How does the saying go? Make hay while the sun shines? Well at the moment I’m very happy to keep climbing while the sun shines, and shining is exactly what it’s doing in Innsbruck right now, day after day. Traditionally November in Europe should be a pretty dreary, fairly miserable month; arguably the worst month of the year. But this year seems to be an exception (well certainly in Innsbruck!) and I am absolutely loving it. With a perfect forecast for the weekend we made the bold decision to head up in to the Karwendel National Park, just outside of Innsbruck, take on a 2 day via feratta, and bivvy (yes, sleep outside!) up in the mountains – on 31st October! Bags packed we headed off in the sunshine, excited about yet another new place to explore, and it didn’t disappoint.
Waking up outside at 2000m, watching the sun creep over the mountains on 1st November was certainly a first, and felt pretty cool. The views were spectacular, the sunrise and sunset stunning, and over 2 full days we saw perhaps only 15 other people. There is nothing like being out in the mountains, especially when it’s wild and virtually empty. It’s a perfect escape from daily life, somewhere you can feel completely free and happy. Plus, a full day out leaves you tired, content and fully ready for a big feed in the evening; very satisfying!
You may or may not have ever heard of the Vallée Blanche, some of you may have even skied it, but regardless of your previous knowledge, the pictures of this stunning ski run speak for themselves. Essentially it is a completely off piste ski trail, 18km long, ungroomed, unpatrolled, and follows an enormous glacier down the Chamonix Valley, marking the border between Italy and France. You enter the Vallée Blanche at your own risk, preferably with a guide, as there are no end of crevasses waiting to swallow you up if you head the wrong way. From start to finish the whole experience is simply breathtaking, in the sense that it literally will take your breath away. I’d say it’s worth learning how to ski if only so you get the chance to do this at least once in your life!
It has to be done on a sunny day as the views are just as important, if not more important than the skiing. To reach the start you have to fight your way on to arguably one of the busiest ski lifts in the World and trying to get a space on it between 8 and 10am is every man for himself, yet as we recently discovered, heading back round for lap number 2 in the afternoon is more than worth the effort. After the pandemonium of the morning, at 2.30pm we had the lift to ourselves, and saw just 2 other people in the distance during the entire run down, easily 2 hours of solitude in what has to be one of the most stunning places on earth. Add to this tranquility the beauty of skiing home at dusk watching the sun creep its way downwards behind the mountains and it all makes for a pretty magical day.
So I’ve just spent the last 5 days in Morocco, and despite being fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, I’m truly sad to be going home. I have never been to the continent of Africa before and still struggle to believe that a mere 3 hour plane ride from Geneva, Switzerland; a bustling hub of tangible wealth and fortune, you can find yourself in a place so far removed from western culture, where subsistence and daily struggle seem to simply be a way of life. It was one of the most interesting and diverse places I have ever been, and I found it really hard to say goodbye!
We started off in Marrakech and those who’ve spent any time there will know exactly what I mean when I say that after just one day you genuinely feel like your brain may explode! Fascinating isn’t the word, it’s not even close, a massive sensory overload is getting warmer. There is just so much to look at, to listen to, to dodge around, to comment on. It’s so difficult to take it all in, there’s just so much of it! I had heard about the souks, the monkeys, the snakes and the bartering, but until you’re in it you really have no idea. It’s wonderful, it’s amazing, it’s a totally different world. What totally blew my mind as a very first impression was the realisation that there don’t seem to be any rules for vehicles in the centre of Marrakech; rental cars, taxis, donkeys and pedestrians share the same road. Horns blaring, fingers waving and no acknowledgment of lanes; a 2 lane road to us was clearly a 5 lane road to a local Moroccan, it’s every man for himself, a stressful start!
The souks are seriously amazing and such fun! As a white westerner be prepared for hassle and attention, but also be prepared to embrace it! The bartering and haggling is all part of the fun and you just need to stick to your guns and only pay what you were initially prepared to pay. I assumed I’d be a dreadful haggler but was mightily pleased with myself when I managed to negotiate the price for a pair of leather sandals down from 350 dirhams to 150! Marrakech is colourful, it’s noisy, it’s exciting, and it’s so worth a visit.
For many people, Marrakech is the first and final stop, where the Moroccan experience both begins and ends, but as we discovered in just 5 days, there is SO much more to this endlessly fascinating country than its most famous city.
From here we headed to the mountains, to the foothills of Mount Toubkal in the Atlas range. The drive alone was worth it, moving quickly from heaving, bustling, crazy Marrakech to ‘real Morocco’. Here we found dirt roads, curious locals perched on their haunches on the roadside and random camels just grazing next to the road. We stayed in Imlil for one night, a beautiful, tiny mountain village, which would be impossible to describe. Suffice it to say that upon arrival in the village, the ‘hotel’ owner came down to meet us and loaded up our luggage to be carried up the hillside by a mule!
The peace, the tranquility and the pure simplicity of such a place was something to be marvelled at. Everyone was busy, whether it was manning a stall selling local goods, hanging out the washing, or moving earth for a new building project, everyone was doing something, from the very young to the very old.
Having had a whirlwind visit to the city and the mountains, the obvious end to our short trip was a few days by the sea. This I loved. It’s December and we wandered round Essaouira in flip flops and t.shirts! Quite the novelty coming from winter in the Alps! A sunset on the beach in December is hard to beat and without a doubt I could have spent a lot more time in Essaouira.
I never cease to marvel at how air travel can make you feel so far away from home so quickly. These 5 days have reminded me that I want to do trips like this for the rest of my life. From the precious little I saw of it, Morocco is a country that makes me feel like I have gone back in time, and not just a few decades, I’m talking medieval. People live off the land, donkeys and horses are used as transport on a daily basis, happily trotting along main roads and many people are living in sheer squalor yet seem very content. Fashion plays no part, there is no materalism (wow there’s even no alcohol!) It’s good to see how other cultures live, it’s interesting, it opens our eyes, changes our perspective on our own lives.
Morocco is a wonderful place and I will most certainly be back.