Saturday, 28 November 2015

Aroumd and about

The sound of four grown men being assailed with buckets of water in a vaulted hammam reminded me of the noises made by crowds attending fireworks displays, in my childhood. As we lined up against the wall, we were pelted with water of varying temperatures, each of which drew from us different noises, ranging from comfort to pain: warm water ("oooh"), hot ("aaah") and occasionally very cold ("eeeee"). After a while, these sounds, which echoed around the tiled rooms, began to make us all laugh in a slightly delirious way, to the undoubted bewilderment of the hammam's attendant and his assistant.

The day before, we had descended from the refuge just below Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains, the highest peak in North Africa, and we were sorely in need of hygiene. It was in the depths of February, the mountain was encrusted in snow and ice, and the temperature inside the refuge where we had spent a few nights was, but for one room with a stove, extremely cold. One morning, I had braved the dribbling pipe in the basement room that was pleased to call itself a "shower", but as I squatted in the shower tray, desperately hoping for the barest hint of warmth, I had started to doubt whether I would ever get properly warm again.

The summit of Toubkal had been reached a few days before that, and not without with a great deal of effort. Altitude, combined with occasionally knee-deep snow, meant that our ascent had been far from speedy. At the top, we looked out across the Atlas Mountains, under a crips blue sky; the covering of snow making it extremely hard to judge scale.

"Are we the slowest group you've lead up here?" somebody asked, jokingly, but our guide's polite smile and silence in reply spoke volumes.

Back down the valley, we had walked across to Amound, a small village clustered on top of an ancient mountain land-slip, on the promise of a traditional massage and steam room. The village resembled a scattered collection of cardboard boxes, and appeared extremely basic. Inside the hammam, however, all was warm and clean. Afterwards, we marched back across the valley to our auberge, skin tingling with freshness.

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