Start of Our Hike
The old caravan route up from the Sahara runs through the Atlas Mountains near Telouet and provides those looking to get off the beaten track with a scenic drive towards Ouarzazate avoiding the main N9. We had decided to stay in a little Berber village for two nights, and our first day in the region allowed us to explore the mountains with a hike after our visit of the glorious Glaoui Kasbah at Telouet to return back to our little hotel in Anguelz. Upon our arrival the previous day we had already been able to witness the spectacular mountain scape from the window of our car. Little had we known, before setting out onto our trip through Morocco, how colourful the barren landscape and stone desert would be, we were stunned to discover that it almost resembles the rainbow mountains found in other parts of the world, like Peru and China, although on a much smaller scale.
Excitedly we left the restaurant in Telouet where we had stopped for a cool drink after our visit to the Kasbah. We headed for the remote mountains between Telouet and Anguelz. Our host had drawn us a basic map of the route and our taxi driver had pointed out the track where we needed to turn up into the colourful hills so we had a good idea of our route back. We started with a few kilometers on and beside the road, leaving the village behind, we strolled past the local cemetery. Moroccan graveyards, predominantly in poor and secluded areas, are usually no more than a field with rocks pointing towards the sky marking the graves. Only the rich can afford a proper tombstone or even a mausoleum. We had explored the Jewish Cemetery in Marrakesh the year before, which was also an interesting and unusual place to witness.
Walking alongside the road, few cars and even less locals passed us on our hike. Just on the outskirts of Telouet we could see some kids on the school’s sports ground playing ball games, while others sat in the winter sun and chatted to each other. On our drive through the Atlas Mountains we had instantly recognized the schools and kindergartens, they usually were the sole buildings in the Berber villages that were painted, sometimes even with fun and child friendly motifs, like rainbows and animals.
Hiking Through the Barren Landscape
The winter sun kept beating down on us and we were glad to have worn light clothes and used suntan cream to protect us from the strong rays. This hike surely should not be attempted, especially with kids, during the hot summer months as there is barely any shade en route. We were also glad to have brought enough to drink and were thankful that the wife of our host had supplied us with a packed lunch for our hike through these rainbow mountains. At first the landscape was vast and open and we could see small settlements hugging the base of the mountains. After about two kilometres into the walk the road slowly wound itself through low hills. To our surprise we saw a few locals meandering on the hills, a shepherd, a woman working in the field and even some kids climbing the rocky mounds.
Vintage Car Rally
The cars passing us en route were mainly local taxis or minibuses and a few tour groups, which could easily be recognized from the advertising and the state of the vehicles. These were mostly driving towards Ouarzazate and the Sahara desert. The most peculiar sight was a group of vintage Renault cars appearing to be on a rally. They honked and waved at us, while the others usually curiously gazed at us, possibly wondering what foreigners would be doing wandering about on this godforsaken dusty stretch of road.
The Rainbow Mountains
They however missed out on the spectacular panoramas we witnessed on the walk, quickly driving by does not give its beauty justice. The colours changed from browns and grey to pink and even green and yellow tones, creating a rainbow effect that was unlike anything we had encountered before. The colourful effect of the mountains results from the weathering and minerals found in the different layers of the strata on the rocky hillsides and even meant some of the mountaintops miraculously appeared to have snow, like a fata morgana. I was in awe and could not stop taking photos of the countryside and even the boys were fascinated to witness millions of years of geological history in this captivating place.
Lunch with a View
After about four kilometers from Telouet we had finally reached the turn off point to our right, a dirt track leading into the mountains. Climbing the hills we were glad to leave the tarmac road and decided to devour our packed lunch. A flat rock gave us an ideal spot to sit down on the otherwise dusty and gravelly ground. The views were stunning and we spotted the crumbling Kasbah at the entrance to the abandoned salt mines peeking between the hillsides. Our lunch was a mixture of vegetable salads with boiled eggs and an added can of tinned tuna, accompanied by really tasty homemade bread. Probably the most luxurious packed lunch we ever enjoyed during one of our hikes.
The Last Stretch Back to the Village
Hiking routes in the area are not signposted and although we had the hand drawn map from our host we were conscious that we had to find the right path to return to our village, Anguelz. We had been told to keep an eye out for the radio masts at the top of the mountain behind the village and to take the track that turns into their direction. Sadly, we missed the turn off initially but as our way turned too far south we realized not long afterwards and luckily walked along a well trodden track up a valley back towards the hiking path. Once we rejoined the correct path, we stayed on the track that led towards the radio masts for only a short while, then we turned left onto a narrow hiking path descending in a gulley and from then on it was all downhill to the village.
Return to Tigmi N’Oufella
Glad to see the village below we scrambled along the track and soon reached the outskirts of Anguelz. A group of locals had watched our approach and waved at us from one of the rooftops. Donkeys and dogs welcomed us back with a few barks and brays. We finally arrived back at Tigmi N’Oufella just as the residents were aiming for the evening prayers at the mosque.
Sad to Leave this Welcoming Place
Back at “home” our host quizzed us about the hike and Jerome was happy to chase the cats for a cuddle. We enjoyed another refreshing mint tea on the roof terrace of the inn and watched the sunset behind the hills. Dinner was just as delicious as on our first night and we were sad to leave this welcoming place in the rainbow mountains so soon. If we ever return we would definitely stay for a few more nights and venture onto other adventurous hikes in the area. Our next destination would be Ouarzazate with a brief stop at Morocco’s famous Hollywood film set, Ait Benhaddou.
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