Though the village of Imlil is not physically far from the activity of Marrakech, the feel of the place could not be more different. Imlil is humble and peaceful, in a valley at the end of an unpaved road with crisp air and deciduous trees whose leaves were beginning to change.
Located in the High Atlas mountains, Imlil is a tourist destination itself as it is the most convenient base for hiking Mt. Toubqal, the highest peak in North Africa. There were many small touristy shops selling jewelry and rugs, and one morning I even heard a group of British schoolgirls singing on the main road on their way up to Toubqal. Despite this, though, Imlil didn’t have the typical feel of a tourist destination, thanks to the fact that there was none of the tourist hustle that I’ve experienced in the larger cities.
I read that climbing the mountain is more of a brisk walk than a climb, and could be done in two days, but unfortunately did not get to test these claims myself. Peak climbing season is during the mild weather of May through October, though a group of Fulbrighters made the trek a few days before me and encountered snowfall and lightning. Deciding that Toubqal wasn’t really worth all that effort, we decided to do a day hike to a neighboring town but set off on the wrong path and turned back to Imlil after just a few hours.
What started out as a plan to hike the highest mountain in North Africa ended as a stroll though the area and one night at a guesthouse in Imlil, though I can’t say I am disappointed. The walk along the rough road through the mountains was beautiful and smelled like the apples that were being harvested. A man sitting on top one of the trucks transporting the apples tossed one to us as they passed and it tasted like home.
The cozy guesthouse felt like it could have been one of the refuges I stayed at along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, complete with cold rooms and friendly Spanish hikers. The next morning I awoke to the call to prayer echoing down the valley.