“Will the mule be with us while we’re walking?” I ask Ibrahim as Hamid drops our rucksack into one of the large, wicker panniers that straddle the resigned beast of burden’s back.
“Yes,” he replies confidently.
So I fill the small bottle with water and place the full, litre and a half bottles in the pannier alongside the supplies.
The morning is clear and warm as we set off walking up the dusty hill, exchanging the ramshackle buildings, half constructed houses and buzz of activity of Imlil for the fertile valley, barren slopes and desolation of Morocco‘s Toubkal Mountain Range. I feel an unaccustomed freedom of movement, my habitual role as water and fleeces carrier usurped by the mule, as I take in the dramatic beauty of my surroundings and pace my steps to adjust to the altitude and the incline.
The intensity of the sun strengthens in direct relation to our ascent, and with continual worried glances over our shoulders for the non-appearance of our mule with our water supply, we ration sips from the small bottle to appease our parched throats. Onwards and upwards we climb, through the random maze of our first stone, mud and straw constructed Berber village, my lungs now snatching at oxygen and sweat running into my eyes as I glance at the dwindling water level in our one, small bottle.
Above the village we emerge onto a wide, gravel road and I hear the sweetest sound – the clip clop of hooves as our mule appears over the ridge behind us, Hamid walking by its side. Note to self: next time you come walking in the High Atlas Mountains take two rucksacks, one for the mule and one for yourself.
We’ve chosen to do our trekking in the High Atlas Mountains through the Toubkal range, taking in the valleys and villages rather than the popular ascent of North Africa’s highest peak, Jbel Toubkal, which stands at 4167 metres. Currently based in the north of Tenerife with the 3718 metres peak of Spain’s highest mountain, Mount Teide, under our belt and the spectacular Anaga Mountains on our doorstep but scant surface water, we crave the sight of mountain streams and Berber villages rather than wanting to simply add another ‘largest peak’ to our achievements.
It isn’t long before our visioning is realised as we rest beside a small stream where the end of summer water trickles over white, limestone boulders like liquid glass, echoing around the valley like children’s laughter. Through sparse pine forests and along dried up river beds we climb, the world around us growing ever smaller as we reach greater heights, until we arrive at a mountain road on which traffic is as rare as a summer shower, and on a small bridge over a stream, we stop for lunch.
The straw panniers are unloaded and double as a wind shield for the butane burner which is heating our mint tea and boiling our rice. The mule, temporarily relieved of his burden, snuffles in the barren rocks for signs of anything edible while Ibrahim and Hamid hunker by a small waterfall where a piece of plastic sheeting has been used to funnel the flow into a running tap. They’re peeling and washing the ingredients for our salad.
I lie on the small wall of the bridge and breathe deeply. The air is resonant with heat, cicadas, and the quiet conversation of Ibrahim and Hamid as they meticulously prepare the onions, green peppers, cucumber and tomatoes that will accompany the rice and tuna of our picnic lunch. All around me the jagged peaks of Toubkal shimmer in the heat haze and beneath my back, the hot stones are soothing my muscles and lulling me into a semi-doze. The Marrakech I left this morning seems a lifetime away and tonight’s bed is as yet an unknown destination, so all I have is the moment, the perfect, blissful moment that will stay in my memory as the ultimate trekking experience…to date.
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+