So there I was, at high altitude in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains. My ears filled with the droning of a distant goat as it lazed between the Berber huts, seeking shade from the intense heat of the North African sun.
I reached for the bowl of crunchy snacks and grabbed a handful to chew on. As I leaned back against the wall, the straw seat underneath me huffed with dust at the minor movement. I watch as Brad Pitt ran animated on a treadmill, speaking words of a language he did not understand.
Not where I thought I’d be during an early afternoon in September.
The morning had started like any other during our trip to Marrakech, I had been awoken from my slumber within our quaint riad by the droning call to prayer from the El Yazid Mosque. It was dark, either 3 or 4am. I’d sat and listened to the call everyday since arrival. We were staying deep into the Casbah, but it wasn’t the Clash playing – just the ordinary routine for the Moroccan people.
A few hours pass and the mosque wakes me again. This time I get up to get ready, we’ve got a bus to catch early doors and El Yazid is the most efficient alarm clock I could have ever asked for.
After some delightful grub from our host, we’re wandering the medina in search of a plain white van. I know this doesn’t sound like the safest course of action for 7am, but around that time they’re sprawled across the streets picking up tourists to take them on their pre-booked TripAdvisor tours. I don’t want to think that happens to the rest.
We were those people. The pair of us, a couple of Glaswegian ravers and two southern fairies later – we’re on the road out of Marrakech. The first stop, some camels.
We’ve all heard about the horror stories of animal mistreatment in this part of the world. We hadn’t booked the tour to do the camel ride – it was anything but. We wanted to hike in the mountains, they just insisted that we dressed up like Berbers and got walked around by the beasts for a bit.
We obliged because the camels seemed well nourished and looked after. Or so we thought, until my camel got the ‘hump’ and started pinching at my girlfriend’s derriere with its teeth.
Being honest with you, I’m no Eliza Thornberry. That wasn’t the first time I’d been removed from the pack and my mule was supplied a leash. It happened during my first time horse-riding as a kid. My charming steed? Gypsy. I was ecstatic, she repaid my excitement with running me into a field and bucking me off before fleeing. The ensuing chase to get her back was hilarious for those watching on, for me I was face down in the dirt.
Me and dogs? We’re amazing together. Just keep me away from any other animal.
A mint tea later, we’re back on the dusty tarmac – full throttle towards the mountains. On arrival we meet our guide, a Sebastian Giovinco lookalike whose name for the life of me I can’t recall. We’ll call him Seb. Sorry mate.
As we were hiking the trail towards one of the mountain ranges’ many beautiful waterfalls, one of the southern lads enquired with dread,
“Is there much longer to go?”
His forehead is plastered with oozing sweat, his eyes a flicker of hope. Unfortunately for him, it’s 11am – and this is a day trek. Some people need to stop skim reading the information portion of the booking website. Or at least read the title keenly.
He dragged himself along for another 20 minutes, he’s slowed the pace. My man Seb has hung back to make sure he doesn’t get lost. In a mixture of horror, bemusement and I’m assuming relief – he is unknowingly hoisted onto the back of a donkey, where he will remain for the rest of the trek. In quiet defeat I assume, but happy as long as it was nothing akin to Gypsy.
Seb guided us around several traditional Berber villages during the hike. He filled our ears and eyes with the beautiful culture in which they practice. The Atlas Mountains are truly phenomenal, as is the country of Morocco. Other than being mugged while walking through the tanning district, the rest of our stay was filled with fantastic hospitality and genuinely lovely people.
This hospitality was how I first watched the movie “Burn After Reading”. At Seb’s family home, sandwiched between my girlfriend and his Mother, arguably drinking the best mint tea I’d had during the entire trip.
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched “Burn After Reading”, but that film doesn’t make sense half the time in English. Nevermind when you’ve joined in halfway through and the whole thing has been dubbed in Arabic. But hey, George Clooney! I’m sold.
The day came to a close with a tagine cooking lesson from our riad host, who had gone out and sourced our ingredients whilst we were away for the day. That night we both lay in bed with full bellies, a mind full of memories and no idea what the fuck had just happened.
I closed my eyes and nodded off.
Then the mosque woke me at 4am.