Take Me to the River

The world doesn’t look particularly different at twenty-two. So much has happened since last year, but what’s changed? I’ve been so busy for most of the year that I’ve hardly had time to look. I’ve been binging on Doctor Who lately, and with all of that timely-wimey stuff in mind, I thought I’d pen down a few things that I’ve seen and heard over the last 365 days.

Paris got hit by an earth-shattering terrorist attack, and then a flood six months later. Brussels got attacked shortly afterwards, as did numerous other cities in the Middle East (most of which overlooked, perhaps because Europeans weren’t directly involved). IS obviously wasn’t satisfied with all the fear and blew up Palmyra. It’s a rough world we live in. The migrant crisis is deepening, UK is currently considering leaving the EU and mogul, ‘kill the women and children’, human-seesaw Trump is genuinely the Republican candidate for the US Presidential elections. That may or may not have something to do with all of this. There’s also another plane vanished without a trace, this one flying between Paris and Cairo. We lost a lot of actors to cancer, including Alan Rickman, and also the West African black rhinoceros to boot – but in all the xenophobic madness that’s plaguing the world right now, that’s a loss that most people will have ignored.

There’s a change right away: Ben’s been reading the news this year.

Yesterday was my first shot at getting out and about in Morocco and I seized it by the horns. It was also the first real day of summer, pushing 36°C from 11 o’clock onwards. Summer Ramadan is a challenge on a whole new level. Thank goodness the plan was to spend most of the day in the shade of a canyon.

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Now if Wadi Dana had been this lush and green…

The Moroccan north is nothing short of spectacular. In truth, most of Morocco will blow you away, but the Rif is rather special, even for a seasoned Sierra-trekker like me. Imagine the Pyrenees, sprinkle them with red earth, plant them with cedars and remove the high-rise ski resorts and you have a basic idea of the Rif. You might also care to throw in a few monkeys if it’s to your fancy, though a surprising number of folks wouldn’t.

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Thank God I brought my trunks on a whim

Turn off the road near Talambote and you’ll find yourself in a breathtaking valley of cedar woods and stark, red cliffs, set against a blue, blue sky. Heaven incarnate. There’s a small car park and a couple of bathrooms at the point where a river tumbles out of the mountains, carving its way through the rocks over a series of waterfalls. Akchour and the Bridge of God lie just a couple of kilometres upstream.

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Talassemtane’s pretty amazing, but the party starts south of Tetouan!

The route there is not exactly what you’d call linear; you have to ford the river at least two or three times. And whilst the weather might be sweltering at this time of year, the water rushing down from the mountains is anything but. There are a couple of stepping-stone paths and a few lines of conveniently-placed sandbags,but unless you feel like risking the adventurous, straight-out-of-a-Conan Doyle log bridges, it’s sun’s out, guns out, shoes off. I usually need a seriously good excuse to strip, being white bread through and through, even though I tend to tan pretty well, thanks to the Manchego in my blood (mmm… manchego). Well, a swim is as good an excuse as any.

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Throw me the idol!

The water is cold. It’s not as cold as that pool in the riad we stayed in over in Chaouen, but it’s still bloody cold. After about fifteen minutes in the river my jaw is shaking uncontrollably and I’m having to bite my tongue to talk, which is hardly the most efficient way of going about it. But the water is so clear you can count the stones on the riverbed two metres down. And somewhere up in the trees high above, troops of macaques patrol the cliffs. I only had a fleeting glimpse of them this time, but I’ll be back. Hey, I can’t help it; I lived with two anthropologists last year. It did my obsession with primates no good whatsoever. Get up close and personal with our distant family and tell me you don’t feel some kind of connection on a deeper level – it’s in the eyes. You can tell they’re thinking.

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Barbary Macaque in the Cedar Forest, Ifrane National Park, Morocco (2015)

They must be. If you aren’t buying it, visit the Rock. The Gibraltar macaques know all the tricks to relieve tourists of their munchies: smash and grab, puppydog eyes, even a rudimentary pincer movement. But here they’re free, unfed (and thus unspoiled) by tourists and wary enough to be considered natural. And that’s beautiful.

The car ride home was nothing short of a dream. Why? Because Omar, our guide, spoke Spanish. As did Mika, as did Jennifer. As did I. I can hardly tell you how amazing it felt to be speaking Spanish again after what feels like ages, even though it can only have been ten days, tops. It made returning to Arabic on Monday morning all the harder, but it was worth it for the high. Send me back to Spain. I can see the blue skies, I can see Paradise.

The Corrs have a new album out. White Light. I’m in a very happy place. And now I’m not booked out this August, I might just get to see them after all. BB x

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