Morocco pt 1 – Marrakech & Journey to the Atlas

We take a short flight from Lisbon down to Marrakech. Sleeping most of the way, I open my eyes as we start descending and look out the window. Off to my right there is a line of mountains – caps of snow barely visible on the highest parts and a strange break of atmosphere with the top 3rd clear and the lower sections marred in a dusty haze. The wheels squeak and I’m jolted back to reality.

Welcome to Morocco. Welcome to Marrakech. Welcome to Africa.

Marrakech Skyline, with the Atlas in the background
Marrakech Skyline, with the Atlas in the background

We negotiate a cab from the airport. I say negotiate as we ask several people the price and match it with prior info we had and then try and find a taxi driver who will honour the price. They tell us no. Much higher. 300 Dirham when we were quoted 150. We stand firm and say no. They run to get us another driver. He gets there and starts trying to take our stuff to the boot of the big old mercedes he pilots. We stand firm again and ask price. He says 250, we argue back no. We were just told 180 you would take us for. Eventually through being bastards and not caving to them being bastards we get the agreed fair at 180. The streets are normal if a bit crowded and with the type of traffic to be expected for countries of this wealth – donkey drawn carts mixing it with old busses and loads of the old mercedes like our taxi. Things change when we get close to the medina. More hectic and more chaos. Loads of taxis parked up by the entrance near our Riad. We get out and once again have to negotiate our fair back to what was agreed.

Grab our bags and leg it – a bit unfamiliar here and the medina is filled with such winding streets and an unfamiliar culture that we are both very on edge. Youths try to leads us astray telling us our riad is along way the other way. Lying bastards. They are all out for our money, but the funny thing is, if they actually told me and took me there with out the hastle Id pay them a dollar like they wanted. One particularly persistent fellow, follows us to our door, then knocks for us, despite us telling him to go away. Then he demands money from us despite having found the way ourselves. Traveler beware.

Sohba, the host of our riad, is very welcoming and we have our very first serve or Moroccan mint tea on the rooftop terrace just as the sun goes down. Relaxing and unwinding, almost nervous to venture back out into the wilderness and chaos that is the medina below. We do, as we need food and we head for the main square through along winding way and our first taste of the souks – everything and anything is on offer here, but mainly leather goods, cloths, wooden handicrafts, Jewellery and antiques are particularly in abundance, along with spice shops. We come back and explore these in more detail over the following days.

2 days into Marrakech, we plan our first adventure – its time to head for the hills. Welcome to the Atlas mountains.

The atlas mountains are 2500km long across Northern Africa and extend from morocco to Tunisia and Algeria. With a wide variety of landscapes and habitats, they separate the coastal regions from the sandy saharan expanse. They are split into 3 sections, lower, middle and high atlas who’s capstone is the 4167m high Toubkal and our destination.

We shopped for guides and interviewed one in Marrakech yesterday morning, who has sent a driver with no english to pick us up and take us to Imlil – The main mountain village in the high atlas. Cat has doubts that we are with the right driver, though Im not too worried. After all, I see mountains out the front windscreen so at least we are headed in the right directions. The winding road steepens and we pass apple orchards and organ oil cooperatives as well as the odd old Kasbah. Kasbah’s are old fort like houses, usually the centrepiece of the village and built by the Berbers to protect them selves against Touareg nomads and most likely invading christians and muslims.

We cruise the final stretches through the streets of Imlil. It takes me back to my time in Nepal – mountain villages are all somewhat the same. With the tourist income, trekking shops and assorted riads pop up along with and restaurants to accomodate them. Theres a whole sheep hanging in one of them ready to be carved into the days dishes. There’s the token gaggle of goats wandering the road and of course, a handful of stray chickens.

We step off at Ahmed’s guest house – Dar Tigoulah, perched in a nearby neighbouring village a km above the town centre the place is furnished with rustic, very rustic, yet modern western ammenities and has the most splendid rooftop terrace overlooking the valley. Its a moment of awe to stand there, mint tea in hand surveying the rugged mountain landscape and the call to prayer starts up. Shivers, spine tingling shivers creep upon me. Taking me over and leaving me electrified as I stand in stunned silence as my senses soak up the mystical experience.

Rooftop Terrace of Dar Tigoulah overlooking Imlil
Rooftop Terrace of Dar Tigoulah overlooking Imlil

The prayer calls are all different, and while we make out the Allu Ahkbar’s the rest is a mystery. What is not is the quality and tone of the voice. Some positively shriek it out like a mad banshee possessed of demons, and others, like the man on this day, in this mountain valley, crooned it out smoothly and with almost a hint of pained sadness. And as it echoed through the valley, I could feel the inspiration it would endow in the local populace as it had me.

We plan our trek – 6 days in total with the first 2 days to be the trek unto Jebel Toubkal – the Toubkal mountain refuge, then our assault on the summit at 3am so we are up there for sunrise and then all the way back down to Imlil. Followed by a few days exploring the neighbouring villages.

A Month in Turkey Pt. III – Sailing the Aegean Pt. I

After 3 days in Fethiye and it was time for one of the real highlights of this sortie; a week sailing the gorgeous Aegean in and old wooden gulet. We pack our things once more and wander down to the harbour to find it. We got this cheap – going rates are around 900 per person all included for the week. We paid 550. Went straight to the source rather than through Busabout. Though the situation is looking… well; a bit fucked when we check in at the office. There’s 3 ships setting sail, 20 odd people on each ship, 2 Busabout groups ages 20-3ish, and an old peoples and family boat… of which we are supposed to be on. Now that actually wouldn’t be too bad, but given the two party boats heading along, we would be bored out of our brains with the oldies and kids while envious of the others.

Cat and I share a look. We need to fix this. We need to fix this bad. Words are said, and she is pretty firm. They budge and squeeze us in 3 to a cabin… saying we all sleep in the deck anyway. Sounds good
Aboard the boat, introductions take place and we are off after meeting the crew and the Captain’s briefing.

Sailing Turkey

The sun is hazily going down as we chug out of port around the far side of the headland for safe anchorage on the first night. Its a great mix aboard. A German and Englishman a few groups of Aussies, a girl from Poland and an assortment of others. Everyones cool at least. The ship pulls up not far where we drove the scooter to the previous day. The waters below look radiant and leave us thirsting for some booze and a swim. World cups on tonight, a big game for Germany, but theres no TV on the boat. Wait up…theres no TV on this boat and its world cup finals! A few of us football fan aren’t having a bar of it and we negotiate a tender and a van to take us the 10km back into Fethyie and to the bar so we can see it. We all get merrily boozed for the night with our new friends.

I Wake up on the deck to the ship chugging along the coast. We’re moving early. Captain at the helm, keeping the wheel steady with his feet; boss of his universe. We motor past Oludeniz heading for butterfly bay – a beach nestled in a cove named Kelebekler Vadisi. It is spectacular, magical and enthralling. I swim ashore. Opps forgot my pristine Bregeut genuine fake watch. Filled with seawater. Fuck. Too bad I think as I marvel up at the canyon before me; about 80m high of steep cliffs that narrow several hundred meters back where the creek falls down a series of steep waterfalls. We head that way, past the bunch of ramshackle huts, and bungalows that are cluttered amongst the trees just behind the dune space on the beach.


There’s a good 30 of us making the venture up as 2 or 3 boats have come to the bay for the morning. It gets slippery though and many drop off. We climb through the muddy wet rocks, clinging to vines as ropes as we make our way higher. It steeps out about 50m up and a few good 6-10m scrambles. Theres only 5 of us who make it this far up. Kings of the valley that stretches out before us.

The gulet is a marvel – all wood and probably a good 50 years old, but running in slick order. Captain runs a tight ship. Chef cooks a tight meal and the deck hand scurries about on an endless array of tasks while all of us guests bum around, play cards, draughts, read books and share stories all in-between our next cocktail or swim.

The boat cruises back over towards Oludeniz and drops anchor on the far side between the private beach club and a rocky outlet. Theres a cliff jump on one and its great snorkelling. Not much sea-life, but theres a mystical depth to these blue waters that keeps you entranced. One of the girls; Tamara heads ashore to go paragliding off the summit of Mount Babadag. A 1969m Behemoth whose far side runs down into Kelebekler Vadisi, and front face cascades down to Oludeniz before it. I think its the biggest mountain Ive seen so close to the sea.

Climbing Volcanoes in Quetzaltenago, Guatemala

Santa Maria Volcano Sunrise

Remember that one time we climbed a volcano at night and slept atop the crown to watch the world come to life beneath us?

Well this is a brief story of that time.

It was December 2011 and I was floating around Guatemala at the time with my old friend – el Simpson. We were making our way to Lake Atitlan, but first had come by way of Antigua and then Quetzaltenago. It was Christmas time and the main square of the city had come alive with lights and people. A delight in an exotic place.

Theres not much to do here – its a large town but seems void of much to enthral the traveler, besides trekking a nearby volcano. Which we gladly sign up to do. Its a long tough hike and its done at night. But the reward is worth it.

Freezing atop the peak in a cold icy wind, a stray dog has followed us up. I beckon it into my sleeping bag to help keep it warm as we wait a few more hours until the break of dawn.

Down to the right we can see into the eerie glow of another volcano – the depths of hell come to life perhaps with its red magma bubbling away.

The sun comes up and ignites its light the chain of volcanoes before us. A row of mountainous peaks in an almost straight line leading north and south. Epic, freeing it feels up here to watch the world stir in the early dawn below. Feeling at peace as the sun strikes us first.