Avoiding the honeypot

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Alan Palmer reflects on his short trek across the high summer pastures of Morocco’s Yagour Plateau

“If you’re happy, I’m happy!” beamed Mohammed, my mountain guide. Sitting on a large boulder in the shade of a copse of proud walnut trees, we were soothing our feet in the tumbling waters of the roaring Zat River.

We had just reached the end of our three-day traverse of the beautiful Yagour Plateau and our experience had confirmed that you don’t need to be a hardened trekker to reach remote parts of Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains and have a thoroughly extraordinary time.

At our outset from Marrakech, we had decided to turn our backs on Jebel Toubkal, the region’s obvious honeypot attraction, and consequently had not met a single other trekker.

Even better, in just 90 minutes’ hike from Setti Fatma we had reached our delightful first night’s camp: a small, neatly-walled terraced garden beside a timeless earthen Atlas mountain village, quite unreachable by road.

We were greeted by hospitable waves and broad smiles from gaudily dressed Berber women, bundles of babes in arms, clinging toddlers at their ankles, while kindly village elders dropped by to exchange “salaams” (“hellos”) and to share a glass of mint tea or two with us while our evening meal, a delicate Moroccan tagine, simmered slowly on a simple gas burner. Soon, the sharpest of black skies twinkled above our heads.

The new morning enticed us further up-valley and onto the deserted plateau itself, encircled by beautiful snow-capped mountains.

Adrar Yagour, set against a pure blue sky, stood paramount, while others, even mighty Anghomar, though several leagues distant, appeared to tower over us from afar. Lush green grass, sprinkled with tiny bright yellow daffodils, stretching to the end of the world, lightened our every step.

All the while, not a soul stirred and even the wind forgot to breathe.

Incredibly, in just one month, the plateau would transform into a bustling pastoral idyll when happy families move up here in their entirety for the summer season. Mothers and fathers, grandparents and grandchildren, with flocks of white sheep and black goats, too, all arrive, partly in anticipation of spending long happy days together and partly to produce enough milk to make sufficient whole fat butter to last them the whole year round.

For now, in April, the plateau’s vast emptiness presented its own very different striking beauty. We ran freely, picking strongly scented thyme to make the freshest of herbal teas, and threw snowballs, formed from pockets of snow that still lay under north-facing crags. We meandered through clusters of deserted summer homes and marvelled at clear cut drystone walling that would have caught the approving eye of any Yorkshire Dalesman.

And then, as if all this was not sufficiently unreal, we were stopped in our tracks when we ran into a whole gallery of prehistoric rock engravings. Inscribed across an enormous slab of exposed south-facing rock, looking up to the sun and to the heavens, some depicted the everyday, such as deer, scorpions and even humanoid forms, while others were symbolic or even quite abstract, their meaning tantalisingly elusive.

Our eyes wide open in amazement, we tiptoed reverently between them, yet shrieking out gleefully upon each new discovery, rather like young children in a sweet shop.

“I love the emptiness of Yagour,” Mohammed reflected, the Zat still burbling around our ankles. I could only agree.

“But wouldn’t it also be great to go back when the families are there,” I replied, my eyes once again rolling upwards towards the lofty plateau behind us, already dreaming of a high summer return.

 

Alan Palmer is author of Moroccan Atlas, the Trekking Guide (Trailblazer Publications). His passion for the Atlas Mountains led him to set up his company Trek in Morocco, recently re-launched as Yak Travel, which offers bespoke treks and tours throughout Morocco for individuals and small groups, including treks across the Yagour Plateau and many more besides.

For more from Alan on trekking in Morocco, click here.

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