Bouiblane and Moussa ou Salah

جبل بويبلان

On the plateau, just above Sefrou.

In the nineteen sixties, there was no paved road to the foot of Bouiblane. Today there may be one, at least part way, and perhaps the slopes have been developed for skiing. I believe that the French, during the Protectorate, skied there. In 1968, the way in, whether you came from Sefrou or Taza, was by mountain tracks. Streams flooded the pistes, rockfalls blocked them, and in the cold months, snow on them increased the danger of slipping off the road, and potentially down some very steep slopes.

Travelling from Oujda to Taza, Bouiblane is visible from the plains of the lower Moulouya, and, of course, from the air.

The long crest is particularly evident from Taza. Aerial view.

Bouiblane also is visible from the region of Fes. The mountain was visible from my rooftop in Sefrou. It was my Kanchenjunga, and Sefrou, perhaps, my Darjeeling. Not the ominous looming presence of Kanchenjunga of the nuns of Black Narcissus, but a friendly, steady presence. The mountain beckoned. It was impossible to resist the temptation to see it up close. Ahermoumou offered a belvedere and a grand view, but at the price of a drive.

Jbel Bouiblane and Moussa ou Salah from Ahermoumou.

Climbing the stairs to the roof of my house was far easier. In the twilight on clear winter days, Bouiblane slopes slowly turned pink, as the kestrels living in the city wall did a few more acrobatics before disappearing into their holes for the night.

Bouiblane in twilight from the roof of my house in Sefrou.

And so we off we went, Gaylord Barr and myself, on one winter weekend, on the route de Bouiblane. I had been assigned one of the Peace Corps Willys jeeps.

Stopping to talk with farmers on route to Sefrou.

Strictly speaking I was not supposed to use it for tourism. And I was very good about that generally speaking. I used buses and taxis to go back and forth to my job in the Ministry of Agriculture in Fes, for example. The jeep would have made the commute much shorter and more convenient, but most of the time I read and enjoyed the commute. In restrospect, though, I wish I had used the jeep much more for touring my corner of Morocco. I never went to Erfoud and Merzouga to see the dunes, though I saw plenty crossing the Algerian Sahara after leaving the Peace Corps.
Gaylord and I set off with no good plan in mind. I think we knew that there was a forestry station or an old ski chalet at Taffert. It was probably mentioned in the Guide Bleu. We took some food and sleeping bags in any case, and made pretty good progress until the last 15 or 20 kilometers, where we began to encounter snow on the road. The jeep had off the road tires. They were not much good on snow. Coming around a long, deep curve, the jeep began to slide toward the edge of the road where there was nothing but a steep slope. Luckily I recovered control. From that point, we slowed down considerably. We also began to wonder how we would get back if it snowed overnight. We didn’t have a weather forecast, but the skies were clear, and, foolishly optimistic, we continued. It certainly would have been embarrassing to get stuck there.

Not long after the slipping and sliding incident, the road leveled out and paralleled the mountain crest. We picked up a local man and he rode all the way to Taffert, where, after thanking us, he wrapped his sandaled feet in rags, and made straight up the mountain toward the pass at the western end of Bouiblane, referred to as Tizi Bouzabel. A dirt road goes through it, and I imagine that once he was over the pass there was less snow and the going got easier. The sun was setting and it was getting colder, so we wished him well and he wasted no time. He was up and over before the sun set.

Gaylord and shepherd’s dog at Taffert.

There was a guardian at Taffert, but the building, though substantial, was dilapidated, and there was no fire to temper the cold. I reckon it wasn’t used much at the time. I don’t recall electricity either.

A view from the cedars of Taffert, just before sunset.

So we ate and went to sleep in our sleeping bags.
The next morning was grey and overcast, and the mountain, covered with snow, looked a bit menacing. We were still worried about the road conditions, so we left early and returned home. There were no problems but we drove cautiously.
The next trip was with Louden and his wife, Ginny, and their dog, Pigpen. We didn’t get very far past Ahermoumou.

The track was muddy and snowy, and the streams, with enough water to flow over the crossings, had to be forded. I think we gave up when faced by more serious snow. Pigpen loved the trip, a real change of pace from his yard in Rabat.

Jeep with Louden and Ginny and the dog, Pigpen.

That trip set the stage for the next. Don Brown, then an administrator, and formerly a Peace Corps volunteer in Oujda, had always wanted to climb Bouiblane, which he had frequently seen on trips back and forth to Oujda. Now we had a newer Jeep. Louden was there, along with a volunteer, John Paulas. Gaylord and I filled out the roster. It was spring and we started out very early.

Louden and Don, early stop on piste. Bouiblane on horizon.

There was no problem getting to Taffert aside from some fallen rocks.

A minor rockfall, Louden, Gaylord, and John.

I don’t remember whether we went on our hikes immediately.

The refuge at Taffert

I think Don, Louden, Gaylord, and John were set on getting to the summit of Moussa ou Salah. For whatever reason, I think it was weather, I decided that a shorter hike made more sense. I think I suspected that there wasn’t enough time. I climbed the little pinnacle to the left of the Tizi Bouzabel, directly above the refuge at Taffert, and was rewarded with some great views.

Looking east along the ridge of Bouiblane, toward Moussa ou Salah.
scan-110212-0029-1
Looking to the southeast, Jbel Bou Naceur, the culminating point of the eastern end of the Middle Atlas.

The others soon found out the obvious, that the crest of Bouiblane was a very long slog, and only took them to the saddle between Bouiblane and Moussa ou Salah.

Louden heading toward the ridge.
On the ridge.
Snowfield along the main crest.
Louden and his bota.
Clouds settle in toward the end of the day. Moussa ou Salah still far off.

From that point, they could see clearly that the summit of Moussa ou Salah was higher, but it was very late and they were tired, so they returned defeated. The next day it was foggy at Taffert so we returned home via the Sefrou track.

Gaylord and Don at Taffert.

This set the stage for two more attempts, both via the Taza track. Louden and John returned. Maybe Louden will elaborate if he reads this post, but I think he or John told me that that they went up in moonlight. It is only about a three or four hour climb, so perhaps they witnessed a sunrise, which would have been awesome. It’s always great to be on a big mountain at sunrise and sunset. In the Alps, this is often the plan as you want to be down and out of range of the rocks that hurdle down the snowfields in the warming sun of the afternoon. If you ever experience the sound that these projectiles make, you will never forget it.

Maine people await the first sunrise in the Lower 48 from Cadillac Mountain or, much more rarely, Mount Katahdin. I witnessed a sunset from Toubkal, but paid for it, descending through a damp and cold mist.

Tadat, from the shoulder of Toubkal.

I also saw a sunset descending the west ridge of Angour, and another from the summit of Tichoukt. One of my favorite sunsets, though, was from the summit of Pic du Midi de Bigorre, which resulted in a long, long moonlit walk down to a ski place in La Mongie. My companion and I were lucky it was a warm night, and the receptionist was surprised that we arrived at the nearly deserted ski resort without a car! We tried hitching, but very few cars were crossing the Col du Tourmalet that night, and none of them was interested in picking up hitchhikers in the dark.

france pyrenees pic de midi
Sunset from Pic du Midi de Bigorre. August, 1965.

In May of 1970 I finally got my chance at Moussa ou Salah, when a group of staff and volunteers took a couple of jeeps in from Taza.

Taza lies in the valley between the Rif to the north and the Middle Atlas to the south. The spot marks an historic invasion route to Morocco.

The views from the drive to the base of the mountain were often beautiful.

Moussa ou Salah from Taza piste.
Moussa ou Salah from the Taza piste. May, 1970.
Moussa ou Salah and Bouiblane in twilight.

We camped overnight and climbed the next morning. The views from the summit of Moussa ou Salah were nothing special. There was a cairn on the summit. Was it a burial spot for a local holy man?

Summit cairn or grave with Bou Naceur in distance
.
Summit ridge of Bouiblane, Tizi Bouzabel, and cedar forest at Taffert in the valley. I should have entitled this post, “I’ve looked at Bouiblane from both sides now…”

I think John Paulas and some Peace Corps trainees later climbed Bou Naceur, visible from the summit of Moussa ou Salah, probably in the summer. That must have been a long, hot and dry ascent. There is not a lot of water on any of Morocco’s mountains in the summer.

Morocco is such a beautiful country!

Bouiblane and Bou Naceur from the summit of Tichoukt

Love in Times of War

1324DE3E-5B92-4A6E-9F97-2312A975B4E2
Chauen at dusk, 1977.

Here in America, Netflix has just premiered a Spanish series, Love in Times of War, which takes place in Morocco in the nineteen twenties, during the Rif uprising by Abdelkrim. Filmed in Morocco, much of the series is situated in the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

Not well known outside of Morocco, except in Spain, the Rif rebellion was an unmitigated military disaster for the Spanish, and an episode of Moroccan history that showcases Berber resistance in the North, never a popular subject with the Makhzen, the Moroccan government. The Rif remains a region where the government is unpopular and its rule is heavy handed.

The Rif War was marked with corruption and incompetence, and fought with conscripts so poor they sometimes sold their weapons for food and clothing. Against common sense, the Spanish set up a series of forts extending west from Melilla, through the dry hills and rugged mountains of the Rif. Many were located in spots without permanent water sources. In the hot summer of 1921, the Riffians, after warning the Spanish not to advance deeper into their territory, struck simultaneously along the line and cut off each fort from resupply. The rout in the battle of Annual is immortalized in the Spanish novel by Arturo Barea, The Track (La Ruta), part of his larger work, The Forging of a Rebel. Over 13,000 Spanish soldiers died, and for a long time afterwards the Spanish army was confined to Melilla. Barea sought asylum in Britain after the civil war, and his wife and friends helped him translate his autobiographical novel into English. An interesting footnote to this story, Barea lost the Spanish copy after the translation. The Spanish version of his book, La forja de un rebelle, is a translation of its English translation.

In only two battles of the war, the Spanish suffered casualties of roughly 30,000 men. The next disaster was Chauen.

7AE272F6-FA7E-4C96-9082-F2963F23F0CE
City gate, Chauen..

In the retreat from Chauen in 1924, with the weather turning bad and fear that the army would be trapped in the mountains without supplies for the winter, the Spanish attempted withdraw to Tetuan through narrow mountain valleys with poor roads.

morocco chauen rain
Chauen. During the rainy season.

The weather was rainy and the road turned into mud. The Riffians waited until the Spanish column was strung out, then attacked along its whole length.

morocco rif road to chauen
Road between Chauen and Tetuan.

It was a slaughter for the Spanish and a major victory for Abdelkrim. Franco was an officer involved in the debacle. Indeed, Spanish Morocco might be seen as the incubator for the Spanish Civil War.

morocco rif m abdeslem chauen road
Rif viewed from Jbel Alam. The Chauen-Tetuan road runs in the valley below.

Abdelkrim’s succes was also his downfall. The French, deciding that he had become a threat to their interests, intervened massively, put down the rebellion, and sent Abdelkrim into exile.

My first encounter with the Rif was early in my Peace Corps service. My job often took me to the pre-Rif as Fes Province extended north.

morocco moulay boucha ruins
Pre-Rif seen from ruins of old fortress near Moulay Bouchta.

By the winter of 1968, I was sharing a house in the Sefrou medina (old city) with another volunteer, Gaylord Barr. He had decided that he needed a 35mm SLR. He had brought over an 8 mm movie camera from home, but found it insufficient. I had been taking color slides, and he wanted to do the same. We decided to hitchhike to Ceuta from Fes. Ceuta was a free port: no taxes. The route was straightforward, north of Fes, along the western edge of Rif Mountains. It went through the hilly country of the pre-Rif, where I occasionally worked, and by Chauen to Tetuan.

2010-05-08 15.03.08
Typical pre-Rif houses.
2011-01-17 11.45.46
In the winter, the houses kept you warm and dry, but the roads turned into mud where they were not improved.
morocco panorama rif copy
The Rif seen from the pre-Rif. Road north of Fes.

We did it in one, harrowing ride. It really was a dark and stormy night. There were rockfalls along the route from the recent earthquake and all the usual mudslides from the winter rains, and the driver had been drinking!

scan-110326-0026
Erosion and heavy winter rains played havoc with the roads. Here in the pre-Rif a bus is being extracted. This was a common scene in the sixties.
morocco rif pano 2
In the heart of the Rif, near Ketama. So much marijuana is grown here that all over southern Spain air samples show marijuana pollen.
morocco chauen
Chauen from the Tetuan to Fes road.

The ride was scary, but we arrived safely in Tetuan and Gaylord got his new camera in Ceuta. Sadly, it got lost on the train crossing Algeria in 1971. Gaylord was a good photographer, but most of his Moroccan slides seem to have been lost.

If you decide to watch Love in Times of War, perhaps you may reflect on the drama playing outside of Melilla today. NPR just feature the story of an African migrant trying to get past the fences and barriers, hoping for refugee status.

In the This American Life program, look for this reportage:

https://www.thisamericanlife.org/641/the-walls/act-one-1

Just Another Kind of Outdoor Game

ByDavid Kestenbaum
There are two tiny Spanish towns on the African continent protected by multiple layers of razor wire, cameras and guards. A man from Cameroon tells producer David Kestenbaum about his attempt to get through the obstacle course and onto European soil. (19 minutes)

The Pillars of Hercules

enlight117
The Strait of Gibraltar. Looking toward the Mediterranean. The city of Fes is barely visible at the bottom left. Tangier, Tetouan, and Algeciras and Ceuta are clearly visible. Volubilis is slightly to the northwest of Fes. NASA photo.
woman 3
I love this passage. A god’s view of the Mediterranean, as I recently commented on another blog. Too bad the rest of Wilder’s novel wasn’t as interesting.

Morocco might be called an outlier. Until modern times, it has always been a place on the marches. It has always existed on the edge of large empires, but it was never part of them. Arabic historians traditionally referred to Morocco as the place of the Farthest Sunset (المغرب الأقصى), where the sun set in the Atlantic, an immense, unknown ocean.

The Phoenicians set up trading posts in Morocco. They were more traders than colonists or empire builders, though in Carthage, in the middle of the Mediterranean, they produced an empire that rivaled and threatened Rome.

The Romans had client states in the north of Morocco, where Rome eventually took full control during the Empire, but it left most of Atlantic Morocco untouched. The Byzantines had only nominal control, and the Ottomans never got past Algeria.

Some Moroccan dynasties reached across North Africa and into Spain, but none were long lived. The Mediterranean world was focused on the basin of its sea, and had its own dynamics. Morocco had an inhospitable Mediterranean coast with mountains crowding the shore. Most of the country, and its richest agricultural lands, faced the Atlantic. Morocco was barely part of the Mediterranean, the world of the “sea between the lands.” Mare Nostrum, our sea, the Romans called it, because it indeed was theirs at the height of Rome’s power.

The natural continuation of Morocco is Spain, not the Sahara or the rest of Africa. Only 15 kilometers wide, the Strait of Gibraltar can be crossed in one-half hour by car ferry. The Strait of Gibraltar posed few difficulties for the Vandals, who invaded Morocco in Byzantine times or for the Arabs and Berbers who invaded the Iberian peninsula a bit later. Today it poses few problems today for migrants swarming into Europe.

morocco straitsspain copy
In the distance, about eight miles away is Spain as seen from Morocco.

After the Spanish Reconquista, the Strait took on a new role as a moat, protecting from invasions, much like the English Channel protected England. It separated Christian Europe from Muslim Africa. The Spanish and Portuguese tried to establish toeholds on the African continent, but ultimately were repulsed except at Ceuta and Melilla.

morocco ksar esseghir bones copy
Burial in the Portuguese fortress of Ksar es-Seghir. This toehold didn’t last long.
morocco spain straits copy 2
On the left, the tip of Gibraltar, on the right, Jbel Musa and Ceuta. The Mediterranean is in the distance.

Barbary pirates harassed European ships, but technology favored the Europeans. Now technology enables migrants, desperate for work and a better life, to cross cheaply and relatively easily into Europe.

As European sea power grew, the Mediterranean Sea became even more inhospitable. Morocco’s connections to the east were more and more by land, and there were no longer roads as in a Roman times, but only horse and camel tracks until the advent of steam ships and cheap air travel put the Hajj within the means of those better of means.

Trade continued via new routes. The British brought tea, and Queen Anne style teapots. But despite trade connections, Morocco became more and more landlocked until the twentieth century, when the French seized control and established a protectorate, a system under which the Moroccan sultan was relegated to a ceremonial role, which the French ran the colonial government as their own interests dictated. With independence and modern technology, the isolation is broken forever, for better and for worse.

When I lived in Morocco, I always thought of it as a backwater, and I suspect many Moroccans, proud as they were of their country, may have felt some inferiority. Important events in the Arab world took place in the east. Important history in Maghreb had taken place in Al-Andalus. The greatest monuments of western Islamic Art are in Al-Andalus.

None of this is said to disparage Morocco, which is a place I love dearly, but simply a recognition that Morocco is an outlier, and has been for a very long time. Yet another example, Morocco was one of the first, if not the first, countries to recognize the new United States.

If someone asked me where to see the ruins of a Roman city in North Africa, I would say, without hesitation, Timgad in Algeria or Leptis Magna in Libya. Perhaps I would suggest that they go to El Djem in Tunisia, and visit the largest arena outside of Rome. If western Islamic architecture were their interest, I would suggest going to Córdoba to walk under the superimposed, multicolored arches and through the marble columns of the Mezquita, and then go to Granada, to wander through the rooms of the Alhambra and the gardens of the Generalife. I once did that at night. The palace was dimly lit, and virtually empty. It was as close as I could ever get to Washington Irving’s vision. You would be fortunate, indeed, to have that experience today.

scan-110109-0111 copy
The Court of the Lions, in the Alhambra palace.

Still, there are virtues that arise from being off the beaten track. Morocco’s most important Roman site is Volubilis, a short drive from Fes, north of the Massif of Zerhoun, just a short distance from the town of Moulay Idriss. The Arab leader, Moulay Idriss established the first dynasty in Morocco at Volubilis, before building his capital a short distance away, partly from stones quarried from the Roman city. After the fall of Roman, it was common practice to reuse stone from the abandoned Roman cities.

tunisia kairouan minaret door copy
The base of the Great Mosques at Kairouan. Note the block with Latin inscriptions to the left of the door.

Today there is a large shrine devoted to him.

morocco my idriss
The town of Moulay Idris. The green tiles roofs cover the shrine of the founder of Morocco’s first Arab dynasty.

When I visited Volubilis in the late sixties and mid-seventies it was virtually without tourists, even on weekends.

morocco volubilis road
The road leading to the site was a dirt track, in the middle of wheat fields

One could wander through the ruins, step into and out of Roman houses, climb the forum stairs, and do it all in complete freedom, with no crowds to distract from the quiet of the place.

morocco volubilis forum
The forum. Moulay Idris can be seen in the fold of the hills in the background.
enlight102
Emperor for a day. The forum at Volubilis. 1968.

Tourist facilities were limited to a tiny cafe that served simple, but delicious, food.

enlight114-1
Dining at the little cafe, Peace Corps volunteer Gaylord Barr. Spring, 1968.

It may be different today when Morocco has twice as many inhabitants and the tourism industry has grown substantially, but then it was a place lost in time and space. The city of Volubilis, wrecked by earthquakes, quarried for building materials, seemed to float over the rich agricultural lands that surrounded it, a stone oasis.

enlight106-1
Volubilis. The main thoroughfare.

One could wander through it, dreaming of the life and people of that ancient place, reflect on history and the passage of time, and do it alone, in the quiet of the countryside.

enlight108-1
Mosaic floor of a house.
enlight104-1
House of the dolphins.

There were no guards to remind you to keep to the path. There were no tourists to jostle you. You were really alone.

enlight109-1
Many houses had mosaics, a testimony to the town’s wealth.
enlight107-1
This mosaic depicts the labors of Hercules.
enlight110-1
Some of the animals that formerly were found in North Africa.

Volubilis was not a big or important center. It was an outlier. It grew to prominence just before the Empire entered its long decline. Still, to a young person, new to North Africa, it was a truly magical spot.

enlight115
Main Street, leading to a former gate in the city wall.

There are many other places to see larger and better preserved triumphal arches.

enlight101-2
Triumphal Arch. Volubilis.

There are larger, better preserved, and much finer mosaics elsewhere.

enlight111-1
When wet, the mosaics show their colors.

There are spectacular aqueducts, great temples, immense baths, and fantastic amphitheaters scattered all over the Mediterranean. Volubilis lacks all that, but at Volubilis you felt and heard the wind, and you breathed the scent of the fields around you, while the only footsteps that echoed from the 2,000-year old stones were your own.

enlight105
The Wind. Note that the modern labels were not in the best condition in 1968.

Traveling on fumes

 

france montpellier le peyrou night 2 copy
Le Peyrou. A public park in Montpellier where an aqueduct terminates. Lighted is the Château d’eau. The equestrian statue is of Louis XIV.

Traveling on fumes

In the early autumn of 1965, I was in a junior year abroad program in Montpellier, France, that is to say, the third year of a typical American college four-year undergraduate education. I had been been living at the cité universitaire, but the French regular school year was beginning and my program, coordinated by the Experiment in International Living, was about to place me with a French family in Castelnau-le-Lez.

scan-110127-0009-1
Parking and the student dining hall at the cité universitaire. Montpellier.

I never clicked with my host family. I hope that they haven’t judged all Americans by my behavior. I’m sure that they were happy to get rid of me by late December. They were kind to take me in and care for me for almost three months.

france montpellier remi jouy
Rémi Jouty in Castelnau-le-Lez. Today he heads France’s air transportation investigative agency (BEA). In his yard.

There was a week or two between the two very different living arrangements, and the students in my program, eager to explore Europe, all went off traveling here and there. My initial goal was to visit a friend in Finland and my method of travel was hitchhiking. I had done a fair amount of hitchhiking in the U.S. and Canada with no bad experiences, so it did not seem unreasonable. I also had an interest in visiting college friends in Freiburg, Germany, who were participating in a similar program in Germany.

The day I left Montpellier, I hitched up the Rhône valley, and took a train to Freiburg.

enlight89
Freiburg, Germany.

I did not speak German, and was greeted with a huffy “Speak German!”at the Goethe Institute, while I tried to explain that I was simply looking for friends, and knew little German. After I found them, I spent a pleasant afternoon visiting the cathedral and walking about. It was autumn and the weather was gorgeous.

germany freibourg cathedral copy
Freiburg’s cathedral.

That evening I ate with the German family hosting my friends. Their little blond daughter Kiki conveniently found a photo of Hitler decorating her father, who had been a fighter pilot, and after the war became a newspaper publisher. I suppose that you have to be good and lucky to survive the war as a fighter pilot. I remember the poignant scene in The Ginger Tree when the protagonist has shipped out of Japan as WW II begins, and, at a port somewhere, maybe Singapore, she finally meets her son, the son taken away from her because he was illegitimate and her lover was a nobleman. She utters the hope that they might meet again after the war, and he replies simply, with soft regret, that he is a fighter pilot. Nevertheless, I have always wondered about that photo, and why pride would overrule good taste in showing it to foreigners.

My friends and their host were all going to Austria, so the next morning I had to decide what I would do. I decided that Finland was simply too far, so I grabbed a train to Basel, then went on to spend a couple of days in the Berner Oberland.

I stayed in Interlochen in a nearly empty hostel with two British kids from Rhodesia, who made efforts to explain to me how no one knew the real story of what was happening in their country. Their story was that of the colonists who supported PM Ian Smith government’s unilateral declaration of independence from Britain. Smith was a fighter pilot, too.

48332AC7-31F8-49FC-AE11-ADCD9670EB28
Chapel in Wengen with Jungfrau looming.

It was 1965, the centenary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn.

switzerland wengen singrs
Wengen. A local group performs.

From there I hitched to Zermatt, over the Grimsel Pass. It was late in the fall and I was probably lucky to get over.

enlight83-1
Zermatt. The Matterhorn pokes through the low , thin clouds and leaves a long shadow.

I spent a day in Zermatt, admiring the Matterhorn. It was October. The larches had turned color, and the forests were beautiful.

switzerland matterhorn 5
The Matterhorn

After Zermatt, I followed the Rhône down the Valais through Martigny, crossed into France and stayed in Chamonix, where I took the cable car to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi.

france chamonix main drag
Main Street. Chamonix.

I strongly recommend that ride, which I got to do again a few years later, but in October, under early morning, clear skies, I was lucky not to get frostbite at the 12,605 ft summit. The view would have been worth it.

france chamonix brevent cable car copy
The Aiguille du Midi is the peak on the far left. The much shorter Brévent cable car, which climbs the side of the valley I am on, is visible.

Continuing south and west in France, I passed Grenoble and got as far as Romans. At that point, it was dark and I had about $1.50. Luckily my last ride left me at a kind of youth hostel, where I ate and slept for the equivalent of $1.20. The next morning, I bought a loaf bread at the local bakery, and got back on the road. I still had more than a hundred miles to go to get back to Montpellier. I was a little worried, but confident I could do it that day.

The start was rough. The morning was clear and very cold. It was October after all. It took a couple of hours to get from Romans to Valence, only a few kilometers distant from each other. At Valence, I reckoned that I could look for rides on the old Route Nationale 7, which handled most of the north-south traffic in France, and once there, my luck immediately improved. The first car that picked me up had two Frenchmen going to Montpellier. The driver had never been there before. His sister had given him directions that referenced “l’œuf”, the egg, and he couldn’t find it on the map he had. Well, the egg referred to the big, marble egg shaped square in Montpellier, which even I knew since it was the site of the municipal theater, a big department store, and a number of cafés, one of which I had frequented for coffee and games of pinball (“flipper”). I was elated to be able to help him.

enlight85-1
The Three Graces adorned the center of the Egg. They are still there, but there is no longer vehicular traffic and the egg is now part of a pedestrian plaza. The cirrus clouds were real.
france montpellier loeuf la nuit
The munipal theater also faced the Egg. Y’a bon was a café I frequented with other students.

As we drew closer, I mentioned that we weren’t far from Pont du Gard, a remnant of the ancient Roman aqueduct that brought water to Nîmes. This is a national treasure and the French guys were interested enough to detour so we could visit it. I was in heaven. I hadn’t seen it, and it was far enough out of Nîmes, which is very close to Montpelier, to be difficult to visit without a car or a tour group.

france pont du gard 3 copy
Pont du Gard carried an aqueduct to Nîmes in Roman times, from springs more than 30 miles from the city. In modern times, Nîmes has lent its name to the cloth produced there that became known in English as denim.

In the sixties, one could still drive across the bridge that was added to the aqueduct in modern times, and, in fact, we did drive across it.

I have been back to Pont du Gard a couple of times since then. In 2000, I took my wife there at the end of a very long day. We started in Carcassonne, visited Maguelone and Palavas, had a great lunch of mussels in Aiguës Mortes, where we walked along the entire length of the city wall, and finally visited the Roman amphitheater in Nîmes.

france nimes arena
The arena in Nîmes. It held 20,000 people and it could be emptied in 15 minutes through entrances and exits designed so that the different social classes wouldn’t have to mix.

Nîmes and Arles both have arenas, which are still in use, and the region is full of Roman ruins. David Macaulay used Nîmes as his inspiration for his kids book, City, which illustrates in pictures how a Roman city might have been built.

enlight92
The Maison Carrée, a Roman temple in Nîmes that Thomas Jefferson used as inspiration for the Virginia State House.

The arenas are still in use. I saw a bullfight in Nîmes, but that was years ago.

france nimes bullfight 1
A bull fight in the arena at Nîmes. The word arena comes from the Greek work for sand, which was spread over the floor, partly to absorb blood from the combats. Hence Ibáñez’s famous novel, Sangre y arena.

It was nearly sunset when we got to Pont du Gard. I thought Liz would have been exhausted by then, but she found the site so interesting that we didn’t leave until after sunset. Pont du Gard is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There was a downside. It was the day after Easter. I might have been smart enough to know what the “ouef” was when I was twenty, but years later I still didn’t know that the Monday after Easter is a holiday in France. We had no reservations and drove for miles, late into the night, before we could find a hotel that had accommodations, and it turned out to be one of the worst I have ever stayed in anywhere in the world!

I should have learned a lesson about hitchhiking without money, but it was only a couple of years later that I found myself hitching back from Mexico where some friends had taken me to Ensenada.

scan-110117-0017-1
The harbor of Ensenada, Mexico.

On an access ramp to the freeway in San Diego, a California State trouper stopped and gave me a ticket. It was Christmas Day, and I surely felt like saying “Thank you for the present, and Merry Christmas to you, too, Officer,” but I only had a nickel in my pocket, and could have landed in jail charged with vagrancy. A bit later, a car entering the freeway did pick me up, and I got back to Hemet, over a hundred miles away, safe and sound, the nickel still in my pocket.

Hitchhiking was a mode of travel that I relied upon for a while when I was young and poor. A childhood friend and I crossed Canada and went down the Pacific coast in the summer of 1964. In 1971, I crossed the Algerian Sahara, though that wasn’t strictly speaking hitchhiking, and traveled around West Africa.

At that time hitchhiking wasn’t easy in West Africa, but it made for some memorable experiences. Heading to Lomé in Togo, we got picked up by an American. When I asked him way he did, he said he worked for Cadillac. I asked him increduolusly, if many people in Togo could afford Cadillacs, and he laughed and replied that he sold armored troop carriers made by the General Motors Cadillac division, not the cars.

More on those trips later. My last serious hitchhiking trip involved traveling with an archaeology group to southern Utah, then hitchhiking north to Salt Lake City, then west to Reno and north along the eastern edge of the Sierras to Susanville, then across California to Eureka on the coast. That was in 1972, and I haven’t hitchhiked since. The eastern edge of the Sierras was remote and beautiful, and reminded me of the Middle Atlas mountains near Azrou.

Maybe those trips are worth a blog post.

Trip to Spain

1AA75078-597A-463F-B77A-33A17FAF9331
Morocco to the south of France. Fes is to the north of the snowy uplands in the right of the photo, and Brive-la-Gaillarde is under clouds at the top center or maybe slightly off the photo. NASA satellite.

The Trip to Spain

If you’re a movie fan, and, in particular, a Brit, you may be thinking Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, but this blog post is more mundane and less amusing, and it also lacks the sadder, darker undercurrents of their comedies.

In a Walk above the woods I mentioned that Peace Corps vacation policy for Morocco volunteers was basically travel within Morocco, or anywhere in Africa, or Spain. Most of us had numerous opportunities to travel within Morocco, and, much as we loved Morocco, many of us wanted a change of scenery, and, perhaps, a bit more freedom. Algeria was officially considered a hostile country, so a visit there was out. That was unfortunate, because the Algerian people were friendly and happy to meet Americans, and Algeria is full of interesting places to visit. Airfare to the rest of Africa, or, to Europe for that matter, was limited and expensive. Spain ended up the place of choice by default. According to the Peace Corps, the cultural affinities and mutual histories made Spain a perfect visit. Some volunteers discovered even quieter and cheaper vacations in Portugal, but many of us went to Spain.

What you did in Spain depended a lot on your personality. Did you want to see historical sites, major cities, Islamic monuments? Lounge on the beaches, eat tapas in the bars, look for romance? Ski or hike the mountains? Appreciate art? Catch a recent movie? Spain already had an enviable tourist infrastructure, and the south coast had become an important destination for British pensioners. Spaniards were friendly and accommodating, and the food and wine was great.

And what you could do depended on where you went. Ceuta or Melilla were for duty free shopping and a visit could be as short as an afternoon or an overnight.

enlight80-2
Ceuta. Fishing boats. Monte Hecho in background

If you lived near these enclaves, they were only a bus ride away! The peseta was cheap, and the hotels were inexpensive.

spain morocco ceuta-1
Ceuta. The harbor and town at dusk

Once in Spain, the possibilities were unlimited. If you were going to peninsular Spain, you could take ferries from Tangier to Algeciras or Malaga. You could also go to Gibraltar, but during much of my stay in Morocco, Gibraltar, because of Spanish territorial claims, was blockaded, and you could not get into Spain from the Rock. The shortest, cheapest route was Ceuta to Algeciras on the passenger/car ferry. It only took an hour and a half. Once in Algeciras, the train would take you north to any big city.

One summer I took my vacation in Chamonix.

france chamonix street mt blanc
Downtown Chamonix. 1965. You could still encounter Gaston Rébuffat in the cafés.
france chamonix statue
The Appalachian Mountain Club statue dedicated to the first ascent of Mont Blanc. The beginning of modern mountaineering. Of course, the Brits and the Swiss like to talk about the first ascent of the Matterhorn. A number of other alpine clubs contributed to this statue of Balmat and de Saussure 

This was, of course, against the rules, but I didn’t care. It was 1970. Perhaps the rules had even changed by then. The downside of making stupid rules is that no one pays much attention to them. Most organizations, even the most benevolent, have a penchant for making stupid rules.

The French had a special program for kids and young adults under the auspices of the Union Nationale des Centres de Plein Air. You could spend a couple of weeks learning and participating in just about any summer sport imaginable. The French government subsidized it heavily. During the previous year, I had been corresponding with a member from a Club Alpin Français section in the Pyrenees, and he suggested that I try it. I love the Pyrenees, and hope to return while I can still walk, but I chose Chamonix over the Pyrenees (and other Alps sites), because, frankly, Chamonix was more historical (the place where French climbing was born) and more spectacular (the highest mountain in Western Europe, and lots of high, vertical granite rising amid glaciers). I spent a month there, something I could never have done on my very limited Peace Corps budget if I hadn’t been subsidized by the French Government. Remerciements à l’UNCP!

switzerland saas fee allalinhorn
Ascent of the Allalinhorn, above Saas Fée. Another nice thing about Chamonix is its location on the border of Switzerland and Italy. This is Switzerland, of course. The Valais is separated by a low pass from the valley of Chamonix. The border control didn’t even ask where I was from or check my passport. He assumed I was French.
italy mont blanc
Mont Blanc at dawn from the Italian side. Courmayeur is in the valley below. Far below! We got here, above the Val d’Aosta, through the Mount Blanc tunnel, and stayed at the Italian Torino refuge on Point Helbronner. No longer remember what peak we are on in this photo. We did several easy climbs in the area.
switzerland alps me
My young self, Elizabeth, and Jean (French members of the cordée. The Matterhorn is off in the distance.
france chamonix lunch
Déjeuner sur l’herbe, alpine style. After a traverse of one of the minor “aiguilles.” I think the Aiguilles Rouges may be across the valley.

I will be forever grateful, too, and I am happy to learn that the UNCPA still exists after all these years. Thus I spent a month living with a group of fifty or so French kids, roughly my age, and I had a ball. It was co-ed. We were housed in comfortable chalets. In the mountain refuges, when the weather was bad, we ate, told jokes, and played cards

enlight82
The chalet in Chamonix, between hikes. We lived in a communal atmosphere, but most of the time we were outside. It really was a centre de plein air.

The food was fine, as you might imagine, certainly far better than French cité universitaire cuisine. This was a holiday in France! Would anyone tolerate bad food? Ben dieu!

enlight81
Dinner in one of the huts above Chamonix. I think we were climbing the Pétit Pélérin. Wine, bread, cheeses, and lots of good company. The sun is setting over the mountains to the west.
switzerland saas fee climb 1
Above Saas Fée. In Switzerland.

Now if you are wondering what this has to do with Spain, remember that I was living poor and had few resources. I figured I could save and scrape up enough for the train trip, but fortune shined. Jean, a young French kid from Brive-la-Gaillarde, had been touring North Africa in his Peugeot 404, and was passing through Fes just about the time I was about to leave. He was hoping to find someone to share expenses and driving as he returned home. How he found me, I don’t recall, but there weren’t that many foreigners in Fes, and I worked there. He met someone who knew me and knew that I needed to get to France.

We drove up to Ceuta or Tangier and crossed to Algeciras. It was late, and we were tired and we spread our sleeping bags out on the beach facing refineries in La Linéa.

gibraltar air view copy-1
Gibraltar. On the left is the bay of Algeciras, in the distance, La Linéa

I would not try this today when crime in the region is a problem. Even then, though it was summer, it was damp and uncomfortable and the lights of the towers and burning gas lit up the beach with an unappealing industrial glow. The next day we drove up the coast, taking time to swim in the Mediterranean before turning inland.

spain mediterranean coast-1
North of Malaga. 1969.
spain mediterranean coast swimming-1
A dip in the Mediterranean before a long dry day.

There were fewer roads, then, and even the main north-south routes were not very good. We skirted Madrid, and, after dark, pulled off the road into the stubble of a wheat field somewhere in Castile.

spain dawn castile field sleeping bag copy-1
My mummy bag in a field in Castile. Dawn.

The following day we continued north, stopping briefly in Burgos to admire the gothic cathedral.

spain burgos cathedral spire-1
A spire and part of the facade of Burgos Cathedral. One of the best of gothic cathedrals in Spain. Spain is a place of beautiful and varied architecture, but gothic is not Spain’s forte. Much of Spain was still Muslim during the high point of gothic architecture.
spain burgos cathedral knocker copy
Door knocker on the cathedral door. Burgos.

We crossed the French border at Irun and Hendaye. I had been there once before, when I lived in Pau.

enlight77-2
San Sebastián Harbor, near the border with France. 1965.
france spain border Pic du Midi d’Ossau. 1965.
Pic du Midi de Bigorre, seen from the Spanish border. Note the armed border guards on the hill. It was 1965 and Franco still ruled. You can see this mountain from Pau, 40 miles away, at the end of the valley of Laruns.

The Mediterranean weather gave way to that of the Atlantic, and, entering the pine forests of the Landes, it began raining. It was now dark and wet, and we were exhausted, so we found a small, inexpensive roadside hotel that had one room left, but with only a double bed. Sharing a bed with a stranger was odd, but not a problem: we were beat, and neither of us had slept in a bed for two days. Outside it rained.

When we got back on the road the next morning, we were fresh. For Jean it was the homestretch. Brive-la-Gaillarde was only a few hours away.

That day began with some excitement. The Peugeot was beat up, made a lot of noise, and needed brake work. About mid morning, we drew the attention of a gendarme, who directed us off route to a police station. The police, finding that we were returning from Morocco, were interested in whether we were carrying drugs, which we were not, and, after a short interrogation, they released us to continue on our way. The route continued through the Dordogne. I would have liked to stop, but Jean was tired and eager to be home. He had done his sightseeing in Africa. Once in Brive-la-Gaillarde, I caught a train to Chamonix.

I can never think of Brive-la-Gaillarde without hearing the Brassens song, Hécatombe, in my head. Its anarchist message resonated with my younger self, though I am happy that Brassens eventually made his peace with the police in a later song, L’épave. If you can understand French, you may, depending on your sensibilities, find the songs hilarious or offensive. According to Wikipedia, Hécatombe is now associated with Brive-la-Gaillarde throughout France! And, of course, every place in France has something named after Georges Brassens. Rightly so!

So that was another Peace Corps volunteer experience with Spain. The following summer I got a postcard from Jean, who was then touring the Middle East in his car, but we never stayed in touch, which I regret because I enjoyed his good company, and he really did me a big favor. The train ride home to Sefrou was far less interesting and totally uneventful. But Sefrou was home, then, and it felt good to be back.

What goes up…

scan-110117-0044 copy
Montpelier le Vieux, on the causes north of the city of Montpelier, France. Erosional remnants create a “city” of  towers, arches, and other stranger shapes. To repeat an old cowboy line from Bryce Canyon, “It’s a tough place to find a cow.”

Some people have a fear of heights, some of water, others of confinement, and so on. Luckily, I do not seem to have any of them. What I do have is a love of the outdoors and also of novelty. Therefore, as I discovered the mountain scenery of Morocco, I also looked to some of its underground sights. Caves are common where there is limestone, since they are generally formed when acidic ground water slowly dissolves the rock. Morocco has plenty of limestone, as well as the water to dissolve it.

Some parts of the Middle Atlas look much like the causes of southern France, just north of Montpelier, where scrub vegetation, la garrigue, covers the limestone uplands. A variety of erosional features are found there, including collapsed surfaces and caverns.

In Morocco, the karst topography of the area between Azrou and Sefrou is plainly evident in the several small lakes, without inlets or outlets, fed by underground streams.

morocco sefrou daia iffer tents copy
Daya Iffer, karst lake and Berber tents, south of Sefrou
morocco sefrou m atlas daya afrougagh sheep copy
Just south of Sefrou, Daya Afrouga, another karst lake, sheep drinking in the spring.

Springs are common, and sometimes they can be spectacular. The Ain Sebou, a large artesian spring which surfaces beside the Oued Sebou, is a good example. Diving into the cold, upswelling waters is an interesting experience.

Aïn Sebou. Notice how the clear water of the spring enters the muddy waters of the Oued Sebou,
scan-110115-0005 copy
The gorge of the Sebou, just upstream from the El Menzel road. The Ain Sebou, is farther up the river, before it becomes a deep gorge.

The clear spring water tumbles over a small ledge into the waters of the Oued Sebou, which are usually colored by sediment from runoff, and the contrast, before they mix, is striking.

scan-110329-0032 copy
The Oued Sebou, where it flows out of the hills down toward Fes and beyond. The Rif Mountains form the horizon.

For anyone not familiar with Morocco, the word oued is dialectical Arabic for a stream. In the Middle East, the word is wadi, and is used for dry valleys as well as rivers. In Spain, you might note that some of the large rivers bear toponymes beginning with Guad-, a prefix that was derived from Arabic, such as Guadalquivir (oued el-kebir) or “big river”. Even spoken in different languages, the name sounds virtually the same.

spain cordoba bridge and mosque
The Roman bridge across the Guadalquivir at Córdoba. The great mosque, la Mezquita, has a cathedral rising out of its center. It is said that after having given permission to build the cathedral, the Emperor Carlos V visited the site and was so taken by the beauty of the mosque that he commented  “…they have taken something unique in all the world and destroyed it to build something you can find in any city.”

In other places such as parts of the Rif Mountains, erosional remains such as natural bridges or even true caves give further evidence of water working on the limestone.

B3FA53D7-1758-4F27-8352-748A52C173C2
The natural bridge at Oued Lao seen from directly below. It was big enough to walk across in those days, maybe big enough for a mule or small car.
enlight75
The natural bridge seen from the stream, Oued Lao, far below. The water, emerging from springs, is crystal clear.

Morocco has not make much of the tourist potential of its natural caves, and most guide books only mention them in passing, if at all. Some of this scenery is just a bit too far off the tourist track or simply not grandiose enough. Nevertheless, living in northern Morocco, it provided plenty of interest to me and did not demand long or difficult travel.

The city of Taza sits in a place where the Rif and Middle Atlas Mountains come together, about 70 miles from Fes to the West. To the east are the plains of the Lower Moulouya River, and farther the Oujda and the Algerian border.

Just south of Taza, is Tazekka National Park. Originally created in 1950 to protect the isolated cedar forest on Jbel Tazekka, the park was later expanded significantly. Within it are two sets of caverns, Friouato and Chikker. The latter are considered to be spectacular, but require specialized equipment and spelunking experience. The former cave, first expored by the famous French caver, Norbert Casteret, was developed by the French for tourism, but by 1969 had pretty much fallen into disrepair. It extends several kilometers.

The terrain between Sefrou and the highlands south of Taza, is relatively low. One June evening as I sat on my roof in Sefrou the flashes of lightning from a big storm over Taza repeatedly lit up the mountain skyline. It was far too far to hear the thunder, and there was no rain in Sefrou, but the light show was spectacular.

One Saturday I set off with a couple of PCV architects from Fes to visit the Friouato Caverns. I don’t recall that the drive from a Taza was very long, and you exit it on a high plateau surrounded by hills.

morocco m atlas taza spelunking
These wide stairs lead up to a small entrance. They remind me a little of the entrance to the morlocks domain in The Time Machine. A portal to another world. The stalwart Willys Jeep is parked on the right.

Once at the entrance of the Friouato Caves, we found some rather plain and worn concrete steps leading down to a balcony looking into the first chamber which was about 400 feet deep.

morocco taza cave
This was the entrance in 1969 or 1970. Steps take you to a kind of window into the first chamber, lit by an aven.
taza. collapsed roof
The aven, created by collapse of the roof. 100 feet across, it illuminates the first chamber.

The room was illuminated by a huge aven (circular opening) about 100 feet wide. The view was impressive, but we had to ask ourselves, should we go further?

scan-110122-0072 copy
Friouato. The stone steps lead to iron steps fastened to the wall of the chamber. The bright spot is sunlight from the aven illuminating the wall below.

Descent into this deep pit was by iron steps that the French had secured to the wall. We tested them, and took a chance, slowly descending. The only life we saw was an owl that we flushed from a crevice in the mossy wall. Finally at the bottom, the aven was now just a small light, far above us.

morocco taza cave 2 copy
The aven illuminating the first chamber from below, but not yet at the bottom. I have another picture from the bottom where it is smaller. The chamber was 400 feet deep.

We searched for a passage, and found one. With our headlights now on, we descended through a hole, down dilapidated wooden ladders, through rooms with seemingly bottomless pools. There was no noise, except for dripping water. There were few stalactites and stalagmites, but the rooms were mysterious and interesting. We only stopped when it was clear that our headlamps were dimming. We had no exact idea of how far we had gone, but as we had no extra batteries, we hurried out. We had no map with us, and didn’t have any clue as to how huge the cave system was.

morocco taza caving
At the surface, in the afternoon. Dave and myself have just emerged.

The other cave I visited was Kef el-Ghar, which was in hilly land north of Taza, on the edge of the Rif mountains. From the distance, Kef el-Ghar is a dark elongated indentation in a mountain side. Entering it, we followed a rising, sandy path. At some point, we could feel bats flapping about, and, shortly after, I was disturbed to see a footprint of an animal, probably a dog or jackal. What was it doing, hundreds of feet into this cave, without any light to guide it? Despite the paw print, we saw no animals. The cave floor climbed and eventually we could feel the flow of air. After a narrow, winding passage, we emerged on the opposite side of the mountain. The cave pierced it!

On a dumber note, on the trip to Friouato described above, a dash board light indicated an electrical problem. I ignored it. So driving in the dark, mostly empty road between Taza and Fes, the old Willis Jeep abruptly stopped, and could not be started. The battery was dead. The problem was the alternator, and, without a charged battery, there was nothing to do. One of us had to hitch to Fes, about 45 miles away, find a tow truck, and have us towed back to Fes. It must have been 5 am when we got to Fes. That jeep was incredibly rugged and dependable, but when it needed an alternator, I didn’t listen, and paid the price. In 1968, it cost about $ 20 dollars to get towed all the way to Fes!

scan-110108-0037
Taza, in the twilight, looking North. The Rif mountains are in the distance. Taza is the choke point between the eastern plains and Algeria, and the rest of Morocco. If you invade Morocco by land, you must control Taza.

Look back at Angour

morocco high atlas touring 1morocco high atlas touring 2
Table d’oriention à Oukaimeden

About 50 miles from Marrakech, about 8,500 feet up in a small, shallow High Atlas valley, sits the ski resort of Oukaimeden.

morocco high atlas ouka pano 2
The ski center of Oukaimeden, 1976, from Angour

Developed by the French when France exercised political and economic control of Morocco, Oukaimeden appears to have languished despite a dramatic setting and special assets.

morocco high atlas ouka
Main ski trails, main lift goes to top at 10,500 feet

Part of the problem may be that it is a little too far from the major population centers, and its trails too challenging.

Only an hour from Fes and Meknes, and only about four hours from Rabat, the Middle Atlas resort of Michliffen and Jbel Henri offer convenience as well as easy trails in a stately, old growth cedar forest populated year-round by monkeys.

enlight73
Michliffen

The Middle Atlas is the popular choice for Moroccan skiers. Only in Casablanca, about midway between the two resorts, might the question arise which way should one go.

scan-110130-0013 copy
Slope at Michliffen
morocco michliffen cedar
Atlas Cedar after snow and thaw
morocco michliffen gaylord skiing
Café at Michliffen
morocco michliffen holbrooke
Late Dick Holbrooke and family at Michliffen in 1970

Bouiblane, also in the Middle Atlas, offers more downhill possibilities and snow, but hasn’t really been developed.

morocco bouiblane from ahermoumou
Bouiblane after a winter snowfall, from Ahermoumou

Access to Bouiblane, whether through Sefrou or Taza, remains difficult, however.

morocco m atlas route de bouiblane copy-1
Crossing a stream, PigPen peers out. An easier part of access to Bouiblane from Sefrou

In fact, much of the foreign interest in skiing centers on touring in the high mountains, a sport for those who are very fit and know what they are doing.

morocco h alas ouka lift
Chair lift at Oukaimeden

I don’t know the exact state of Oukaimeden today. An internet site reported that a Gulf company had proposed a major renovation, with better accommodations, better trails and snow making equipment, and more lifts. That would certainly improve it, but the question remains: from where would the skiers come?

When I visited Oukaimeden for the first time in 1973, it was early spring. I was travelling with a Binghamton University professor, Dick Moench, who was a skier, and he did not hesitate to take the chair lift to the 10,500 foot high summit. He made his way down on old, rented equipment, which was a tribute to his athletic ability. It was late in the season, and the trails were rocky.

morocco high atlas ouka moench
Dick Moench on top, ready to try out his rental skis, March 1973
scan-110202-0040 copy
Dick Moench paused for a photo. Note the bare patches

At that time, the main lodging there was the 160 room Club Alpin Français facility, which had been built by the Casablanca section of CAF during the Protectorate. Oukaimeden offers challenging skiing. The 10,500 foot high chair lift was and still is, I believe, the highest in Africa.

morocco high atlas angour ouka
Angour, from Oukaimeden. The long west ridge is an easy descent

A few years later I came back a few times to hike. Directly facing the resort rises Jbel Angour. Angour is an walk up, and the easy descent via the west ridge offers great views. The standard route, when there is not too much snow, uses a diagonally ascending ledge as opposed to one of the gullies.

scan-110326-0002 copy
This diagonal ledge is an easy way to the summit of Angour, providing that there is not too much snow on it
morocco high atlas aksoual
Aksoual views from Angour
morocco h atlas angour w ridge dan
Dan Butler, on descent of west ridge
morocco high atlas angour w ridge
Sunset from west ridge of Angour