Our second excursion took us to the Atlas mountains south of Morocco. We joined our guide Ismail and five other guests for some hiking and exploration of five of the valleys on the north front of the range.

Atlas mountains with terraced farmland Atlas mountains with terraced farmland

Our first stop was to an argan oil women’s co-op, a typical production site for the local product sometimes referred to as “Moroccan gold”. We were served breakfast, freshly baked flat breads with various spreads, and demonstrated the laborious process of extracting the oil from the argan nuts. Visits like this always make me a bit squeamish; I think I did my first such tourist stop in southern India in the early 2000s. While this is a co-op for widowed and divorced women, are they raking in their fair share? What’s the kickback scheme to corral our group into the co-op? We purchased some hair conditioner and face scrub and fairly exorbitant prices and hope that the operation is legit.

Lunch table settings along the river Lunch table settings along the river

Next up was a hike in the Ourika Valley, a beautiful and highly touristed (by locals and foreigners) valley with a narrow river and tributaries with waterfalls. Our tour was on a Saturday, and every village we passed through was gearing up for the influx of Marrakech city folk into the hills to escape the heat and have lunch along the river. The colorful table settings, rugs, pillows, and narrow bridges were spectacular.

We were dropped off in the town of Sti Fadma and handed off to a local Berber guide who took us on a hike of just over a mile, 500 foot climb, up into a side gorge with more restaurants and plenty of waterfalls. The hike ended with a relaxing tea break at one of the stops along the river, sitting on a colorful rug and pillows.

Berber lunch reveal Berber lunch reveal

The rest of the day was spent exploring four more valleys. We stopped for lunch at a local Berber family home. Apparently the tour company owner spent days wandering villages and knocking on doors, finding a family he could speak to and would be able to respond to text messages. We enjoyed high fives and fist bumps with the kids, and the lunch served on the roof of their home was very tasty. Veggie tajine can be a bit samey-samey, but the spices were good and it had lots of veggies and potatoes.

Ismail takes an ussie of the group Ismail takes an ussie of the group

We saw beautiful green terraced landscapes (despite the terrible drought currently in progress), clay and shale color striations, and majestically layered views of the Atlas peaks. Things definitely got more peaceful and less crowded after we left the first valley. There were lots of goats and sheep, but we witnessed no goats climbing argan trees.

All in all a great day and I highly recommend Ismail and the tour company we went with.