The Anti-Atlas: Anezi to Tanalt trek

This blog was supposed to be about hiking. Finally, here’s a post on the subject.

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This is a description of a 3 to 4 day trek from the Anezi area to the oasis village of Tanalt. The route runs through the rough terrain around Tisguine. I defy any mountain lover to restrain himself from running amok here. You can actually see these peaks from my friend Idris’s village many miles to the south, which is why I first went looking for them.

“There’s nothing beautiful about where we live,” his mother once told me. “It’s an ugly village and I wish we lived in the city.”

She had a lot to say along those lines– I tried to look as though I were paying attention to her as I gazed off toward the distant peaks which I would soon be trampling through.

SAM_2729Once I’d had breakfast at Sa’id’s house and said farewell to his family, I rambled on down to follow the dry riverbed.  This was where I realized how little I’d be able to rely on the half-assed topography indicators on my Michelin road map.

These were the ancient Terraced Lands, arable farmland chiseled out of the dusty hillside centuries ago. In January the almond blossoms are in full explosion. Cinderblock houses were being erected here and there, and from the rooftops I could here the blows of hammers and Bruno Mars being played over the radio. The workers on the roof shouted to me in greeting.

After walking five miles on asphalt, Istopped in Anezi for a drink. I walked into a café with that same smoky, windowless atmosphere found in every tea joint in North Africa. It’s the same deal everywhere you go. Out in the streets, you’re a prime target for friendly conversation. But in here you’ll find that nobody says a word to you. The waiter will politely take your order. A seedy looking man will ask you for money, and everyone else in the café will shout at him to get lost and stop bothering tourists. But besides that they won’t acknowledge you directly.

There’s nothing special about Anezi as far as I could tell. I was pretty certain I could read the directional sign at the edge of town, but just to be sure I rustled around in my pockets for bi-lingual snack wrappers. On one wrapper I found a T, on another a G and an N. Matching them up with the signs, I figured out which way to go.

I spent another half-day walking along the road. Tisguine was now so close, looking up at the mountains was hurting my neck. But I knew I’d still have to push hard to make the hills by nightfall.

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I tiptoed through Tisguine to avoid the notice of the children engaged in a game of football. I threw a warm smile at some Europeans who passed by in their chauffeured 4×4, but they didn’t wave. I hit the dirt road and disappeared into the Argan trees.

It was a prime evening to celebrate everything that is good about Morocco, and everything good about camping in general. I pitched tent down by the river where the olive and argan trees were forest-thick, where the mosquitoes kept a respectful distance from my fire, and the frog, that sanguine singer, sang agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love. This valley is infested with a lot of wild pigs, so be sure to safeguard your food if you camp here. I went a little too far, taking the same steps I usually use to foil hungry bears back home in Maine. Stringing my food up eight feet off the ground, I think I credited the pigs with better tree-climbing skills than they probably have.

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As picturesque as the agricultural greenery is, it’s easy to see how dry valleys like this struggle with self-sufficiency.

Day 2: So you’ve spent your first night in Tisguine. The following day there’s a lot to see, so don’t plan on getting far. Have a good lie-in, chat with anyone you meet on the road, take some time to appreciate the unique qualities of each little village. There’s an enchanting agadir, or fortified granary, set on a crag on the eastern side of the valley which is worth the hike to see. Eventually you’ll want to get on the right-hand side of the river and stay there. Of the two dirt roads, follow the one which keeps close to the river. Where the riverbed drops dramatically into a deep gorge, you’ll come to the last village, where the road terminates. Hike to the other side of the village and follow the telephone poles. There isn’t much of a path, so watch your footing as you keep parallel to the gorge. Soon you’ll see this:

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The river you’ve been following comes to a T-bone intersection with a deep gorge. You’ll be following this gorge upstream, but only briefly. Pick your way through the trees down to the east. There’s an excellent donkey path which takes you down to the wide river. There’s a large palm and citrus plantation down here; impossible to miss it. There are no houses so you’ve got a canyon oasis all to yourself. There are no streams to drink out of; you’ll have to boil or filter the river water. Use the remaining daylight to explore the gorge without your pack. Light the biggest fire you can with driftwood and bellow all your joys and frustrations to echo around the canyon. This is to frighten the pigs away. I was hit with a powerful rainstorm that night.

Day 3: If the river is high, don’t try following the gorge as you’ll find certain sections impassable. If the river is low, don’t follow the gorge as there is a real risk of flash flooding. From the far side of the palm grove there’s another excellent path which leads up straight up the hillside to a high altitude village you’ll have spotted the previous evening.SAM_2745 The locals there will provide you with tea and bananas. Ask for someone to show you the way toward Tanalt. If you’ve made good progress you may be able to make it to Tanalt that same evening. You’ll have a very scenic walk along a ridge with views of the canyon both north and south. I took it slow, made five miles or so, and had another nice bonfire night in the gorge.

SAM_2753Day 4: Between there and Tanalt the road gradually becomes more defined. Tanalt itself is a worthy goal for this short trek. It’s a lively community built around a massive olive grove, with an impressive array of kasbahs surrounding. If you’re after a real meal I recommend the omelette at the central café. Here you can watch National Geographic Abu Dhabi or play pool with the schoolkids (if you buy them a round of cokes). I was told by several people there was no hotel in town, so I went and camped in the olive grove. The peaceful trickle of the irrigation canals drowns out the noise of the town and I had a good fire of olive wood and a restful night. When I told Idris this he laughed and laughed. “Of course there’s a hotel in Tanalt,” he said, “It’s right above the café.”

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