One of my Moroccan friends told me that sometimes foreigners don’t know that Morocco is a country, but that they have heard of Casablanca. While most Americans may know about Morocco, I feel that there is also this emphasis on Casablanca in American culture. After all, who hasn’t dreamed about spending an exciting night at Rick’s Café Américain, talking with the big shots as you listen to Sam pound away on the piano? Needless to say, there is far more to Morocco than what most people hear and read about. I recently had the opportunity to experience one such gem that is often overlooked, especially by Moroccans themselves!
I have to be fair – I also didn’t think about snow covered peaks when I thought of Morocco. However, my weekend spent hiking Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, has been one of the best weekends in Morocco so far. My five friends and I set out late Thursday evening after we finished our classes to arrive in Marrakech, where we spent the night. We got up at about six in the morning and took a petit taxi to the grand taxi stand (petit taxis take only three passengers and are for intra-city travel; grand taxis take six passengers and travel between cities and towns), to continue our (squashed) leg of the journey to the Berber town of Imlil. We climbed out of the taxi, asked for directions out of the town, and began our ascent. Along the way, we befriended a Liverpuddlian who initially was very irritated after having been misdirected back down to Imlil. We set him straight and continued our way up the mountain. When we were sure of our bearings, we paused to eat breakfast, which consisted of bread, peanut butter, dried fruit, and nuts – what would more or less be our next four meals as well. We finished our meal and continued our fairly uneventful hike up to the refuge on the side of the mountain, pausing fairly often to enjoy the scenery.
I wasn’t sure what to expect about the hostel, but I was surprised by the hustle and bustle of what seemed to be a relatively large-scale operation. The hostel had more than 100 beds and as far as I could tell, the only Moroccans there were the ones who ran it. Everyone else who crowded into the small common area were mostly Europeans, resulting in a cornucopia of languages. One of the most surprising things was how proficient the Moroccans (of Amazigh/Berber descent) were in classic Arabic. One of my teachers explained that in the rural and mountainous areas, madrasas, or religious schools are more prominent, resulting in students being very well acquainted with the formal Arabic from the Qur’an.
After spending the night at the hostel, we got up early to begin our trip to the summit. The accumulation of snow on the ground increased quickly and although the temperature was initially comfortable, the winds at the top of the peak quickly tore away any semblance of heat. We didn’t stay long at the summit, but we did enjoy the spectacular view of the Saharan desert through the other cloud-shrouded peaks. After what was little more than a controlled fall/slide down the side of the mountain through the snow, we rested at the hostel before continuing down the mountain to return home to Rabat.