Leaving Skoura the next day, we drove out of the desert and into the snowy High Atlas Mountains. The road twisted impossibly up and over the Tichka Pass at 2,260 meters. Dennis refused to sit in the front seat because he couldn’t bear to watch as Mohamed sped up around hairpin turns, checking his text messages as we approached blind corners. Countless times he nearly clipped people on bikes, motorcycles and donkey carts as he forced them to the shoulder with a nonchalant toot of the horn. It was a miracle that no one lost a hand or an arm. On numerous occasions I imagined we’d perish in a spectacular crash with an oncoming poultry truck, a ball of flames and feathers billowing skyward post-collision.
In the cities it was even worse with more cars, scooters and pedestrians to weave through, but it didn’t phase me. After all, I have been a passenger in my friend Roland’s car zipping through San Francisco and out into the Sierras, and I’ve learned to chill out and enjoy the ride without the merest blink. Despite Mohamed’s crazy driving and all the close calls, we never crashed.
Our destination for the night was the charming village of Imlil, which is not far outside Marrakech but a world away. We climbed through a lovely river valley of terraced hillsides where they grow apples, pears, plums, berries and walnuts. Our guesthouse was farther up the mountain than we could go by car so we trudged up a muddy path while a donkey carried our bags.
The Kasbah du Toubkal was yet another stunning retreat, this time with incredible views of the mountainside villages and numerous snow-clad peaks ringing the area. Imlil is where many people begin treks up Mt. Toubkal, at 13,670 feet the highest peak in North Africa. Someday I hope to come back in summertime for a Toubkal trek myself. The area felt very much like Nepal, and in fact the films Seven Years in Tibet and Kundun were filmed in here.
The next morning Mohamed and I hiked up a short way to the sunny, hilly village of Aremdt. It seems primitive with its cramped mud and stone huts but they have electricity and indoor plumbing, and loads of friendly children who peeked out from the rooftops and gave us a friendly “Bon jour!” (Before I return to Morocco for a second visit I will learn some French; my Spanish didn’t get me too far here). The highlight of my day was an encounter with one little boy not more than two years old. He was with his father and started to cry when he saw me, but then a moment later he extended his tiny hand. I gave him mine to shake but he pulled my hand to his lips and kissed it — the ultimate sign of respect here in Morocco. I don’t think I’ve ever been so charmed by a male in all my life!