Through Jebel Sirwa - Trek in Morocco's Atlas

It is at the Eastern end of the Anti-Atlas mountains, 200 km south of Marrakech, that Djebel Sirwa extends itself. Still ignored, this small range is very different from the High-Atlas thanks to its geographical characteristics. Desert because of its proximity with the Sahara, it formerly had an intense volcanic activity. Dominated by the Sirwa summit, this mountainous chain has an impressive landscape variety : jagged cliffs and vast desert plateaux alternate with narrow fertile valleys and huge pastures in summer.

In this beginning of November, the already snow-covered peaks of the Atlas open up, more in the south, to the first pre-Saharan ranges. It is in the south-west of Ouarzazate, lost in the middle of arid hills, where the tiny village of Tamallakout appears. It will be the starting point of our trek through the Jebel Sirwa mountains and its Saharian projections carved by volcanoes.

Ressauts sahariens

Village de Tizwat

It's in a landscape of deserts and mountains that we start our trek under a bright sun, characteristic of these areas bordering the Sahara. In the middle of a small valley, the village of Tizwat appears. Its golden fields are ready for their last harvest, while some kids laugh with us while coming back from the school…

Jeunes berbères

More to the west vast desert plains open up, where the wind seems to glide, forming here and there light swirls of dust. The landscape around becomes exclusively mineral : basaltic rocks and blocks of granite covering the ground on which some desiccated shrubs hardly survive. 

Sommet du Sirwa (3305 m)  

After several days of trekking, the ascent of Sirwa now concentrates our attention. Climax of the range, it also gave him its name. The summit offers a beautiful view on the area : the first dunes on the horizon, mountains at our feet, both separated by immense "Regs"…

At the foot of this imposing arid and windy summit, we meet the last shepherds of the season. The latter prepare their return to the villages and are on the verge of leaving their Azibs, altitude sheep-folds which they occupied these last months. It's the case of Hassan, a young Berber of the Aït Ouaouzguit tribe.

Sommet du Sirwa (3305 m)   El Hassan
While the sky colors the setting sun, Hassan invites us in his sheep-fold, a small hut of granite stones covered with a mud roof. First of all, he lights up a fire with the roots of some tiny shrubs he recently unearthed. He finally prepares wafers and takes out dried leaves and dates, while the teapot is filled with mint. Because of Ramadan, it is his first meal since the sun rose above the Sirwa.
  Bergeries des plateaux

The following day, Hassan announces to his friend Youssef that it is time to go down in the valley. Food for the goats becomes too difficult to find in this season on altitude. Moreover, the winter is not far and snow will soon fall on the peaks. The two friends do not hide their enthusiasm and their impatience at the idea of finding their family after these long months of loneliness.

Bergerie   Hassan et Youssef

It is with sadness that we leave these sheep-folds, where sheep and goats benefit from an ultimate meal of altitude before finding the valley. Up north, the landscape changes, desert and arid.

From now on, the landscape shows the volcanic past of the area. Among the neighboring hills, granite rocks and basalt blocks seem to cover the ground to the horizon. The clouds, swept by a cold wind, make their shades slide on the mountain range of the Sirwa before flying over the new villages of our route.

In the valley, a small river runs through the village of Anmid. Built in wasp nests around the oasis which makes it possible to the inhabitants to cultivate their fields, the hamlet also has some Agadirs. These strengthened collective attics are manufactured out of cob. Built on the heights, they formerly made it possible for the villagers to protect their harvests from the invaders.

Village d'Anmid   Agadir d'Anmid

In the village of Agrilaoune, we are surprised by a little rain, rare event in these arid regions. Two children perched on a frail mule return from the sheep-folds located more north. They bring back with them the bags filled of utensils and clothing that the shepherds, like the old man Abdullah, must bring down to the village before coming down the mountain pastures for the long winter months. 

Enfants de bergers   Abdullah

He will reach the villages nestled in the valleys, like those of Tourit and Amassine, in order to spend the winter with his family and their animals. A necessary thing as the saffron harvest, which represents an essential contribution to the Aït Ouaouzguite villagers, must imperatively finish before the winter frosts.

Tourit   Amassine

Today, more and more hamlets are however abandoned by the shepherds and the farmers who leave for the city lights, hoping for an easier life. Thus, some deserted villages and their Agadirs in ruins are still found in the Jebel Sirwa, remnants of past tribes and their disappearing way of life.

Agadir abandonné
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