Adventure Travel: Morocco rocks

15 June 2014 - 02:31 By Marianne Schwankhart
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Marianne Schwankhart leaves the crazy city behind to find the perfect climbing bargains

Deep inside the crevices and hidden valleys of the High Atlas Mountains, the stark, hostile elements are inviting. The place is like a treasure chest of climbing and exploring.

East of Marrakech, away from the madness and Arab traders, a relentless winding road eventually ends in Zaouiat Ahansal, a small village but big enough to source some local beer. From there, it's a quick two-hour walk - with the help of vocal donkeys to carry our gear - to the 400-inhabitant rural village of Taghia.

This is where I met a few old mates, now scattered around the world, to seek and climb the high limestone cliffs in the labyrinth of gorges at the foot of the village. French and Spanish climbers have been developing routes here for many years, yet it only became more widely known recently, with climbing films from the area.

Said's Gite, a Berber family hostel, with recently acquired electricity, hot water and a landline, was luxurious by my average holiday standards.

It is an ideal climbing destination. Every morning, we woke up to a standard Berber breakfast (fresh bread and tea), walked anything from 10 minutes to two hours to the various routes, climbed anything from 200m to 700m, then returned to base camp for a hot shower and tagine dinner.

The long dinner table, surrounded with multinational climbers (some with families), is the social hub of the village and the best place to get beta (info) on the best routes to climb. Most of the routes we did were exceptional with spectacular views. Having seen the place from above, we went exploring.

A bit like the road to get here, the narrow gorges seem to have no end - even though they all link up somewhere, we never got that far. Inside the gorges, the rock glows orange and at times narrows down to an arm's width, where we hopped from rock to rock across a narrow stream. Every corner presented a new challenge. Some of the obstacles required some technical thinking, especially when climbing up through icy cold waterfalls.

Walking on the side of the hills had its own challenges. The Berber people living in the mountains have built intricate stone bridges, hanging from the side of the rock faces, to link their pathways. Goats and shepherds have walked these bridges for centuries without flinching. But for the average person, even climbers, one has to focus the mind, particularly when some of the stones come loose and tumble hundreds of meters down.

The upper plateaus have a similar feel to the high altitude desert landscape of the Maluti Mountains in Lesotho. You always assume you're very far from civilisation.

After two weeks in a magnificent place, we drove south to the Anti-Atlas and the town of Tafraoute. The mountains here are more spread out, with over 2000 climbing routes and a greater variety in difficulty. The town itself is quaint, an old trading post where the Touareg people from the Sahara have settled happily with the indigenous Berbers.

Almost anything found in Marrakech can be found here in what I regard as a much better shopping experience, with less intensity. Our general haggling technique was to counter with a third of their first asking price, usually settling somewhere in the middle. It's a hit-and-miss affair but mostly you'll walk away with the price you want, or find someone else selling the same thing, who is willing to make the deal.

In most of Morocco, you'll find someone who speaks limited English but a bit of French will go a long way. Some restaurant menus are translated in English but not necessarily trustworthy, with phrases such as "meat goat evaporated" - not as obvious as "rum stake".

I took a leap of faith by heading to the local hamam. Sitting butt naked around 10 strangers, some with kids (screaming), in a hot, humid public bathhouse was a little out of my comfort zone. First I got a bucket of hot water thrown at me and was given a piece of congealed, slimy green argon oil to wash myself, while the scrubber started making her way down the line of women ahead of me. Piles of dead skin collected on the tiles as she mercilessly scrubbed limbs from all directions. My inner wimp came out in force - I opted to scrub myself, while my friend Julia got flopped around like a dead fish and scaled down to the last layer of skin as the scrubber's sweat dripped down on her.

With a heavily sunburnt look after the hamam, we cooled off with some good coffee and Moroccan tea before we did our last negotiations with a carpet dealer.

Where to stay:

. Gite Tawajdat, Taghia, with Said Masaoudi (phone +2125234592 90 or e-mail Rates from D120 (about R155) per night, including dinner and breakfast.

. Hotel Les Amandiers, Tafraout ( ). We negotiated the price down to R250, including breakfast.


For guiding or advice on any mountain in Morocco, see or phone Jeremy Jones at +212650799588.

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