The Mountains Look on Marrakech by Hamish Brown

Review by planetFear
Tuesday 6th November 2007

I accepted the invitation to review this book with alacrity and keen anticipation. Was not Morocco just about my favourite country for pleasantly accessible mildly adventurous travel? Had I not visited it regularly since the early 1960’s? Indeed, I calculate that I have spent well over two years of my life in the kingdom, walking, climbing, driving, and cycling. On camel back (only once; never again.) Staying with native country folk whom have become our dear friends. Oh yes, I was a fine choice to review this book.

It tells the tale of a ninety-six-day-long odyssey traversing the high route of the Atlas Mountains from Taza in the north east to Tamri, north of Agadir, on the Atlantic seaboard. They commenced their trek in late March, enduring unpleasantly wet conditions for many days, and reached their destination in the searing heat of early July. Hamish and his companions used mules to transport their equipment, with veteran guide Ali and muleteer Hosain as support. They camped, bivouacked, and occasionally slept in small guest-houses.

OK, that sounds intriguing; let’s get started. It commenced agreeably enough, but by about page thirty I was struggling. By page sixty I was punch-drunk. You see, Hamish is so bloody knowledgeable about Morocco. He knows what surely must be all there is to know. And he tells it to you. All of it. I quickly concede that he knows far more about the country than I do, will ever do, or ever want to. I am an avid reader and a good book doesn’t last long before the last page is closed, but TMLOM was the second-hardest read of my life. (The hardest was ‘Tilda’s Angel’ for the inquisitive among you. I will not name the author.)

Hamish can be a very good writer. He has an ability to craft a pretty phrase and conjures up fine word-pictures. Sometimes he over-eggs it, but he returns with terrier-like enthusiasm to the task. And his style of writing must surely suit some, possibly many readers. I expect it suits him. But the detail! (Yes, I know, writers shouldn’t use exclamation marks. I just had to.) The day-by-day details of everything, describing meticulously virtually every mile, every meal, every ailment, every view, every peak, every wrong turn. It’s really a far-too-detailed diary, laced with anecdotes, flashbacks, quotations and opinions that trip and tumble over themselves to be included. Tell everything. Omit nothing, however mundane and uninteresting. The mind spins trying to assimilate everything in case it turns out to be pertinent to the account; rather like being cornered at a party by a crashing bore.

The prose is supported by route maps showing salient points and rest spots, also a surprisingly good and detailed summary showing dates, stops, quality of camping sites, mileage and ‘Day’s Doings’. I was mind-wearyingly thankful for these, because each time I gritted my teeth and spasmodically resumed my review I had to refer to these continually, along with my trusty Michelin 1:600,000 map to remind me where the heck he’d got to. Gorges, seguias (water courses), barren hillsides, villages, mountain peaks and dusty plains all coalesce into unmemorable confusion, only to be added to by countless more of the same. I can’t make up my mind whether the book would be more comprehensible as an adventure story to an armchair traveller who could airily dismiss the complexity of the journey, than to me who knows a lot of the route well.

There is absolutely no doubt that the tome will serve a useful purpose to anyone attempting to emulate their feat; they used Peyron’s ‘Great Atlas Traverse’ in that way, albeit travelling in the opposite direction to Peyron. But for this Morrocophile it was simply too heavy going.

But I must thank Hamish personally. There are two areas that are now ‘must visit’. One, the Zat gorges, has been planned for some time. The other, though, was, I’m not in the slightest bit embarrassed to admit, totally unknown to me: the Oued Nfis to the Guenfis Meadow. So every cloud has a silver lining.

One last observation; Hamish had a succession of people from Europe hopping on and off the trek as he progressed westward. By inference, several of these folk were probably contributing towards the cost of the enterprise by paying, and using the time as part of their holidays. And sometimes they did not see eye-to-eye with Hamish. Now this situation occasionally arises when leading treks, but I ask myself, is it fair play to wash dirty linen in public by way of describing their perceived shortcomings in the book, when they have no similar method of riposte or response?

In a sentence: The book equates to a large, bland bowl of muesli well-spotted with lovely juicy raisins. Brush up your speed-reading skills and pick them out.

  

 

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