Tuesday, March 24.
It’s official. I have a cold.
This completely sucks the big one.
Breakfast is spent on the terrace atop Action Couscous’ guesthouse. It’s a nice, warm temperature outside.
Our quiet meal is followed by a not-so-impromptu photo session with Action, and his son (when he comes wandering up to the terrace).
Leaving Ait Benhaddou, I watch as the terrain changes again, and the road winds upward (see above).
We wind our way along Tizi ‘n Tichka, which connects Marrakech with the desert regions we’ve just left.
We hit the Tizi ‘n Tichka Pass – the highest elevation of the route – and stop to take a picture by the sign, and also of the valley and winding road below, while fending off aggressive vendors trying to sell us cheap necklaces and other tacky tchotchkes.
We continue along the winding route through this enormous mountain chain until about mid-afternoon, when we reach the village of Imlil, where we’re staying overnight.
This is only the first leg of our trek to the mountain gite we’re staying at for the night. After we store our bags in the luggage room of a local hotel, we assemble in the parking lot while two donkeys are prepared for Liz and Nonnie.
Why? Because our trek up to the mountain gite is a 45-minute walk. Up.
Liz isn’t feeling well, which is understandable. Nonnie probably doesn’t want to tackle the walk.
As we begin the walk, I think boastfully to myself as I walk, my day-pack strapped on, psssht! this ain’t bad at all.
By the time we cross the creek and start heading even farther upwards, I’m ready to die.
My nose is half-blocked. I hate breathing through my mouth because I’m pretty much behind Nonnie’s donkey – and inhaling the fresh mountain scent of donkey do0-doo doesn’t impress me. And my throat feels like someone stuffed it with sandpaper.
Adding to this, as we’re heading up the rocky “steps”, I get a little splashback from Nonnie’s donkey.
And I don’t think it’s mud.
I’m panting and sweating uncontrollably by the time we reach the mountain gite. I would just lie down, but I’d probably end up in a pile of donkey dung.
We’re taken upstairs to the sitting area, which has a low ceiling over the seats and tables, but opens out onto a terrace with a great view of the mountains nearby
The air is crisp and suddenly a lot cooler. The sweat evaporates, and I’m instantly shivering. I quickly start re-layering.
We’re given tea and biscuits; someone also shares some chips they bought on the trip up.
Two tiny kids – children of the family that runs the gite – come bounding out of the kitchen, having an impromptu wrestling match on the terrace. They’re brother and sister, possibly no more than 3 and 4 years old, respectively. And they’re so cute, with their cherubic, rosy-cheeked faces.
After catching our collective breaths, we work out the room arrangements. We’ve got three to choose from: one with seven beds, one with five beds at one end of the hall, and one at the opposite end with “Berber style” beds.
All the younger women take the largest room; the older women take the next biggest, and Colin camps out in the remaining room.
Night descends quickly, and the wind picks up suddenly, whipping around at a furious pace.
The hours spent before dinner are in this “dining” room of sorts, with lots of seating, outdated travel brochures, and a fireplace which doesn’t work – instead of exiting through the chimney, some of the smoke wafts back into the room. TWhich means the door to the cold, windy outside has to be kept open.
I’m also feeling increasingly craptacular. I’m so cold, I’m wearing my tights under my cargo pants, as well as a second pair of socks, my fleece sweater, spring jacket, scarf, hat and mitts. I’m convinced I’m getting a fever.
When dinner’s served, I eat a bowl of soup and some vegetarian tajine. I start feeling better – and warmer.
We end up playing a few games before bedtime.
Our beds are actually mattresses on the floor, done up with bedding and blankets (which is totally fine). The pillows are, well, ROCKS with pillow covers over them. At least, that’s what they feel like. Luckily I’ve brought along my spongy travel pillow, so I use that instead.
The first part of the night is tough. The wind’s so fierce, it’s shaking the locked windows above our heads. It’s a wonder they don’t break or unhinge and fly off, the way they might in movies involving small American towns and vicious tornadoes.
I’m stuffed up, and my feet are still cold; I spend what seems like an eternity vigorously rubbing them together, like I’m trying to start a fire.
Just when THEY warm up … I realize I have to pee. Which means I’d have to leave my now-warm bed and face that monstrous wind on the way to the bathroom downstairs.
I try waiting it out for as long as possible, hoping my bladder can make it until morning.
By about 4:30 a.m., I can’t take it anymore. I rifle through my day-pack for my trusty roll of toilet paper, put on my shoes and trudge downstairs.
I do my business as quickly as I can – it’s friggin’ cold and the wind is shaking the door. After washing my hands in the icy cold water, I make my way back towards the stairs … when I just stop.
I edge out onto the terrace and look straight up.
The stars are out, twinkling in all their glory.
The cold wind’s whistling and whipping all around me. The dark silhouette of the mountain facing me cuts a menacing figure, like a big schoolyard bully.
All I do is crane my neck, looking from left to right, taking in as many eyefuls of stars as I can handle.
It’s awesome and a bit terrifying at the same time.
And at this moment in the middle of the night, I’m the only one here to to see it.