Humans have grown up with trees, at once a place of shelter, and of threat, of easily generated myths, yet bestowing a soothing magic. It comes as no surprise that trees should be at centre stage in our current search for effective recuperative measures to address our climatic misdeeds. Indeed, with the strictures on congregation brought on by pandemic, woodland of any sort has become a refuge, a natural hospice, a personal shrine for so many people unable or unwilling to risk health in the company of our fellow beings.
Our Stay in Todra was blessed by a brilliant combination of rest and recreation. Good simple food and a room or roof to relax on was a salve to the constant driving we seem to have done. Our scrambling and hiking up the steep sided gorge behind the Hotel Yasmina provided ample excitement and the occasional jolt of adrenaline as we tried to follow the sinuous tracks that the local goats and shepherds followed.
Having left the craggy heights of the Rif mountains, we now headed toward the ancient city of Fes, home to one of the most intact medieval medinas in the world. Our route took us through undulating farmland and scattered villages, underlining the value of agriculture here. At the beginning of the modern era, the Roman city of Volubilis had been the centre of the Imperial bread basket in North Africa and still fulfilled much of that role today, as the landscape became more alive with tractors and people. Large, clanking trailers were crammed with farm workers being ferried to and from local markets with produce and livestock jammed in underneath or between scarf-wrapped, dust-blown families.
One year a bunch of us, family and friends, decided that a proper overwinter expedition to the sun was just what we needed. On a previous trip to Morocco some of us had spent a few weeks in France with friends in Lot-et-Garonne, picking plums off the ground for the funds to last us over the coming months. A day’s work on the minimum wage, we calculated, could last each of us almost a week in Morocco. So plums it was, that time, bringing us plenty of stings from wasps burrowed into the fallen fruit and an agonising period at the day’s end when we tried to straighten our backs. The plums were destined to become gastronomic treats as the famed ‘Pruneaux d’Agen’ but we never wanted to see a plum again !
Boots were never destined to be the darlings of the catwalk, except perhaps for the sometimes frivolous, rarely practical iterations seen on leggy models. But they do reflect a wide range of uses, some highly specific to certain activities, some merely clumpy, common or garden varieties, and some strongly associated with authority or social rank. Whatever your needs, you should always consider acquiring footwear that is appropriate to the job, each variation gives an important level of protection. In particular, remember that boots you buy for walking will cover a lot of ground, and make a big difference to your ability and comfort on the trail.
Dry grasses rustled as we carefully skirted the gorge of Ethiopia’s biggest river, the rumbling, crashing sound of the water far below rising as we neared the edge, where a dirt track led several hundred metres down to flatter ground adjacent to the river itself. The light was already very low and fading quickly, as we were only 9 degrees north of the equator. Unseen animals lurked in the thorny scrub alongside our trail. . . .
That phrase seems to recur surprisingly quickly around this time, and not just for birthdays. For example, it’s only a few weeks since the swallows came back here – over a month late compared to earlier years. They are one of the reasons that I’m here now, as their forbears were twittering on the roof ridge when I came with my younger sister to take a look at the house.
As the uncle who disappeared for lengthy periods, usually in winter time to India, I was curious about what my very young nephew thought I might be finding in such a place. It may have been his exposure to the enigmatic Scottish poet Ivor Cutler, but he only had to think for a second or two and announced that there were probably egg trees.
In the slightly rising gloom outside I could hear a muffled coughing and grumbling, and the background clatter of hooves on the road nearby. As I had so many times before, I dragged myself out of bed in the dark and tried to wake myself to appear as if I knew what I was doing. What followed was quite an eye-opener.
The first book I remember reading that involved travel to far flung locations was one written by an old colonial hand, Fred G Merfield, with the alluring title ‘Gorillas were my Neighbours’. Looking back, I now see it as the memoirs of a casual racist, (amazingly quite acceptable at the time), with caricatures of tribal rituals, cannibalism and bush meat in Equatorial Africa. However, it was a considerable eye-opener for an eleven year old boy and certain phrases from it still loiter in my mind.