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Atlas Mountains, Morocco

In December, we flew from Portugal to Marrakech, Morocco for twelve days and stayed in a beautiful riad in the middle of one of the busiest marketplaces in the world. We used this as a base to explore Marrakech’s famous attractions. To get out of the craziness of the medina we also took several tours to explore the surrounding area.

Just as I was ready to write about our fabulous trip to the Atlas Mountains, a terrorist attack happened in Imlil, the same village we had stayed in just one week prior. Two young beautiful European girls were hiking in the same area and brutally murdered by former ISIS fighters that were originally from Morocco and had returned home.

Of course, this saddened us deeply and months later it is still difficult, to wrap my head around how this beautiful region we explored and where we were treated so warmly and kindly by everyone we met, could be the same place such a horrid atrocity could occur.

Our Berber guide to the Atlas Mountains seemed to know everyone in each village we hiked through. Though we couldn’t understand the language, we knew he was receiving well wishes and people were joking with him. The body language was universal. He soon explained that he was to be married. He was building a home and his family was preparing for the wedding. It seemed that everyone was excited for him.

As a former wedding planner, I had a hundred questions about his wedding. He explained that the ceremony would take place over a period of seven days. Though the wedding was still several months away, his family was already preparing. His marriage was arranged and he had known his bride his entire life.

His family would host a feast in every village in the region and everyone would be invited, entertaining several thousand guests over the course of a week. There were six or seven neighboring villages! His family was already acquiring the goats and sheep that they would roast, and making cheeses and other local dishes.

As we walked from one village to another our guide played with the children along the way and was greeted warmly by everyone we passed. It seemed that everyone was looking forward to the upcoming festivities.

We were offered such warm hospitality and even met our guide’s mother and family. In every community we witnessed a very simple but beautiful life and a kind and noble people.

We also took a day trip to the port city Essaouira on the Atlantic coast. It is known for its medina (old markrt) and 18th century ramparts designed by European engineers. We spent the day strolling the medina, boardwalks and especially enjoyed watching the fisherman.

The highlight of the day was stopping alongside the road to take a photo of the goats in the Argon trees! Yes goats!

We rode camels through the desert and visited a women’s cooperative where we watched as they made Aragon oil.

For thousands of years these small Moroccan villages have made their living from weaving and trade and are now reaping the benefits of tourism. I am afraid that they too will also be hurt by this recent horrific terrorist act.

Despite this horrible event, it is the beauty of the region and our smiling guide planning his wedding that I will remember, not the cowardly acts of the terrorists.

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