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Morocco 1: Arrival and Mount Toubkal

On the 13th of August 2019 I arrived in Marrakech. I had planned this trip with my friend Samira, who was curious to see the deserts and cultural highlights of this dry and hot country. On the plane to my destination I was stunned by the vastness of brown, barren landscapes. Feeling more at home in lush rainforests and other places that have plenty of water, I felt a bit lost in Morocco, where the life giving presence of water is so scarce. It was a new situation to me, and I was curious to see if I could adjust to this side of nature.

Samira had already arrived in Morocco a few days earlier, and was taking surfing lessons in Taghazout, a smaller town at the atlantic coast. We had decided to rent a small car that we hoped would safely bring us to all our destinations around Morocco. I picked this Fiat Panda up at the airport and drove it into the Medina, where my hostel was. There, I wanted to wait for my brother Thomas, who would also join us after his year in Australia. This way, I would have been the last one of our family to see him during our trip through Thailand, and the first one to greet him upon his return. Unfortunately, his departure flight in Darwin, Australia got cancelled, and he was going to be delayed significantly. So, instead of waiting for him, I drove to Essauira the next day, where I met Samira, who got there by bus. We stayed in a wonderful place called Essauira Beach Hostel, a very new hostel at the time, and one of those that is much more than a place to sleep, but really had the vibe you wish for in its design, the staff and the guests.

Sitting in the ruins
In Essauira's ruins.
Ant with Argan nuts
Probably the most prominent product of Morocco are Argan nuts. If they don't make oil from them, they make ants...
Reunited with my brother
My brother got me a new hat from Australia!
We spent two days in Essauira, going surfing at a beach down south, exploring some ruins, visiting the "Jimi Hendrix Café" and exploring the city before we had to return to Marrakech to pick up Thomas. After his 24 hour flight that was preceded by a lot of stress with the cancellation and uncertainty about when he'd finally make it to Morocco, he got no chance to catch a break. Instead, he was stuffed into our tiny car and off we went into the Atlas Mountains, to meet Deadre, a french girl we got to know in Essauira, who was also going to climb mount Toubkal and whom we joined forces with.

About a year earlier, a terrible murder of two women had occurred near the Toubkal, so we were just a little careful. Which was one of the reasons we asked for a tour guide, and our host just happened to know someone who knew a guy that spoke good english and was experienced in climbing the Toubkal. We agreed on a fee, and the next morning, our guide showed up. It was his 14 year old (looking) son who barely spoke a word during the entire trip. Oh well.

Luckily, a guide wasn't really necessary at all, since there is a tourist every 100 meters or so, all using the same path to climb the mountain. And yes, almost everyone has his own guide. Way to do business.

The base camp at the Toubkal
This is the base camp at the Toubkal.
The trip is commonly split in two parts: The first day is for hiking up to the base camp, where two buildings offer a campground or beds for the hikers. Even reaching just this is by no means a walk in the park with the air that is already getting thinner and thinner. A quick sprint at the base camp will have you huffin' and puffin', even if you're a physically fit person!

A mountain view
A mountain view.
Another mountain view
Another one.
The four of us at the top
The 4+1 of us at the top.
Mount Toubkal summit
Celebrating the ascend ;)
The second stage starts early in the morning, way before sunrise. The path becomes more difficult to follow, much steeper and for quite some time you'll have to climb over large rocks. Here, it is not always clear to see which way you have to go, and this is the part where a guide is most helpful. Leaving the rocks behind you'll start climbing over loose gravel, which makes it very slippery and even more difficult. The air is cold, dry and dusty, so mouth and nose dry out, which can also become quite uncomfortable. But after a few hours, you'll have made it to the top and will be rewarded with ... a mountain view into thin fog.

Resting during the descent
Taking a rest.
Hiking downwards
Almost at the basecamp!
The decent doesn't really become easier, but now there is no turning back or giving up anymore. Finish what you started. You'll still become more tired, your nose will get dryer, and you'll have to cover the entire distance back at once. Boy, were we happy when we had finally made it back to our car!

But our day was not over, yet. Back at our accomodation, our guide's daddy showed up and demanded the rest of the money we owed him. Yet we had paid everything upfront. He claimed that that had just been the down payment, or the fee for the first day, and that we owed him the same sum again! This is definitely a recurring feeling in Morocco: That people are just trying to get the last penny out of you. And it is always accompanied by a bad conscience because these people are often very poor. But hell, you gotta be strict in these situations, otherwise you will be as poor as them at the end of your trip. So, even though the discussion sucked (how could we know if maybe he was really earnest and there had been a misunderstanding) and this guy wouldn't let go of it for quite some time, shouting at us through the window, we remained obstinate and didn't give in to his demands. After all, he had promised us a guide and delivered his kid who hardly spoke english (to be fair, he was a nice enough person). But this is the kind of experience that often made my holiday in Morocco seem more like a prolonged struggle to deal with the country and its people rather than a relaxing trip.

Luckily, our host intervened and at some point we could relax, have dinner and tumble into bed, which we had well earned. And the next day, our trip continued...