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Less than two years ago, Tacchedirt had only candles for light and stories for entertainment.
It is still candle light that flickers through the cracks in the clay walls of the old village clinging to the mountainside behind the lodge, but now the straw roofs struggle to support the weight of satellite dishes that beam an alien world into the family living space, exiling stories to the past.
I finish my mint tea and wander upstairs to the second floor terrace for a last watch of the Berber goatherds at work on the mountainside behind Tacchedirt village.
Darkness is falling quickly.
I can just make out the movement of the herds as they thread their way down from the uppermost peaks of the Toubkal range to the safety of the village.
“I bring you extra blankets.” Hassan appears out of the gloom, his arms filled with camel hair blankets which he hands to me. “You come in with Ibrahim,” he says. “I like Ibrahim.” He flashes me a grin before the dark consumes him again.
The blankets will be welcome.
It is the end of September in the Toubkal National Park in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco and winter is on its way. I have already seen the first fluffy clouds which Ibrahim tells me augur the end of summer. Soon the snow will fall and the only way out of this, the highest village in North Africa, will be on skis. But for now the mountains still wear their mantel of dusty brown while below, a steady stream of fresh spring water feeds the valley floor grasses and juniper bushes which carpet it in emerald.
We arrived at Tacchedirt, which stands at 2345 metres, at 3.30pm this afternoon, my thighs bitching at the interminable climb from the valley floor, up large boulders on which the village washing was laid out to dry and across skittery scree slopes to reach the village.
We trudged through narrow, rubble filled alleys lined with three storey, straw roofed pisé houses the colour of dirt. Under foot, goats, sheep, hens and children all ran through the mud and the donkey excrement.
The children had their hands outstretched towards me, chanting “dirham, dirham, dirham” so quickly that it sounded like fingers drumming impatiently on a table.
Behind the menagerie of children and animals the women slowly climbed, bent under the heavy loads of animal fodder gathered from the valley floor and slung over their backs.
I left Marrakech at 8am this morning to make the 64km journey to Imlil, a Berber village huddled at the foot of Djebel Toukbal – North Africa’s highest peak. There I met up with my guide Ibrahim and muleteer Hamid and began the 600 metre ascent through Berber villages and pine forests to the top of the Imenane Valley and the Tigmi Tacchedirt Lodge where I am spending the night.
Across the valley, the grey, breeze block houses of Tacchedirt’s Berber nouveau riche stand in rows, their rooms illuminated by light bulbs. Gone are the clay walls, thatched roofs and Middle Earth-style huddled composition of the traditional village.
In its place are echoes of Britain’s 60s housing estates where homes stand in rows, their stone-walled yards a status symbol. It is to here that the herds of goats are being driven down the breakneck slopes of the mountains and corralled into paddocks behind the houses.
As I watch, the persistent cries of a lone kid pierce the darkness from beneath the protective arm of a goatherd who’s carrying it back up the mountainside, its bid for freedom thwarted.
Peering through the gloom I can make out the shapes of the dogs that lie at intervals in their sentry positions around the perimeter of the village.
My night will be punctuated by their false alarms.
I carry the extra blankets into the unfurnished room I have been given and throw them onto the mattress on the concrete floor which will be my bed for the night. Ducking through a cloud of white moths that are noisily bouncing off the only working light bulb on the landing, I head back downstairs to the warmth of the lodge where Ibrahim and Hamid have prepared a steaming bowl of noodle broth and a lamb tajine for supper.
Tomorrow we will hike down the Imenane Valley and then make the skittery 600 metre descent into Imlil to begin our return drive to Marrakech along the road which is currently under construction, reducing the travel time between city and mountains and aiding the inexorable march of progress.
Trekking in the Atlas Mountains
My two day trek of Imenane Valley, including overnight at the Tigmi Tacchedirt Lodge, guide, muleteer and all meals cost 570 MAD ($70) per day arranged through Sahara Touring.
Taxis from Marrakech to Imlil cost as little as 50 MAD ($6) each way for a shared mini bus taxi if you are prepared to wait until the bus fills before setting off. A private taxi costs 600 MAD ($74) each way.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+