There’s a hike that people in my town do quite regularly – they have family over the mountain; there’s a livestock souq over the mountain, etc. As to get over the mountain by any sort of regular motorized transportation you need to go from my site to my souqtown, over to the next big city, and then back up into the mountains (total time if speeding: at least 3 1/2 hours), the clear choice for the physically able is to hoof it – either by foot or by livestock. For the last nine months, I have been told that it’s a wicked tough hike, but it only takes two hours – maybe four. I now have a theory that either all of the men in my village are secretly marathon runners in their spare time – either that or pretty much everyone rides a mule and therefore no one has any idea how long a path it really is.
The hike finally came to be after my landlord’s brother started on a little hiking kick – he started walking with the village doctor to random springs out of town, and he invited me to do this hike. Not about to do a hike alone with a Moroccan man for both safety/security and town reputation reasons, even one as respected as this guy (he’s the ambulance driver), I invited Molly and we set a date. On Saturday morning we set out with the idea that we’d hike up and over two mountains, eat lunch, and then head back to town and arrive, exhausted, before the sun set and we were eaten alive by wild dogs. As with most things in my service, upon pursuing this activity we found that the plan was utterly ridiculous and to be scrapped, but the day ended with a lot of new sights seen and a couscous dinner (complete with a freshly slaughtered chicken in our honor!).
At 8am, we set out to conquer the mountains. Around 9:30, we stopped to admire some “zwak,” which is also the word used to describe henna designs on people’s hands:
Around that time, the rosemary poaching started become really obvious – aside from the fact that there were dropped bits of poached rosemary on the trail lower down, as we climbed further up the mountain the rosemary clumps got larger and were almost all in bloom:
Somewhere around 3 hours into the hike, we reached the top of the mountain behind my house. I’ve been told it only takes an hour to do this – again, either they run, they’ve never done it, or they’re talking about the small crest in front of the big mountain (that does take about an hour to summit). If you squint, you can sort of see Molly’s town on the left side of this picture, and the outskirts of my town a bit to the right.
About a half an hour after that (3 1/2 hours in), we ran into our first tree – which we took wonderful pictures next to, but lamentably on Molly’s camera. I’ll get those pictures later. After our first tree, we realized that there was a whole hillside of trees – mostly dead, but a few were still hanging on. Interestingly, I learned that the hillsides were covered in trees down to my town (and populated with Barbary Sheep) within the memory of our guide – and he’s not that old. Discussing this with my host family later, I learned that one of my favorite host family members has fond memories of coming up to this area with friends and bringing down wood from the branches. Why there are some remaining is difficult to say – there was a little more vegetation in general on that side, possibly owing to the north facing slope, but it’s possible there are some trees remaining just because you’d have to walk uphill from there to lug the wood back to my town. Anyhow, here’s the picture:
Shortly after, we started running into a plant called “Azzazer,” which sort of reminds me of something in the heath family. I was thinking it was only on this side of the mountain due to the north facing slope, but i saw it later on lots of south facing ones… a puzzle. Maybe, like the trees, people hacked all the azzazer to death on my side of the mountain?
From there we kept descending until we hit the valley floor and a teeny tiny town called Itto Fezzou. Naturally, this town being named after me (my name here is Itto), it was filled to the brim with baby goats.
As an aside, goats and sheep here are one of the main environmental problems – all the mountains here are heavily overgrazed. A fellow environmental volunteer offered that rather than posing, it would have been more helpful to bash all their little brains in with a rock. While I disapprove of their damage to the local ecosystem, I cannot support baby goat brain bashing. This is my official stance on the subject.
Another interesting thing about Itto Fezzou is that it was considerably higher than my town. As I have no GPS system, I judge elevation in trees. Eric and Tim’s site are filled with date palms (and delicious dates), which are simply decoration when they exist at all in my site. My site is mainly olives, almonds, and figs – slightly colder than dates, but still warm weather plants. Itto Fezzou only had two kinds of trees that I saw – walnut and apple. Apple is more heat tolerant, so not much of an indicator, but walnuts here require a substantially colder winter than my site can offer – walnuts are hard to find and expensive where I am. Without technology to tell me temperatures or elevations, I’m really enjoying learning about the climate of a site through it’s agriculture. This can be done to a lesser degree through the plants on the mountains, but since they’re so overgrazed the plants that remain tend to be relatively homogenous.
After Itto Fezzou, we crested another ridge and got a great view of Ait Haini – home of the livestock souq and one home of the Ait Hadidou tribe, a very famous, strong tribe among the Amazigh people that speaks a slightly different dialect than I know (g’s change to j’s, everything sounds mumbled to me, and simple questions (are you cold?) change completely). They also have a salt mine – if you’re eating rock salt in Morocco, it may come from there! Here’s the picture of Ait Haini from the pass in between it and Itto Fezzou:
Other notable events in the last week have included meeting the head of an association with Molly, experiencing an earthquake, Valentine’s Day, and L’3id n l’Mulud – but those are all for a different entry. Ar tikklt yadn, insha’allah! (Until next time, God willing!)