Sonder rider Jenny Graham's surprise encounter in the Anti-Atlas mountains and the treasured moments you discover while bike packing.
I’d been in Morocco for 10 days touring sections of the Atlas Mountain Race on my Sonder Camino. The route had taken me through the Anti-Atlas range. The enormity of the landscape blows your mind. Every corner brings a new view - jets of chossy, strata rocks shooting out of the ground, congealed together in an array of colours. Greens, purples, red and yellow tones merged across the hillside.
I was welcome wherever I went. But the most wonderful connection was made when I met Housin.
When Housin shouted down at me, I jumped. “Cooeeee!”. It was the last place I was expecting to see someone. Housin was a Berber man who lived in the mountains with his extended family. Berbers are the indigenous people of North Africa. Many are herdsmen and crafters - completely connected to nature and their landscape.
He was high up on the side of the gorge. It took me a minute to spot him amongst the layers of sandy rock. He descended to the riverbed and welcomed me with a hearty smile and his warm, jovial eyes. He wore a blue turban, matching blue adidas t-shirt and tracksuit top. He signalled to come for tea using a thumb and pinky finger. I followed him up the side of the gorge on a tiny path that I hadn’t even spotted before topping out onto a wind open ledge, halfway up the gorge.
There were some small buildings made of stone, so subtly built into the hillside you barely notice them. He shouted over enthusiastically to his family and friends, and each welcomed me with a handshake and a smile. Then came Housin’s wife – the life and soul of the family, Laila. She walked over to me with open arms. Radiating and glowing, she began shouting French pleasantries at me. She rattled them off. We all paused then begun to roar with laughter, and so she went again. Her willingness to laugh was so close to the surface, she was infectious to be around.
She lifted my hand and kissing the back of it, I felt officially welcomed into the family. They brought me 3 eggs, a frying pan and a gas stove and instructed me to make my own omelette. Then we sat around drinking tea, piecing together conversations.
Housin had built a well which then meant they could have a garden. We spent the morning picking carrots and weeding, while Laila made enough dough for 12 loaves of flatbread. We shared large warm chunks of fresh bread between us. The next hours passed, and we sorted out the old dates to make food for the donkey and goats that were roaming around the hillside. As the sun set, we ate from the same pot of tagine, using bread as cutlery.
I didn’t have the language to articulate what my time with them had meant, how nourished their company had left me. But I have a feeling they probably knew.