In today’s guest post, journalist Hazel Southam treks into the mountains with the Berbers of Morocco, a traditional bi-annual journey between the Dades Valley and the High Atlas mountains. All photos courtesy of Clare Kendall.
Souks, storytellers and snake charmers are the ready image of Marrakech. But, as I discovered on a recent visit, there’s far more to Morocco than this.
I’m sitting on a rock, midstream in a river flowing down the High Atlas Mountains. The towering mountains surround me. Goats, sheep and camels graze on their slopes. And ahead, the five mules that carry our food, tents and water are drinking, relieved of their burdens for the day.
I’m so relaxed it takes me several long minutes to work out what day it is. It’s Wednesday at 5.20pm. Normally I’d be about to throw myself into rush hour on the M4. Instead, I’m cooling tired feet after a three-and-a-half hour walk.
It’s the shortest day on a six-day trek through the mountains accompanying a nomadic family as they make their bi-annual migration.
It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done: clambering over boulders, walking for hours in high, sometimes forbidding terrain. And there are plenty of times when precipitous ravines mean I can’t look down.
But it’s tougher for the Elyakoubi family who are herding 200 goats, 30 sheep, 11 camels, three donkeys and a mule to summer pasture. Whilst I walk about 60km, they take the flocks to find the best grazing en route. You can only guess at the distance they walk, but it’s got to be at least three times mine.
But there’s someone who goes even further. Well not quite someone. It’s Haboush, the family’s fawn and white dog. He’s got a PhD in herding and spends his days going from the front of the camel train at the head of our caravan to the very back of the walking group, past the mules and donkeys.
I know this because I spend six days at the back. He returns repeatedly each day to check that I haven’t given up and lain down by the side of the path. I can almost see him nod before he turns back and repeats the whole process.
At night I feed him with the salami I’ve stashed in my daypack to keep me going. It is keeping me going – indirectly.
However, he doesn’t need bribing. He’s well-trained and looks out for me. Sick goats and babies are tied into the camels’ baggage. But that’s not an option for me. Instead, Haboush gets me there.
He’s a dog of the mountains. We part when he heads off with his owner Mohamad, to take the camels into a valley with both good grazing and water. I’m sorry to see him go. He doesn’t look back. He’s got a job to do.