Amsouzert Area and Lac d'Ifni
High Atlas, Morocco
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
(This walk was across the Tizi n'Ououraine down to Amsouzert, as part of a Jebel Toubkal Circuit, October 2004.)
The third day is memorably beautiful, a steady climb up a lovely valley to the Ououraine pass and a long descent into the superb Tisgui valley. We crawl out to a perfectly clear dawning sky and our standard jam-with-a-token-morsel-of-bread breakfast. After wheezing up above the entrance of a gorge – always a struggle first thing – we wind for 2 ½ hours up the valley, between immense slopes of brown scree topped with crags far above. The stream rushes between boulders and tufts of grass so coarse that even goats won’t eat it; occasional patches of nibbled turf just about justify the odd shepherd’s bothy and the large mixed herds of sheep and goats through which we walk. We strike up a long stony slope to a dip in the ridge. The valley winds, wild and lonely, to a distant, heavily grazed little pasture where two glens meet. Again, despite its dryness, I am reminded of the Scottish Highlands.
We stand, transfixed, before the view from the pass. Ahead, ridges sink, seemingly forever, toward high table-lands and the jagged Jebel Siroua range. In the haze, under a heavy sky, we can sense the emanations of the distant Sahara. To our right, a sliver of dark green indicates where the fertile valley bottom lurks far, far below. Above it, the magnificent broken orange spines of the Toubkal massif vibrate against a sky of pure, unsullied caerulean. Above it all soars the great summit, with its supporting peaks like the pinnacles of a gothic cathedral.
We wind slowly down around the hillside on an easy path, so well laid that we can enabling us to gaze around us as we stride along. We join a long ridge which will lead us to the village of Amsouzert, hidden deep in the valley, where we will spend the night. We take a snack of bread, cheese and water on an outcrop and march on. It is tough on the legs, and we are happy when we realise that we are close above still invisible habitation: like Genghis Khan’s Golden Horde, you can smell a Berber village before you can see it.
Among the tall, small-windowed houses, mules and cattle stand in little yards, deep in their own droppings, patiently awaiting their next tribulations. Shy urchins scamper to their shyer mothers at our approach. The excrement of many animals litters the lanes and, alarmingly, the watercourses.
We are spending the night in new rooms on the roof of a cool, very dark, very ancient Berber house just above the stream. We slump onto cushions for a very late lunch on the verandah, followed by a brief but deep snooze in our joyless, bare, concrete walled but comfortably rugged rooms, then explore the village. It is washing day, and every boulder, wall and bough near the stream has bright clothing draped over it. Groups of women chatter as they scrub, stooped, up to their knees in its waters.
Back at the hostel, a group of Polish walkers arrives, and we leap for the loos and showers: if they are to be made gag-inducing, it will be done by us first. A delicious supper of soup and cous cous, with talk of JG Farrell and who is our generation’s Widmerpool.
To Lac D'Ifni, October 2004
Our curtainless room lights up at 6 am. The village is remarkably quiet, no barks, brays or voices. The peaks across the valley catch the sun, turning instantly to a hot pinky orange, incandescent above the muted umbers of the valleys as we wash, pack and eat another bread and jam breakfast in the cool, fresh air of the roof.
We walk for 3½ hours up the beautiful valley toward the famous Lac d’Ifni. Ancient Berber hamlets nestle timelessly among little terraces of vivid maize, the very archetype of “greenness”, and walnut trees which give way abruptly, where the irrigation stops, to stark, barren hillsides. There is evidence of money returning from the cities: some houses have painted concrete exteriors, others sheets of plastic or corrugated iron to protect their soluble mud walls from the rain. It is sad to think what these villages will look like in a decade’s time.
We sit under an ancient, spreading walnut tree and drink tea and eat chunks of a huge disc of unleavened bread dipped in pungent local olive oil. A perfect old hamlet clings to the steep hillside across the valley, sleepy amid its trees and terraces; a nearby irrigation channel ends in a noisy waterfall. There is nothing to be seen that might not have been there 500 years ago. Shangri-la has moved decisively westward.
The top of the valley is blocked by a vast wall of black lava blocks, which bring the fertile orchards to an abrupt halt and are clearly the end of a not-so-ancient flow. Our track winds up to the top of this obstacle and across an area of vast cracked boulders to our first, unforgettable view of the dark turquoise waters of the Lac d’Ifni, trapped far below between the cliffs of the valley side and the vast pile of lava. Although the books don’t mention it, this must surely be a crater bottom. At the upper end is a mile of grey boulders where the two upper gorges spew their contents into the lake.
The trail winds magnificently around the lake to some low stone shelters built into the hillside and another welcome rice – and – vegetable lunch. I totter down to the lake to wash my feet in the freezing water, then lie on my back on the warm, smooth rocks and survey the jagged skyline.