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Morocco Day 12: High Atlas Mountains (& the time I hiked to base camp of Jebl Toubkal in sandals)

Morocco Day 12: High Atlas Mountains (& the time I hiked to base camp of Jebl Toubkal in sandals)

My visit to Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains began the second half of my 3-week Moroccan adventure with a new group of travelers that were beginning the Intrepid South Morocco Discovery tour.  The first half of the tour, which I’ve already written about, was mostly focused on Morocco’s biggest and most vibrant cities, while this second half was dedicated to much of Morocco’s natural landscape, smaller villages, and more …athletic… adventures.  I know that our trip notes mentioned a hike was one optional activity in Aroumd, a village in the High Atlas Mountains, and that our guesthouse would require a roughly 30-minute walk from Imlil.  Well, let me share with you the day and a half that followed…

We arrived by van to Imlil, a small village in the High Atlas Mountains, which was clearly a hiker’s retreat.  There were mules carrying packs, locals selling homemade products such as rugs and jewelry, and a guest house where we were meant to leave our bigger bags that featured only a squat toilet.  That’s when you know it’s going to be a good day!  So we left our bags, handed our night packs over to our local mule, and began our trek to our guest house.  I wasn’t exactly sure how strenuous this hike would be, but it was definitely more challenging than I had expected.  The paths through the forest in this area are not at all flat, so the entire walk to the house was a game of not falling and breaking your ankle while trying to avoid stepping in mule poop and making way for mules that were practically charging up and down the trail- and trust me, these mules stop for no one.  This is what it looks like, for instance, when a mule is pushing you out of the way:

Good thing they’re cute.  But, I made it after about 40 minutes of heavy breathing and frequent stops for “photos”.


And then I finally made it to the village of Aroumd!  It’s an even smaller village where it was immediately clear that we were the only tourists around, and we were staying in a beautiful mountain guest house that was propped up right in the middle of everything!


We were seated at a big table outside the house upon arriving for the obligatory serving of Moroccan tea, the sugar in which was actually incredibly welcome after the exertion spent on our hike there.  We sat for a while in the shade enjoying the company of the other travelers on the tour, our guide, and the local hosts before we were told it that it was almost time for our optional hike in the mountains surrounding the guest house.  The hike was meant to take us to a shrine at Sidi Chamharouch that caters to suffers of mental disease should they make a pilgrimage and offer an animal sacrifice. I asked our Intrepid guide, Mohamed, if the hike would be similar to the one we’d just undertaken to get to the guest house, and he laughed and said it was just going to be longer.  Now, after nearly 2 weeks spent already traveling with Mohamed, he certainly knew I wasn’t the most athletic individual in our group which definitely accounted for his laughing at me, but I figured, “how bad can it be?” and headed off with the group for the hike.

Maybe this is when you’re beginning to realize the end of the story based on the title of this post, but this was not when I realized the end of this story as it was happening.  I was still far from realizing the adventure that was about to be undertaken.  In fact, the hike started out well, barring of course, the experience of a young village child slapping my butt as I walked by, presumably as a funny joke between him and his friends.  The walk from the guest house to the valley was lovely!  Why?  It was downhill!  But then we joined the trail from Aroumd and things began to look up.  And by up, I mean very up.


I was committed.  And, I was wearing sandals!  These sandals, in fact.  Fantastic sandals for traveling, not such fantastic sandals for hiking up a mountain on gravel while avoid mules that were still barreling up and down the very small pathways.  The hike took about 2 hours up and then 2 hours back.  The up part was actually the easiest part, little did I know.  But getting to the end of the hike was absolutely worth it- the views along the way were some of the most spectacular that I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was incredible to see the natural landscape open up before us as we inched our way closer to the end.

And then, finally, we made it to the summit.  Except, it wasn’t actually the summit.  It was the base camp of the highest peak in North Africa, Jebl Toubkal!  So, now I’ve realized what you all realized several sentences ago- I just climbed to the base camp of the highest peak in North Africa and the second highest peak in the entire continent in sandals, and trust me, I felt it.  Despite the physical pain I felt, though, knowing that I’d made it all the way to Sidi Chamharouch was an absolutely amazing feeling, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat- just maybe in more sensible shoes.


Once we arrived to the camp and shrine, we realized the the famous white rock which housed the shrine was not-so-natural, and we all got a pretty good kick out of it.  It was, however, really interesting to learn about the superstition surrounding the shrine, and the contradiction that the pilgrimages and sacrifices have with Islam, the official religion of those that visit it.  As non-Muslims, we weren’t permitted to enter the shrine, but the area surrounding it was beautiful, as were the people that live there.


Even more amazing, however, were all of the animals that live there.  We found goats jumping around, mules grazing, and gorgeous birds flying through the skies.  It made me want to hike to the actual summit (again, with hiking boots), to see the views from above.  But instead, I will leave you with a photo of jumping goats, which demonstrates the excitement I had after getting back to our guest house in the evening, washing an entire mountain’s worth of dirt off of me and my feet, and falling asleep in a nice, cozy bed.


In case you’re interested in tackling this mountain yourself, head over to Becky the Traveller to learn more about Trekking Morocco’s Highest Mountain!

Next up I have a recap of my time spent in the Sahara including a close call with a camel and a fear-inducing 4-wheel drive in the middle of the night.  For more of my Moroccan adventures, check out Days 1-3 in Casablanca, Days 4 & 5 in Rabat, Moulay Idriss and Volubilis, Days 5 & 6 in Fes, and Days 7 & 8 in Chefchaouen!

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Best of the East Coast: Lower Hudson Valley, NY

Best of the East Coast: Lower Hudson Valley, NY

Just slightly north of New York City is the lower Hudson Valley, one of the most beautiful regions of the state of New York- and hardly ever visited by the millions of tourists flocking to NYC throughout the year.  This area features beautiful mountains, scenic river views, orchards, wineries, and all sorts of activities to keep you occupied throughout the year.

Hudson Valley map

I should probably come clean at the beginning and confess that I grew up in the Lower Hudson Valley (Monroe-Woodbury in Orange County to be exact), so I may be a bit biased in saying that this is the best of the East Coast (even though it is).  But, I’m happy to share with you the list of all of my favorite things that this incredible region has to offer!

West Point (aka United States Military Academy).

It may seem strange that my top spot in the Hudson Valley is a military base, but once you see it, you’ll understand why!

Credit: Eric Luding

Founded at the beginning of the 19th century, the USMA is one of the most historic institutions in the US.  Its history goes back to the Revolutionary War, where a great chain constructed in the picturesque bend of the river prevented British ships from sailing north into the rest of the colonies.  Now, West Point is one of the top universities in the country, training and educating future army officers in exchange for military service.  There is a visitor’s center outside the gates of West Point where you can learn about the academy, and a museum where you’ll find information about the base’s history.  Visitors can enter the base to visit the historic Thayer Hotel, which serves up an excellent Sunday brunch and has a great rooftop restaurant/bar, Zulu Time.  You may also take a bus tour of the base to learn about its incredibly interesting history, and to get an inside look of some of the incredible buildings. Alternatively, you can enter the base on your own to explore Trophy Point, the Cadet Chapel, and the West Point Cemetery where many famous Americans are interred.  In the summer, be sure to check out the outdoor concerts at Trophy Point, or the shows and events at Eisenhower Hall from September-April.

The view from Trophy Point. Credit: Eric Luding
The view from Trophy Point. Credit: Eric Luding

The best time of year to visit West Point is most certainly the autumn when the leaves take on glowing red, yellow, and orange colors, there are Army football games to attend, and the mountains seem like something out of another world.  Restrictions on entering the base are being tightened, so be sure to plan ahead if you do not have a DoD ID card; more information for visitors to West Point can be found here.

Perkins Peak.


This is a tough contender with West Point for my favorite spot in the Hudson Valley, but actually, the hiking trails at Perkins Peak butt up to West Point property, so we can almost consider it the same.  The Appalachian Trail runs right through Perkins Peak, but you don’t need to do any strenuous hiking to get there if you don’t want to.  This is a scenic overlook with incredible views of the Hudson River, and on a clear day, the Manhattan skyline.  A lot of people will drive up (via Perkins Memorial Drive) to Perkins Peak just to climb the lookout tower and have a picnic lunch on the beautiful, flat rocks overlooking the river.  If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can hike a short loop of the Appalachian Trail (definitely worth doing), or one of the other many trails that run through the area.  In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. *Keep in mind that Perkins Peak is open only April-November.*

App Trail
Hiking a piece of the Appalachian Trail

Bear Mountain State Park

Located nearby to West Point, Bear Mountain is a gorgeous natural park with lots of activities to keep you entertained year round. There is the Bear Mountain Inn with a restaurant to visit, but also a ton of outdoor activities. Nearby to the Bear Mountain Inn is the Bear Mountain Ice Rink which is a beautiful place to skate outside in the winter.  In the summer, there are a ton of hiking trails and outdoor events to explore.  Sometimes you’ll also find Redhawk Native American pow-wows held in the park which are amazing events to attend- a good way to explore some of the native culture of New York!  And as with West Point, the most beautiful time to visit is in the autumn months when the foliage lights up in beautiful colors.  Be forewarned, this is also one of the most touristy parts of the year in the Hudson Valley, but seeing the beautiful mountain colors are more than worth a little extra road traffic!

Warwick, NY.

Warwick is a small town about 45 minutes from Bear Mountain State Park that’s full of beautiful farms, quaint restaurants and shops, and a lot to see and do.  The main street in Warwick is full of cute shops and restaurants that make a great afternoon stroll, but there’s a lot happening outside the commercial center, too.  In fact, I have so many top spots in Warwick that it justifies its own list:

  1. Masker’s Orchard.Maskers Found just outside the main streets of Warwick, this spot is a step outside the mountains I’ve been raving about.  Masker’s Orchard is a massive orchard with hundreds of pick-your-own apple trees of all different varieties.  My all-time favorite fall activity is visiting Masker’s with a picnic lunch and finding a spot to eat under an apple tree.  You can spend as much time in the orchard as you’d like, and you pay for any apples you bag by weight on your way out (after taste-testing one or two in the orchard, of course!).  Even after leaving the orchard, you’ll find a country store with local products (definitely try the apple butter), and a food stand selling all home-made apple products like apple cider, apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and apple donuts.
  2. Bellvale Farms CreameryLocated on one of the highest hills in Warwick, the Bellvale Farms Creamery has arguably one of the most beautiful views in the area, served up with what is most certainly the best ice cream I’ve ever had.  Plus, you can go meet the dairy cows right at the bottom of the hill- it doesn’t get more fresh than that.  This spot is nothing more than a local ice cream shop with a view, but it is absolutely worth a stop for the view and dessert!Bellvale
  3. Warwick Valley WineryThere are many wineries in the Warwick area, but the Warwick Valley Winery tops my list because of its tasty wine, great scenery, and other amenities.  Not only does the WV Winery grow excellent, local wine, but they also have their own cider and distilleries that offer great alcohols from almost any fruit you can imagine.  In addition to their tasting room, they have a restaurant/cafe and outdoor patio where live music can be enjoyed in the summer months. This is a great place to spend an afternoon trying some local products and enjoying the adult beverages of the area.

Walkway Over the Hudson

This a relatively new Hudson Valley attraction that has gained local interest very quickly.  Spanning the Hudson River between Poughkeepsie and the New Paltz area, it brings you a bit further north into the Hudson Valley, but well within the natural beauty of the region.  While not directly in New Paltz, but rather in the town of Highlands, the New Paltz side of the bridge is close enough to the town to include on your Walkway itinerary.  New Paltz, home to one of the State Universities of New York, is notoriously a “hippie town” with a beautiful and walkable main street, plus excellent shops and restaurants.  There are also many important historic landmarks in New Paltz, most notably the Historic Huguenot Street.  The Poughkeepsie side offers great restaurants and activities along the waterfront, making it a great end-point to your walk over the Hudson.  The Walkway itself provides you with beautiful views of the river and surrounding scenery- it’s definitely worth a visit!

Even after traveling through so much of the world and visiting so many beautiful places, I can genuinely say that the Hudson Valley is still one of my favorite places to be.  In my mind, nothing beats visiting Perkins Peak in autumn when the leaves are changing colors and looking out at the Manhattan skyline in the distance.  Likewise, there are few better ways to spend a day than sitting in an apple tree at Masker’s munching on a fresh Delicious Red.  I encourage anyone with a free weekend in NYC to make the trip up north to explore some of the great things that New York State has to offer; these are the things that make New York the Best of the East Coast.

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This post is part of an East Coast link up with bloggers all up and down the coast- check out the other posts below!