all built from the stones of the mountain.

Village with kasbah
A village with a kasbah, high above the river
Multicolour mountain
Multicolour mountain

Then you arrive in Ait Bou Wlli (Bououli), where you can find some basic stores. At this point another river, the Tifra flows into the Lakhdar from the left. A gravel road crosses the rivers and then you continue south towards Rougoult. The road is easy to follow and ascends gradually past some groves and terraced fields. About halfway in the valley you will spot the houses of Taghoulit, perched on the mountainside. 

Ait Bou Wlli, Morocco
The main street of Ait Bou Wlli

Where the gravel road ends

Just before Rougoult (1850 m), the road turns from red to brown again. You can buy basic food products in the village and you can sleep in its campsite or one of the homestays. We saw a nice camping area by the river under some big trees, too. But again we didn’t want to be surrounded by curious kids all evening so we carried on a bit and camped a little above the village. (It turned out to be private property when a man appeared on a mule in the dark. We exchanged a few words with my rudimentary Arabic and paid him a little money.) This ends the second day of the M’Goun Traverse, a total of about 18 km. 

Rougoult appears in the distance
Rougoult appears in the distance
The Tifra Valley
The Tifra Valley

From Rougoult, a narrow path continues along the Tifra River to take you close to 3000 m and then on to the other side of the mountain. I’ll tell you more about that in my next post. Until then, why  not check out a picturesque hike in Turkey’s Uludag Mountains?

UPDATE: Here’s the second part of the M’Goun Traverse 🙂

Sidi Ifni, a touch of Spain in Africa

 

Your bus arrives in Avenue Hassan II and you can feel the salty breeze on your face. Somebody greets you with a cheerful ‘Hola!’ as you walk down the streets lined with white and blue houses. A man sells cactus fruit outside one of the many arcaded houses and two women cross the street ahead of you to disappear in a narrow alley. Then you walk past beautiful but long abandoned colonial buildings and the eerie atmosphere of Sidi Ifni captures you.

Women in the street in Sidi Ifni
Women walk home in Sidi Ifni, Morocco

Sidi Ifni is located in the south of Morocco (if we don’t count Western Sahara) so it’s all the more surprising that this small town has such a European air to it. The answer lies in its history: Sidi Ifni and its area was under Spanish control for some 100 years. Spain only let it go in 1969 but the Iberian spirit still lingers on. People have siesta and many of them still prefer Spanish over English. Then there are the many Art Deco buildings and the street signs could be in Madrid or Sevilla. 

Street sign in Sidi Ifni
Calle de Oviedo in Sidi Ifni

Man-made and natural attractions

It’s a must to check out the Art Deco buildings from the 1930s, like the Lighthouse, the old cinema, the Town Hall or the former Spanish Consulate. After the violent protests of fishermen in 2008, the Moroccan government pumped a lot of money in the region so many of the buildings have lost their haunted feel. On the plus side, they will survive to be seen by the future generations and they received a new function. 

Lilghthouse in Sidi Ifni, Morocco
The tower of the Lighthouse

The town lies by the ocean and fishing has long been the main source of income for the locals. The long sandy beach is never too full of people (though not the cleanest, either) and the area offers great waves for surfers.  If you take a bus or a taxi you can discover the famous Legzira beach with its rock arches. Sadly, one of them collapsed in 2016 but two of them are still there to amaze you. The rocks have an intensive reddish colour, which goes really well with the blue of the ocean. And if you feel really active, you can walk back to Sidi Ifni (or at least part of the way). We did this and walking on top of the rock offered us unique views of the arches.

The most fragile rock arch collapsed in 2016
The most fragile rock arch collapsed in 2016
Tunnel vision of Legzira beach
Tunnel vision of Legzira beach

If you have some more time to spend, I would also recommend the laid-back town of Mirleft to the north. There are no real attractions here but the relaxed atmosphere gives you the impression that time has stopped here. The nearby beach is beautiful and quiet and locals swear that Jimi Hendrix was here.

Mirleft beach
Mirleft’s beach on a busy day
People in Mirleft, Morocco
Old men enjoy a chat and a tea in Mirleft

If you happen to be in Marrakesh, do yourself a favour and visit this colourful outpost. You can get there by a combination of bus and taxi and it takes around 8 hours (70-80 USD). And it’s less than half that way from Agadir. There are a number of accommodation options from dorms and a campsite to rooms in private houses and hotels. I’d recommend Maison D’hôtes Tiwaline (25 USD for a double) for its central location and great coffee.