Walk the Casbah

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside Magazine, 1999 Annual Travel Guide

Walk the Casbah

A Moroccan ramble and five other foot-worthy trails

Waimanu, Big Island of Hawaii
One of seven amphitheater valleys carved from the extinct Kohala Volcano along the northern shore of the Big Island, Waimanu Valley is something of a Holy Grail to Hawaii hikers. Abandoned in the late 1940s, it's one of the few valleys in Hawaii where humans have not altered the watershed, save the ancient Hawaiians who built their rice and taro farms on streambeds and largely let nature do its thing. Getting to Waimanu, however, is no small feat.
Hour 62 on the Indian-Pacific train and, frankly, I'm seizing up. Don't get me wrong: It's been a blast, crossing the Nullarbor Plain from one end to the other, hour after hour of absolute, scorched, flat, empty desert. All in all, it'll be 2,700 miles from sea to shining sea, — the longest rail trip on earth after the Trans-Siberian.

But how can you sit still for nearly three days on an air-conditioned train? To stave off paralysis, I slipped into the alcove between carriages and started doing push-ups, breathing in the fresh bush air. A conductor carrying a tray of hot tea nearly tripped over me but barely missed a beat: "Mecca's out the other way, mate," he quipped before passing on.
Tony Perrottet

First you tackle a 1,200-foot switchback ascent on a muddy trail up a steep cliff wall from neighboring Waipio Valley. The trail then traverses a couple of 500-foot-deep gulches before descending into Waimanu. The nine-mile (one-way) route takes an entire day, but the long slog provides some phenomenal views of untouched Hawaii complete with feathering waterfalls and, under the right conditions, some monstrous rainbows.

Waimanu itself is home to endangered Hawaiian hoary bats as well as indigenous plants like ohia and rare loulu trees that cling to sheer cliff faces. Down below, Waimanu Stream emerges from several waterfalls at the back of the valley and meanders past hala groves and mango and ulu (breadfruit) trees before arriving at a lonely beach. You can explore the taro lo'i (terraces) and old stone foundations of heiau (temples). While the locals may tell you to beware of nightmarchers (unfriendly ghosts of ancient Hawaiian royalty that supposedly inhabit Waimanu), more likely you will have to watch out for feral pigs.

Check weather conditions before departing to avoid being trapped in Waimanu during a flood. There's a state campground on the shore with nine campsites and several compost toilets, but no potable water (your water purification system needs to handle leptospirosis, which is common in Waimanu). Permits (free) are required, and reservations are recommended, especially from June through August. For reservations, which can be made no more than 30 days in advance, call the Hawaii State Division of Forestry and Wildlife in Hilo, 808-974-4221.
Alex Salkever

Mount Ausangate, Peru
Mention that you're traveling in the Cuzco area of Peru, and people immediately assume you mean the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu along with every other backpacking foreigner in the country. Machu Picchu is a sight to behold, but it's a manmade miracle. Ausangate, on the other hand, is a 20,945-foot natural phenomenon that deserves all the reverence it's commanded through the centuries. Towering over the area's other peaks, it's believed to be the dwelling place of a powerful apu, or mountain god.

Our six-day circumnavigation of the peak took us into a vast arena of green alpine tundra surrounded by glacial peaks and the stone huts and corrals of descendants of the Inca, the Quechua people. Each day began with a requisite cup of tea made from coca, the all-in-one energy source, altitude-sickness reliever, and future-predicting leaf of the Peruvians.

Then we'd scramble along dirt alpaca paths and squish across spongy, caterpillar-covered glacial bogs toward our next campsite-always mysteriously set up by the arrieros, our pack-mule handlers, in time for our arrival (how did they pass us without our seeing them?). Our wheezing from the 14,000- to 16,000-foot altitude gave us ample excuses to pause, inwardly debate mounting "Black Bullet," our escort mule, and play "Name that rock star" with the bad hairdos of the everpresent alpaca. Or we'd break out the binoculars to spot Andean geese, mountain viscachas (they look like a cross between a rabbit and a giant gerbil), and vicu±as. But mostly we made coca-leaf offerings to the mountain apu while praying that he'd relieve our burning thighs and aching backs.

The best time to trek the Ausangate circuit is from May to September. Explorandes (011-511-445-0532) offers seven-day, six-night Ausangate trips from April to October for $750 per person, including all meals and transportation. Mountain Travel-Sobek leads a 23-day Peruvian Highlands trek, which includes hiking in Machu Picchu and the Ausangate area ($3,495-$3,795 per person; 800-227-2384).
Suzy Preston

Dogon Country, Mali
About six centuries ago, a tribe of animistic Africans fled to central Mali in a bid to escape Muslim oppression. Traversing a long sandstone escarpment, these Dogon refugees spied a string of settlements that pleased them. They evicted the residents and occupied their homes-miracles of architecture that sprout from the cliffs like cubist fungi.

Trekking through Dogon country is an amazing experience, but so is getting there. Here's how I did it: A 35-hour train ride from Dakar east to Bamako, Mali's capital; another 16 hours by bus northeast to Mopti (which, situated on the banks of the Niger, is a worthy destination in itself); six hours more by bush taxi (i.e., a covered pickup truck) southeast to Bankas; and a final, jarring three hours by horse-drawn cart from Bankas to Endee. At this point you've zigzagged to the southern end of the cliffs, and from here it's a moderate three- to seven-day trek north to Sanga. The narrow dirt paths take you past pink sandstone walls and tiny villages tucked up into the cliffsides. It's good, though not strictly necessary, to have a guide; I hired mine in Mopti. Water, soft drinks, and chakalow (a potent millet beer) are available along the way.

Accommodations (sometimes on the roof of a village headman's home) and food (don't ask) are basic. More impressive are the traditional cliff paintings and bas-reliefs, especially near the villages' circumcision grounds-and if you're lucky, and your timing is just right, you might catch the spectacular mask dances. Don't expect crowds; while Dogon country is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mali, it gets only a few thousand visitors a year. Wilderness Travel (800-368-2794) offers 17-day trips from November through January.
Jeff Greenwald

High Atlas Mountains, Morocco
General Patton once described Morocco as a Hollywood version of the Holy Land, and that's an apt characterization for much of this North African kingdom of desiccated splendor. But what to make of the High Atlas Mountains, that mist-scarved ring of snowy alps that erupts like a hyperbolic mirage from the margins of the Sahara? Here you have 13,000-foot peaks, swift trout streams, blossomy valleys-and not a camel in sight. The High Atlas Mountains seem more like Tibet than the Holy Land, enough so that director Martin Scorsese chose to film his movie about the Dalai Lama, Kundun, in the shadow of 13,665-foot Jebel Toubkal.

There's an extensive network of mule trails linking the Atlas's various flat-topped, mud-daubed villages, but the best introduction to the High Atlas is probably Toubkal itself, the loftiest peak in North Africa, whose summit is a relatively easy two- to three-day hike from the Ber-ber town of Imlil, about an hour's drive south of Marrakech. Depending on the route you take up, down, and around Toub-kal's snowy flanks, you'll hike through deep canyons planted in walnut and apple trees, passing cold blue cataracts and the listing ruins of ancient Casbahs. The high green passes are home to golden eagles, mountain gazelle, Barbary sheep, and the rare Atlas leopard. Though treks can be done year-round, the ideal time is late spring. The alpine meadows will be matted in wildflowers, and from your campsite on the serrated tips of the High Atlas you can sip fresh-brewed mint tea ("Berber whiskey") and look down upon the incongruous blonde expanse of the Sahara.

Guides, mules, and equipment can be arranged in the town of Imlil, or through outfitters based in Marrakech. Outfitted treks from 15 to 18 days are also led by Wilderness Travel (800-368-2794) and Mountain Travel-Sobek (800-227-2384).
Hampton Sides

Chiang Mai, Thailand
We named our elephant "Titus," and he was a noble beast, though prone to taking bamboo-leaf-munching detours down steep hillsides. My trekking companion and I happily indulged the huge and gentle steed who gave us a break from walking between mountain villages in the jungles of northern Thailand, roughly 50 miles northwest of Chiang Mai. The various hill tribes who populate these remote hamlets use the pachyderms as field hands and, a few times a year, to let a group of trekkers go native for a day. That the mahouts (drivers) and their charges knew to meet us at this exact time and spot in a region far from any road or communication was one of the many pleasant mysteries of this four-day trek.

The elephants were on Day Two. The night before, we'd slept in the Lisu village of Huai Nam Daeng, where our porters wokked up half a dozen courses of local vegetables and mountain rice, and the locals, to show appreciation for our offerings of rub-on tattoos and balloons, danced with us while the village headman strummed an iguana-skin banjo.

Night Two was at the Karen tribe village of Pa Khao Lam, a jungle fantasy of bamboo huts where we learned that bamboo worms are tasty when wok-fried with a dash of salt and chased with the local rice hooch. Next morning, a half-day float on a bamboo raft on the Mae Dang River took us through a deep gorge to the Lahu settlement of Ban Muang Singh, the populace being a mix of opium-addled idlers and aggressive crafts hawkers. The late-day hike to the Akha village of Sap Kai was perhaps the most rewarding venture-the gregarious Akha staged a postprandial serenade, after which we reci-procated with hokey-pokey lessons. Akha massages ensued, so it was late when we bunked down on bamboo mats in a family home and were lulled to sleep by snippets of "put your right foot in."

Asia Transpacific Journeys' four-day Hill Tribe Treks are offered from October through February for groups of two to ten, $400 per person. Call 800-642-2742.
Robert Earle Howells

Cinque Terre, Italy
If they named difficult hiking trails the way they do whitewater rapids, the most demanding section of the Cinque Terre coastal path would be called the Stairmaster. Yet this walk in northwest Italy is so popular that on any given day there's usually at least one Italian woman attempting it in high heels.

The path's appeal is that it connects five ancient coastal villages still difficult to reach by road. Hikers of serious intent, but with no soul, can walk between Monterosso in the north and Riomaggiore in the south in under five hours. But a better way is to take two or three days-the minimum time to even think of growing tired of pesto (the basil and pine nut pasta sauce the region is famous for).

Frequent train service to all the villages makes it possible to base yourself at any of them — Monterosso for the beach, Vernazza for the port-village atmosphere, and Riomaggiore for Mamma Rosa, a backpacker haven. On the toughest part of the path, between Monterosso and Vernazza, you'll envy the boxes of grapes and olives that travel the nearly vertical slopes on a diminutive monorail.

What will keep you going is the prospect of Vernazza's many eateries; the pesto is best at Trattoria Franzi and Gambero Rosso. The switchback path to Corniglia is tough, too, but worth it for the sweeping panoramas of the Ligurian Sea. From there to tiny Manarola and the pastel houses of Riomaggiore, the route is so easy you could walk it in-high heels.

Walk Cinque Terre on your own, or sign on for a weeklong trip with Backroads (800-462-2848), Country Walkers (800-464-9255), or Ciclismo Classico (800-866-7314).
Bob Payne

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

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