Sunday, 12 December 2010

Marrakech, The Atlas Mountains and Setti-Fatma

Crossing the river was an interesting experience but I think we were all glad to get back to the other side and continue the journey for the last few kilometres to the village of Setti-Fatma where the road into the mountains ended and the final stage was to be on foot. I imagine Setti-Fatma was once a desperate and inhospitable sort of place but the locals have turned it into a bit of a tourist trap with cafés and shops for the visitors who find themselves caught at this natural terminus.

Hassan quickly found a guide for us for 50 dirham each was going to take us further up the valley to visit the waterfalls, which were promised as the highlight of the day. We crossed the river over one of the rickety apple wood bridges and then began a gentle ascent at first as we set off for the top. We were at one thousand six hundred metres (that’s about half as high again as Mount Snowdon) and we were going to climb another two hundred to get to our destination.

At the beginning there was no real indication about how tough this was going to be and the path meandered gently through shops and cafés but after a while the track narrowed and started to get steeper and suddenly instead of just strolling to the top, as we imagined we were going to, actual climbing was required instead. It was probably a bit dangerous and certainly wouldn’t have been allowed in the safety conscious UK and people all around us were attempting this in inappropriate footwear and flimsy clothing. What made it even more difficult was that people coming down had to use the same narrow track as those going up so there was quite a lot of congestion to cope with and a quicker group behind us was showing irritation with our slow progress as their pushy guide tried to find inappropriate short cuts so that they could get ahead of us.

It took about thirty minutes to get to the end of the walk and to the inevitable café at the top where we stopped for an expensive bottle of water next to the waterfall that was plunging through the rocks and vegetation. The pushy guide was saying his prayers on the roof which explained his impatience to get to the top and some people were paddling in the shallow pool of icy water and taking a drenching under the waterfall and before we set off back down Margaret decided to do the same although she couldn’t persuade Kim to walk over the sharp gravel in her bare feet to join her.

Going down was if anything more difficult than going up and fairly soon our legs began to ache as we slipped and slithered down the uneven path. At one especially tricky spot Kim got into a bit of bother and as she slipped she gave up any attempt at saving herself and launched herself at the unsuspecting guide who took the full force of her bosom full in the face and we thought that would probably do as his tip! Gradually the path levelled out and we passed through the shops again. Shops which incidentally sold pottery and I cannot imagine for one minute why anyone would want to buy pottery while climbing up the side of a mountain. Back at the road we said goodbye to the guide and thanked him for getting us back in one piece and then he led us to a tagine restaurant by the side of the river which was probably owned by a member of his family.

In the garden of the restaurant we sat at a table by the water and had a simple lunch of meat skewers and local sausages all swilled down with a nice glass of beer and then I realised that I was hallucinating because it was just a nice glass of ordinary mineral water! As we sat there some musicians turned up and played a repetitive tune that they wanted paying for but we refused and then they circled the garden with similar lack of success. It was starting to get cooler and some worrying bits of cloud were coming in from the west so we paid up, left and reunited with Hassan we left Setti-Fatma and began the drive back to Marrakech.

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