The Mountain Teaches Nothing New: Another short walk in the Moroccan Rif

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Africa » Morocco » Tangier-Tétouan » Chefchaouen
March 1st 2020
Published: March 3rd 2020
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Looking back from the base of the gorge I entered to scramble up to the top
February 26th2020

Chefchouen Morocco

“You cannot travel the path until you have become the path itself.”

Gautama Buddha

“Virtue shuns ease as a companion…It demands a rough and thorny path.”

Michel de Montaigne

"To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself."

Søren Kierkegaard

“....there's no need for turning back
'Cause all roads lead to where we stand.
And I believe we'll walk them all
No matter what we may have planned.”

Don McLean

From a previous blog ( ) :

Chefchaouen (35.1695 -5.2685) was founded in 1471 as a small kasbah fortress to fight off the invading Portuguese. It is 113 km south-east of Tangier and is nestled at the base of the Rif Mountains (best known for the production of Moroccan hashish). After the 1492 Spanish expulsion, many Jews settled in Chefchaouen. It was also part of Spanish Morocco from 1920 until the independence in 1956. The town has a population of around 45,000.

I took myself off for a brisk walk.
Route from my hotel .. clockwise direction once in the gorgeRoute from my hotel .. clockwise direction once in the gorgeRoute from my hotel .. clockwise direction once in the gorge

The pink dot is where I stopped on a summit ledge for breakfast
Well, it started brisk. It was just past 8am and I had been awake doing my stuff since 6.30. I already had my habitual coffee at the local cafe at Bab Suk (the square where my hotel is located).

Some mornings, I just feel this full power and energy to walk and such a morning it was. My days in 'Chouen' have been slow and lazy yet full of worthwhile attention to 'what is'. With my often-felt 'no appetite for travel' as such, I have just been chilling here to see what happens (again) with myself. A process of watching and doing not much, but staying with it, and breathing through the initial panic around 'where am I and what am I doing here actually?'.

Lesson: Stay

But some days demand more action... like a walk into the mountains.

I only have a broad plan... to get up high. I fancy taking a certain rock stairway on a marked path, up from the main valley, that I had been on a year ago. On the way out of town and way before the turn to where the stone stairway is, I spy a narrow gorge that I think will take me up to the same area as that stairway and the marked path leads to. Only this has no path (can that ever be true in life?). Without much thought I proceed.

Lesson: Taking the plunge can be vitalising

It was kind of a blind alley from below. But I figured there would be a way.

Lesson: There will always be a way

I get into this. Somehow I love travelling upwards (specially rock scrambling) and spying the possible but unknown route. It doesn't always work out as I have imagined of course. But that's part of the fun.

Lesson: Don't expect your image of reality to be anything than image

After about 40 minutes it's time to decide a route out of the gorge as the walls begin to converge around me. I look for solid ground to avoid the loose rock slopes. I feel a satisfying sense of fast heart beat as I head up the right hand ridge, brought on surely by the physical exertion. But also by a slight sense of risk and danger. Here is when I am reminded (qualified by being careful and not stupid with it) that life as we know it (or what we think we know of it) can be suddenly terminated. And I breathe into that feeling that it's OK. If this were my day to 'go' then so be it. I am surprisingly relaxed about that (only please don't let it hurt too much 😊 ).

Lesson: All things are impermanent

There are a few moments on the slope where I can imagine slipping or loosing grip. There is one point (after having crawled up a section of very loose rock which moves and falls behind my boots digging in) where I realise that now there may not be a safe way back (should I feel I have no way ahead: 'return to the first lesson').

Lesson: Own the decision and move on

I get into this thing where I view a route of solid rocks ahead and say to myself “I like the look of that”. It's reassuring and affirming, creating a confidence. I am aware that a lot of this is about a kind of bluff confidence, although I am convinced with some of the stretching that is required of me to find the next foothold that I would not be really so confident doing this without my yoga practice. That too, of course, gives me confidence.

Lesson: There is strength in self-belief, but solidity in disciplined practice

At last, after perhaps another 45 minutes, I have for the first time this day reached sunlight as I clamber up to a rock platform summit. It's a good place to rest and have some breakfast. I have brought with me yogurt, a banana, dried fruits and nuts. Needless to say they are just so much more delicious and nutritious in this setting after this climb.

Lesson: The ordinary can become the extraordinary and vice versa

I have an amazing view of the town below. How did I get here really? It seems so far. If you had suggested it all from the viewpoint of being down there in my hotel room, I would have baulked.

Lesson: One step at a time brings collective great distance and perspective

After 20 minutes I move on and soon enough, discover that the ridge I am on is not the ridge that I thought the marked path and rock stairway would have led to. There is a little valley ahead to traverse. And it does not present as an easy way. I momentarily feel deflated if not a little tired. 'Return to previous lesson'. I let despondency hover and watch it, while I keep moving forward. And after each 5 or 10 minutes I glance back and am amazed at the progress made.

Lesson: Expect change with it's accompanying moods... what arises falls away again.

There is not much fun bashing through tightly knit underbrush that robs me of any perspective of the greater context. But somehow I find openings again... and then am plunged back into the underbrush labyrinth. I reach the far wall of this little valley, relieved to have perspective back and solid rock to find my footing again. I climb out of this valley … only to discover that there is yet another larger valley to traverse between me and what I am now fairly confident to be the final ridge where that marked path would have come to. I can see worn tracks on the distant valley slope. I plot my course, which inevitably must be continually revised as I find a way. My boots are beginning to show signs of scraping against rock and bush and I also have a few falls cushioned by hands which are also feeling a tad raw. Yet, I make sure, steady progress and finally reach the 'bridge' of that valley to the far slope and it's tracks. “I like the look of that” says I as I start the climb up. …. then once I reach a more substantial track and move along it, I decide that really going back the opposite way on that track is the right direction to take.

After about 15 minutes on this way, I realise that there is yet another ridge to reach before there will be any sign of that marked track from the main valley below. I choose to laugh at this whole process.

Lesson: Allowing for time and energy, relax with humour at challenge and change

I am also reminded about the way I continually construct my little beliefs and realities about things even though I experience the relatively illusory nature of these constructions. Even this must surely be humorous in the end, or I'd go completely mad.

Lesson: While dwelling in your belief, consider it quite probably false. (the more I know the less I know)

I pass a man and his dog on the lower slope of the track. He has been cultivating this very steep patch of land in readiness for the spring planting of marijuana. This area is the veritable capital for Moroccan hashish production. It amazes me how much work it must be to dig these slopes and keep the water up to the plants and so on. There is, even at this height and distance, a hose reaching to the fields for irrigation. How that works I have no idea. I wave to the man and when I am closer make some signs to indicate my appreciation of how much hard work it must be... he signs back his agreement.

I reach a pointed ridge that affords another great vista of the town below. This ridge seems still then not to be the way to the marked path and it's rock stairway that I seek for my return to the main valley. Ah, but over the edge is an almost vertical, but obviously used, way down. It will require no fear of heights and a steady use of sure rock footings, often a series of sitting stages, to get down. Without much thought (“I like the look of that”) I go over the edge and make my way down, amused at the thought that it really is quite risky.

Eventually I reach a relatively flat slope with a traversing path that I can now see is going to meet that sought after rock stairway at it's base, giving me an easy walk back to the valley floor.

I eventually reach my starting point, back in my hotel room some four and a half hours after I had left. Such a short time really. I feel good for it all. I kid myself that I have survived without effect, until about an hour later when I realise I am pretty shaky when climbing stairs and feel frail when going down them. Young still? Well, older too.

Lesson: All paths lead to where we stand


4th March 2020

Take me to the mountain
What a fabulous trek.............and yes, one step at a time always leads to extraordinary/ordinary. Thank you again for sharing the journey :)
4th March 2020

Paul in Morocco
Great to receive your blog once again after a long gap Are you really in Morocco once again !!!
4th March 2020

Paul: Great practice....up and down.... now and again---> inside out...all along the path. Enjoy all the silent variations!
18th March 2020

Watching and doing not much
The world is following in your footsteps of slowing down and learning to do the simple things together in isolation. The world needs to heal itself. You must become the path.
18th March 2020

Slowing it down
Nice thoughts my friend. Hoping you are keeping safe in these mad times. Tomorrow I fly back to Australia... 14 days quarantine then in my home... Hoping the world takes the time to stop and look hard at itself.
10th May 2020

Books that have shaped you and your travels!
Good to read about your latest travels Paul - Hope you are well and safe! It would be great to see a blog entry with a list of some of the books that have inspired you and your travels! Looking forward to reading more as always
10th May 2020

in touch
Hi Pradnya. I assume we have never actually met... just you came across my blogs? If that is not the case I apologise for my bad memory. I would be happy to open a discussion with you anytime... my email address is . _()_
10th May 2020

Responded to you through the past email trails we have used :)
12th February 2021

So impressive, mate. A long way from St Doms
Hi Paul, I really enjoyed reading that account of your walk. Great to catch up with what you are doing after all these years since we sat together in 4 Blue.
12th February 2021

4 Blue
I have to be honest Doug... I don't recall your name... could be poor memory per se or just getting old? Well, anyway, not doing too much travelling since I got back from Spain a year ago.. for the obvious reason but also because I have been caring for my 93 year old mum back in Lawson (the family home) all this time .... It's a weird world and life... gotta roll with it. Where are you these day? ..

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