My time in Morocco has already come to an end and I am back in Europe. Living within such a different culture was definitely enlightening but one of the highlights was certainly getting away from everything while trekking through the Middle Atlas. The Middle Atlas is not as well trodden as the High Atlas but there were a number of surprises along the way which made this three-day trek well worth the effort.
During the trek we were able to see the nomadic lifestyle of the large number of people who live in the upper part of the Middle Atlas. Morocco still has a large number of Berber nomads throughout the Middle and High Atlas as well as the desert regions. However, our guide informed us that the largest population lived in the Middle Atlas. These nomads were predominantly rearing sheep and goats and we could see them herding them across what appeared to be extremely parched meadows. We could only imagine what how green the meadows would have been after the spring snow had melted, but in August the landscape appeared more like a moon-scape. It was unimaginable how the animals were getting enough food from this tough landscape until our guide revealed that they were having to be fed dried food purchased by the nomads from the market. The past winter had been particularly dry and there was not enough food within the environment to last the year without supplementing it with purchased food. As this had to be purchased it would significantly eat into the earnings of the nomads making life even tougher – another unwanted consequence of climate change.
While trekking through the mountains we could see the daily routine of the nomads. The animals would graze on the edge of the forest (not too deep as there were protected areas) eating what vegetation they could find. At points during the day a visit would be made to a well or possibly a lake for a well deserved drink before heading back to the small group of houses for a meal of dried food. At one point we walked past a lake where there were numerous flocks of sheep drinking from an ever decreasing water-source, that was not going to be around for much longer. The lake was apparently on the edge of two tribes and there was currently a dispute as to who could use the lake – a problem that presumably had arisen due to the lack of water!
It definitely felt like a privilege to walk through this landscape, observing a way of life that may not be around for many more generations. A combination of desire for a city life coupled with the difficulties caused by climate change means that this tough lifestyle may not survive for much longer. Seeing the Middle Atlas in one of the hottest months of the year may not provide the beautiful views that a trek in late spring would provide but it certainly gave a glimpse of what difficulties the real nomads face.
There were other surprises during our trek including:
- Large cedar forests that covered large parts of the Middle Atlas slopes that provided some welcome shade from the intense August sun. The forests were well established with some trees obviously several hundred years old. The forest was full of bird life and signs of animals. We were lucky enough to see a hoopoe and a fox and could see signs of where wild boar had been foraging.
- A walk along a salt water stream fed from salt deposits high in the mountains. White crystallised salt lined the stream providing a stark contrast to the red soils.
- Ayoun Oum Rabia – the source of this river is a Moroccan tourist destination. As the water emerged from a number of caves the Moroccans had made an experience that was totally in keeping with their culture. What better way of spending a hot afternoon than dipping your feet into freezing cold water while drinking mint tea and eating tagine? And to top it all how about having fresh trout? The local fish farm had its own source of fresh water direct from the limestone caves.
- Large turquoise lakes within the mountains where Moroccans from nearby Meknes head for the weekend: swimming and camping in the slightly cooler air.
So I would definitely recommend a visit to the Middle Atlas – particularly for those who want to see a glimpse of this culture before it entirely disappears. What is left is to thank Georgina Talfana of Berber Treks (www.moroccotreks.co.uk) for organising this wonderful experience.