Morocco—strong odors, weak beer, laughing cows-part 2

Part 2 (part 1 HERE)

After the abrupt change in the weather, for the rest of our visit, showers seemed to cling tenaciously to the higher mountains. This stopped us from attempting long routes, but now we could enjoy the shorter, crag climbs. Also, without worrying about pesky early starts, we could relax and enjoy the coffee and breakfast at the hotel in Tafraoute. Standard Moroccan breakfast is fresh-squeezed orange juice, great coffee, bread with various jams and, ah yes, foil-wrapped triangles of Laughing Cow. In a hot, poor country, the shelf-life of Laughing Cow, which is what?---probably several years, and no fridge needed---make it a staple.

Of the lower-lying crags, Robins Hood Rocks comes highly recommended in the Steve Broadbent guidebook, Morocco Anti-Atlas North, so we headed there. There were great views on the way.

dappled sun and shade on hills


fran at Robin Hood Crag

Yes! In the cool weather, the quartzite face climbs, protected by wires and small cams, came into their own. This was what we had come for!

There’s no bolts on any of the quartzite climbs in the Tafraoute area, the climbs are all trad climbing; slabby to vertical, thought-provoking, a puzzle of hard-to-see holds, hard-to-resist gravity and hard-to-place gear. I began to wonder if the guidebook author must have used some kind of random-number generator when assigning stars to climbs. A humble, two-star Severe, Sheriff’s Wall, labeled “bold” turned out to have oodles of gear and high-quality face climbing on heucos and ironstone flakes. Another two-star “bold” route, Down and Out, nearby, proved to be not only excellent and well-protected but surprisingly easy for the given E1 (~5.10a) feeling more like 5.8/5.9-.

me leading at Robin Hood

The one-star E1 Call To Prayer (no pics, sorry) was the best of them all; a thought-provoking lead up a vertical wall of diamond-hard, shiny flakes. After each little flurry of moves, one reaches an impasse, a dead end at a half-decent hold; then, bit by bit, one surveys the terrain above and unravels the next sequence of moves and the upcoming protection possibilities. If this route were on the Bastille, in Eldorado Canyon, or in Joshua Tree, it would be among the best. But here in Morocco, there was no chalk on the holds, no other climbers, little trace of anyone having climbed the route before us. Fabulous.

stormy weather


As Fran followed, the rain began in earnest. As we stumbled down the descent gully we eyed up a supposed 4-star route, Owl Crack--a revolting, zigzag offwidth with jagged edges and “occasional rodents.” Four stars? Yikes.

Since there were plenty of one-star routes we had not done, we resolved to return next day. But alas, next day we woke to heavy rainthe rain, so we decided to expore the enticing walled citadel of Tizourgane.

tizourgane from distance

stone walls and flowers

tizougane doorway red and teal

Tizourgane dates from around 1300, and was continually occupied until 30 years ago. The woman who served us tea explained that her husband was from the last family to live there. Not so much a military-style castle, it was a secure, shared place for locals to store and protect valuable items, contracts, jewelry, food stores. The intricate stonework was strikingly similar to Chaco Canyon. Recently Tizourgane has been somewhat restored to its former glory, and hopefully might draw a few tourists to the area. Unemployment is high, and money scarce. In many of the local villages, many of the young adults are gone, earning money in the big cities and sending back occasional checks to the remaining families. Later, the rain eased off and we went for a hike amid spectacular scenery:

spectacular views

fran and nice clouds

Next day, we headed for the coast, Mirleft:

mirleft breakers

And Legzira Plage (plage is french for beach)

mirleft beach and fran

perfect sand beach and fran

This was just about the best beach I've ever seen in my life. There were acres of that perfect sand that, had I been the right age, could have occupied me all day, sculpting dreamy sandcastles and digging deep, mysterious holes.

Us adults had to retain some dignity, so we hiked the beach to check out several magnificent arches:

huge arch on beach

And a ruined castle up atop a hill just outside of town:

mirleft castle

All too soon, it was time to head back to Marrakech. We had time for one last wander through Marrakech:

banana sellers

spice stalls

marrakech alley and fran

beautiful tile work

djemma el fna street market and crowds


It was only when we were waiting in line, before checking in for our flight back to London, that fellow passengers told us that earlier that day a bomb had gone off in the big square, killing over a dozen people. From the timing, we apparently wandered by just a couple of hours after the explosion, yet noticed nothing, such is the level of noise and crowding.

The bar that was blown up was the Argana, on the right in the last picture above (this picture was taken a week earlier). It speaks to the stupidity of the bombers that they picked the day before the British Royal Wedding between William and Kate, so as to get minimal publicity from the carnage.

Morocco is not an easy, convenient place to visit, nor is it really very cheap to stay. The two climbing guidebooks for where we went have their shortcomings. But we felt safe everywhere we went, we were welcomed with smiles and treated with kindness by all. Every minute spent in Morocco is an adventure; and what does a climber crave if not adventure?

2 women and ice cream sign