High Atlas Trek
November 18 - 20, 1987
After a week of being squeezed in the back of the army truck in France and Spain, through freezing weather and rain, wrapped in our sleeping bags, a three-day "trek" to a Berber village in the High Atlas Mountains sounded great. Our gear was loaded onto sturdy donkeys, and we were left with little to carry the four miles to the village, which is inaccessible by car. Just before sundown, we arrived in the ancient stone village. It looked to have grown organically out of the mountain.
The streets were paths no wider than a donkey, and the natives paid little attention to us, with the exception of children who were constantly asking for candy and money. I made tiny origami birds that flap their wings to give away.
Darkness fell over the wide valley and rushing stream below us, and stars sparkled brilliantly in the moonless sky. We had a propane lamp, but it was the only light in the village other than a few flickering candles. I could barely hear a chorus of voices in a house far below as I listened to the night.
The next day was bright, warm and clear. We climbed a long way up to a tiny village whose residents opened their shops when we arrived, and closed them when we left.
We climbed on to the snow line, where we napped near a crystal-clear stream. As we returned to the village, we noticed terraced fields on the steep slopes. Young children drove bleating herds of goats towards home.
In the evening we were served tagine, a local specialty made with root vegetables and a little meat. Afterwards, to my surprise, a number of locals, mostly girls aged 10-15, arrived in their best Berber outfits with simple drums and other musical instruments.
They sang for us, filling the small stone room with their strong, clear voices. It was more like a party than a performance. One girl would start a song and others would join in harmonies and canticle. Sometimes they collapsed in giggles. At one point they asked us to sing while they clapped along. People came and went and came back, informally. Their lively eyes, their enthusiasm for life, and their warm relationships with each other made a lasting impression. These are some of the poorest people in the world, but they had a zest for life and a strong sense of fun and community.
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