What is the Mountain? (Embrace it)

Published: February 21st 2019
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Imlil, Alto Atlas, Morocco

February 2019 '

“I have seen nothing more weird or miraculous than myself. Over time we may get used to strange things. But the more I probe myself and know myself, the more my oddity astonishes me, and the less I understand who I am.”

Michel de Montaigne,On Presumption

“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”

Plato's Socratic Paradox, The Republic

“Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.“

Eckhart Tolle

“Not knowing anything is the sweetest life.”


“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.”

Zenkei Blanche Hartman

Imlil ('31.126372 -7.9172829)is a small village sitting at 1,800 meters above sea level in the Alto (high) Atlas Mountainsof Morocco. Jebel (Mount) Toukbal sits just behind Imlil at 4,100 meters and is the highest peak in Northern Africa. And so Imlil is the take off point for many visitors who come to climb the mountain, which in turn provides much employment to the locals who act as guides, and hire out their mules and equipment. A local guide is compulsory with a Police Check Post just past the village of Toubkal (about 45 mins walk up from Imlil), and one must spend a night at the base camp before the climb. Imlil is only 60 km from Marrakesh. The area is also famous for walnuts, apples and cherries.

In August 1995, Imlil experienced a severe flash flood after 70 mm of rain fell in just 2.5 hours. Up to 150 people died including maybe 50 tourists, and 40 vehicles were swept away and houses and livestock and fields lost. I met Hamid, a local store owner, now aged 38 was just 14 at the time of the flood. Luckily his family home is higher on the hill-side behind Imlil and all were safe. But of course he has vivid memories of the devastation to this then even smaller community from that time. Much channel work has since occurred to mitigate against any repeat of this catastrophe.

If I thought my last location (Tafraout) was laid back, Imlil is super laid back. There are more mules on the only road through town than vehicles, although tourist mini-buses from Marrakesh are pretty common too. In December 2018 two Swedish female backpackers were brutally murdered near Imlil, with the perpetrators led by a wanna-be jihadist from Switzerland. The true story is still not clear, but Imlil took a big hit in tourism as a result. Two months later things seem to be back on track.

I again lucked it in finding a really decent place to stay at a negotiated low cost due to my promise to stay at least a week. Having looked around town on arrival I was very confident about fulfilling such a promise.

The village has an easy feel to it, and I quickly made some local acquaintances. In particular a man named Mohamed (half the town's men seems to be named Mohamed with the other half named Ibrahim). This Mohamed is aged 45 and works as a parking officer in the middle of town. It's a Dream job in terms of not much to do. And so he sits around a lot and is open to sharing a mint tea (which I buy) and walnuts (which he supplies and are from his village about an hour up). Mohamed is single and sleeps in a small room about half the size of my bathroom in my hotel. Not much English from him and less Berber/ Arabic from me, but we get on well. He is a very generous soul, as I saw when he offered his walnuts to complete strangers for their trip back to Marrakech.

There are daily rituals that I construct for myself. A little different in sequence and substance in each place I stay in. but the basics remain the same. Here I have done just about every walk around this valley and the next, save the climbing of Jebel Toukbal. I am quite relaxed about embracing the sight and feel of Toubkal (which I see from my hotel room) without the need to 'conquer' it (or if that's unfairly strong, to climb it). Anyway, I don't really have the 'gear' and independent trekking around is more my style.

It's cold here, but the daytime sun is warm and pleasant. Avoiding the shadows is the trick. I have a little electric heater in my room to take off the chill in the early evenings and mornings.

I am listening to downloaded tapes by Stephen Batchelor on Secular Buddhism (his book “Buddhism without Belief” is one of my favourite tomes). He has a lot to say too about the meditative practice of “what is this?”, which requires no answer but appreciation of no answer and a realisation and affirmation of “I don't know”. More than that, a physical 'dwelling' in the feel of not knowing, and subsequent wonderment as this suffuses the body. Life is nuts, and at best a mystery in the end. Looking/ seeing without the need to dissect and name and 'know' is a discipline born from this mystery, and the reward is just sheer amazement at it all.

After a week in Imlil, the local traders are aware that I am not a target for their carpets and shawls and trinkets and tours. This is good as it makes for a more relaxed interaction all around. They like that I like their town, of course, and staying more than a week changes the whole feel between us. However, the down side is that I am not then immune to their wondering how on earth people like me get to just wander around in their country for weeks. How do I afford it? Of course I probably spend less in 3 months in Morocco than an upper crust tourist does in their brief 2 week tour. Much less I imagine. Still, it's always hard to reconcile my relative wealth with the relative non-wealth of many locals. It is always thus.

I have no need timewise to leave Imlil other than I only now have 3 weeks left in Morocco (visa limit of 3 months), but it feels right after 9 days to move on. I am sad to leave, which is not always the case while traveling from place to place. There is no right or wrong decision in it all of course. I just decide and go.

Om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svah

(Gone, gone, beyond. Completely exposed. Awake. So be it)

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


21st February 2019

why do we climb the mountain?
Because it's there.
21st February 2019

must we clmb everything?
Sometimes we just need to let it be..... not climb the mountain... let the mountain just be what it is without us.
22nd February 2019

Hi _ I do not know if you remember me, but I have been following your blog for some time and once when I was visiting Pushkar, I met you. So, what is your situation with India? Are they going to let you back in there?
22nd February 2019

Life is nuts, and at best a mystery in the end. Looking/ seeing without the need to dissect and name and 'know' is a discipline born from this mystery, and the reward is just sheer amazement at it all
You stayed long enough to take it all in...and how lucky were you that the bustle of time could stand still long enough for you to do so.
23rd February 2019

9 days and moving on
Sounds like another nice village. Finding peace within. No matter how frugal you travel others will always question how that can be done.
27th February 2019

Magnificent Morocco
Thank you, as always Paul. I feel very privileged 'travelling' with you. Incredibly unique places that you have shown us on this adventure. (I'm not sure why, but I have only just seen this blog :) ) More travel hugs - Marguerite

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