Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From the Milky Way to the Freezing Cold

Imlil is a cold, cold place. And our 40 dirham-a-night hostel is an even colder place. But coldest yet is the refuge at the base-camp of Jebel Toubkal at 6:30 in the morning when the sun still has not yet fully risen over the mountain.

I'm going to start with the bad and move to the good. It'll give a nice sense of progression...

We were in the mountains. Autumn actually exists up there. And there was no heat. I had to pee in the middle of the dark, cold night. I didn't realize that the Turkish bathroom (read: whole in the ground) had a lightswitch. I ate a dinner of the same food I would eat for the next two days: piece of bread, chunks of spreadable la vach kiri fromage (that's all French. I think it means something like "the smiling cow cheese"), a tomato, a cucumber, and a bit of lemon juice. And then the next morning we paid 25 dirham for a breakfast (with INSTANT coffee!!?) that we could have bought for 5. When we got to base camp we had to pay 20 dirham for blankets (!) though we desperately needed them since it was getting dark and the only source of heat in the stone refuge was a tiny, crowded little fire in the corner of the common room.

We were in the mountains. Autumn actually exists up there. The trees were turning different colors. There were natural patches of green all around us. We met three more travelers the first night who would be hiking with us. Real characters, all. One from Nor-Cal, two from England, one of whom was 40 years old and still trekking on his own, and one of whom was in the middle of an overland journey from England to Ghana through Spain, France, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso (She and I met up in Essaouira later and had a good time). So it was a party. We were all staying together and in the morning we all set of in high spirits to begin our trek to base-camp.

Well there's not much to say here. This section title is really just so I can get on to the next one. I guess I might mention the absolute cold again, oh, and the technical difficulty of getting down from the summit. I ripped my hand open tumbling down-- good thing one of the English guys had band-aids. And I did a somersault once, and came close to spraining my ankles innumerable times.

The trek was stunning. We walked along a dry river bed, refilled our water bottles (using the Californian's water pump) at a spring where we were offered, but did not purchase, coke and orange soda that had been cooling in the frigid rivulet. We walked up hills and down into valleys, stopping often, knowing that we had all day to get to the refuge. My two companions and I had decided to put all of our stuff into my bag and to switch off, so for something close to 1/3 of the time, I was carrying nothing but my water bottle. We had lunch on the way, making an assembly line for sandwiches with ingredients that I had purchased that morning on a little excursion with Monsieur California. In the last hour of our 6 hour hike, we were overtaken by two sprightly men who we later met and trekked up with the next day. One was a British-Australian pilot for EasyJet who had just graduated an intense two years of flight school in New Zealand, and the other I will introduce as "The Super-Great Dane". He is, well, Danish, but he is also so much more. The Super-Great Dane is a few things: He is smart: Going for a PhD in polisci. He is funny: Mostly his accent, but also how he talks -- it's like he can't say enough words all at once...and of course, he's got a sense of humor. And he's fit: This guy is an "Adventure Racer". This means he travels for months at a time with a team (one woman, two men), over swaths of land through any conditions (parched desert, sheer rock faces, slippery rain, crushing snow) using any means (foot, bike, canoe, crampons) to win the prize money at the end. He's been doing this for years (he's 27) and was at Toubkal practicing. He said that the people who win these things are usually in their late 30s, early 40s because they "know their bodies so well". He told us stories of hallucinations, being so tired that he had to be literally dragged along by a massive lesbian team member, and other such experiences. Anyway....I made some interesting friends.

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