It wasn’t a great start. We’d set the alarm for 4 AM and booked a taxi for 4.30 AM to take us to the airport to catch the 6.25 AM flight to Gatwick. All those low-figure ‘AM’s are bad enough, but we were still in bed when the phone rang twice and then stopped, signalling the arrival of the taxi.
I looked at the alarm clock. It seemed to say ‘3.30 AM’, so what had happened? Had the clocks changed? No! What was happening? I pulled on my trousers, ran down the stairs and out into the street where the taxi was waiting. “I booked a taxi for 4.30. What’s up? I think it’s only 3.30”
“Sorry mate. Must have been a confusion. OK, I’ll just cancel.” The driver then drove off, leaving me wondering if it was just the 3.30 taxi that had been cancelled, or whether another one would appear in an hour.
You don’t want that sort of confusion and angst so early in the morning. It’s bad enough facing a long, early start journey with several hours in transit at Gatwick. Lindsey and I were now semi-awake, not sleepy enough to go back to bed for an hour, and certainly not confident that another taxi would appear at the correct hour. So we got up, and flapped around. Fortunately, a taxi did arrive at 4.30 AM.
At airports, people now walk in a new, rather peculiar, way. It’s the effect of having a carry-on bag with four wheels in tow, which requires walking with an arm outstretched at slightly above waist height.
In one of the free newspapers available at the airport I read about a couple of would-be Jihadists who had been arrested. Not the brightest of sparks, details emerged of some texts they had sent to each other. “Do you think Islamic State will have eye-surgery facilities?” one of them texted his girlfriend, “Why?”she asked. “Well, if I’m on the run and my specs break, I won’t be able to run away.” “You can just be a martyr then, dear.”
At Agadir Airport, as we waited for our luggage to arrive, I tried to spot other people who would be on our Undiscovered Atlas Exodus trip. Not those young surfer types, obviously, but those wearing walking boots. I clocked at least four, and watched as they then picked their Exodus kit bags from the carousel.
The Exodus kit bags are pretty sturdy (though Lindsey’s started to fall apart by the end of the month), and are suitable for being carried by donkeys, etc, but we’d had big problems trying to force all the walking gear (for the first trip) plus the cycling gear (for the second trip) into them. Also, they don’t have wheels, so you have to lump them everywhere. As usual, it turned out, we took too many clothes with us, but you always have to pack waterproofs just in case, and warm tops, gloves and hats (the desert gets cold at night). I never once used my travel towel, mainly because there was no water to wash with on the walking trip. Yuck! Everyone went six days walking and camping without a proper wash. First thing in the morning, everyone would smell fresh and perfumed after wiping down with wet wipes. Last thing in the day…well, let’s not go there…you’re all in the same boat, though (or desert, in this case). I also didn’t use my reserve head torch, plastic thingy for keeping keys in when you go swimming, reserve power bank, and silk inner sheet.
Above is a short video detailing the Undiscovered Atlas walking and camping trip. It was ‘grade 4’ on the Exodus Challenge level, meaning that you need to be “moderately fit and have an interest in remote or challenging environments. Some previous experience is required for activity based trips.” That sounds about right to me. There were three days which each involved at least 20 kms, up and down (and up…), walking on sometimes very rough tracks, plus an ascent of Jebel Aklim (2531 m), plus some shorter days. One of the hardest turned out to be the last, shortish day, with ascents up three passes.
As I get older, I seem to stagger around a bit, first thing, when I get out of bed. Even at home. My feet don’t seem to work completely for a few minutes, until they’re warmed up. On the Undiscovered Atlas walking trip, this turned out to be the main inconvenience, getting out of the tent in the dark in the mornings and trying to get organised whilst stumbling around on sandy and very rocky surfaces. We also had to pack our bags in the dark, so that they could be loaded onto the donkeys/van whilst we had breakfast, and then off for an early start once it had got light.
The ages of the others on the Undiscovered Atlas trip varied quite considerably, though only one was much younger. I discovered that some people, when booking such trips, ask how old the others are who have already booked. The average age was definitely higher than on our second, cycling, trip which I’ve already briefly posted about.
One of the many joys of such trips, apart from walking through wonderful landscapes, is talking to the other tourists, and there’s plenty of time to do so. On this trip there was a really friendly, entertaining ‘live wire’ Scottish girl, who kept everyone amused, and an older Canadian guy. I talked to him quite a bit, and found his stories about when he spent two-and-a-half years touring around south-east Asia, India and Australia in the early seventies fascinating. There was also another retired information professional, so we were able to swap a few stories.
At first, on our trip, we seemed to spend very little time interacting with the locals. We’d just walk through the Berber villages, saying hello or bonjour to the women and kids (the men were mostly away in towns, earning money to take home later) and then appreciating the extremely warm and genuine smiles we received as we passed by. So I eventually stopped in one village, and blew up some balloons pour les bébés. Well, I nearly caused a riot of excitement! Women and kids suddenly appeared through previously closed doors, forming a circle around me.
No-one wants to encourage village folk in out-of-the-way places to start shouting “Cadeau, monsieur” every time they see a tourist, and so handing out pens, etc, is frowned upon. But balloons are just a few minutes of fun for toddlers, and surely do no harm. I don’t give them out if the kids actually ask for anything, but the Berber people never did. They are so polite and genuine. At a couple of our lunch stops outside villages there were some weins who looked on as our party ate, and who were too shy to come close. But they were happy to practise their french and english when the balloons came out.
The walking trip started at Igherm, and went into the mountains through Tagdicht and other villages. The third day of walking took us up Jebel Aklim. Then we turned south and finally west, to complete the circuit. On the final day we went back to the Souss‐Massa River Basin, and spent a night at a nice riad (the Hida) a few miles east of Taroudant in Ouled Berhil.
The next day Lindsey and I were dropped off in Taroudant, while the rest of the group went on to Agadir. Exodus are very good at organising such trips. They have a high rate of return customers, which is a good recommendation. Their guides (in our case Hassan, and then Mohamed) are super.