Two nights in a tree house and a trek up a mountain or so in the Atlas. Who could resist? Serena and I are on strict budgets, so no nice shared taxis for us, it was off to the local minibus stop. It is just next to Jema El Fnaa and is always a scene of chaos. A row of knackered little microbuses crowd together in one corner. Each has a driver and a conductor. The conductor is in charge of getting customers, taking money and putting the luggage on the roof. We strode into the melee asking, “Imlil? Imlil? Imlil?” Immediately, a conductor grabbed us and bundled in to an almost full bus. “35 dirhams to Imlil.” he said. The advantage of a bit of local knowledge is that we knew:
a. The bus would only go to Asni, 17 km away from Imlil, where we would have to change
b. 35dhs is only £2.50 for a journey that takes an hour, but the REAL price is 15dhs and I object to paying a different price just because I am a foreigner – in Arabic they call it Daribat Al Jild – the skin tax.
Once we had crammed in as many people as we possibly could, we set off at a slow and noisy chug. Serena is brilliant at stonewalling and gave the conductor the correct 15dhs – to his chargrin but the approval of the other passengers. He soon got over it. He had a gleam in his eye and a way with the ladies and judging by the shameless flirting that was going on in the front, he was very much the eligible bachelor.
The road to Imlil is twisty and turny. Serena went quiet and then green and the lady behind us started vomiting into a plastic bag over the head of her two children.
In Asni, we changed bus, and, away from the chancers of the big city, we were asked for the normal fare, 10dhs. I was sandwiched in the back beside Omar and Lahcen, two teenaged boys. They proudly trotted out their English, I did the same with my Berber and a warm amity was established as we passed the warm coke bottle around and discussed football and the fact that men wear skirts in Scotland. Half way there, the bus stopped and picked up a gaggle of brightly dressed old Berber women, who were carrying big bundles up the hill home, and we all squeezed up to make space for the hitchhikers.
It’s a couple of miles to Dour Samra, the guest house, from the bus stop in Imlil, and the last bit is up a rocky ravine that was full of water from the mountain snow melt. ” How do the posh people get here?” asked Serena.
Dour Samra is one of my favourite places to stay in the whole of Morocco. It was built by the owner, Jacqueline Brandt, in authentic Berber style with mud walls, grass-lined roofs, clay chimneys and windows framed by eternity spirals. Inside it is a maelstrom of cushions and spangles, tassels and pom poms.
My Mum and Dad always say that a really good hotel would give you a cat with every room and Douar Samra does. “He’s a cow!” was Serena’s thought when she spotted the considerable bulk of Nicholas, cat and ruler of the house. He chooses where he wants to sleep and then scratches relentlessly on the door till you let him in.
We were in the treehouse – surrounded by walnut trees, bordered by bright purple irises. I felt like Heidi as the mountain wind knocked the branches against the roof.
My only problem with staying at Douar Samra is that I am torn between wanting to chill out there all day in one of its hammocks or wooden swing chairs and wanting to get up the surrounding mountains. The mountains won and we headed for Tizi Mizik pass.
The early part of the walk is through the walnut and cherry orchards, where Irises are used to keep the terraces from eroding, and goats and sheep swarm up the hill to pasture. You pass the big rock with the pink donkey painted on it, stop for an orange juice at the village of Arumd, catch your breath when you see Mount Toubkal looming in the distance and then gird your loins for a trog up.
Coming down is fun though and we ran most of it, pounding down, happy and breathless. The wind snatched my cap off my head and hurtled it down the mountainside, lost for ever. I stopped off to say hello to my friends in the Adrar carpet co-operative and the Argan oil co-operative, then I turned back up the hill towards a waiting hammock.
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You can book Douar Samra online http://www.douar-samra.net/homepage.html and get a transfer from Marrakech airport but sshhh, don’t tell everyone!