October 10, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Africa

On any given trip, my number one priority is to taste a country through its food. My recent visit to Morocco was no different, but this time the whole “tasting the country” thing got taken to a different level – like a “high altitude, eat it straight from the bush” level.

It wasn’t supposed to be a foodie excursion, though. No, not at all. It was just supposed to be a leisurely trek through the red-soiled High Atlas Mountains and a few of its Berber villages. Nothing more. With our guide Sharif – a 40-something-year-old native – in tow, though, we set off into the dusty, shrubbery-powdered landscape, completely unaware that our surprise culinary journey was about to begin.

The weather was cool. Well, cooler – perhaps hovering around 90F instead of a suffocating 120F. Sharif bumbled through the underbrush, leading the way as he plucked leaves off of bushes. “Smell it. This is peppermint.” Then a moment later he’d pass back another twig. “This one is thyme.” Only steps into the trip and we’d already collected enough fragrant herbs to season a steaming tagine of veggies.

Our path became swallowed by bushes and trees as the brush thickened and the landscape sheltered us with welcome shade. With a swipe of the hand, Sharif would masterfully collect blackberries from their bush, rattle a tree to grab hold of a dangling grapevine, and smash a walnut pod to reveal its crunchy inner treasure. He’d pass the goodies on to us with indifference, meanwhile we’d gobble them up as we walked, churning up a dust storm in our wake.

We passed through near-century-year-old Berber villages held together by foundations of melon-sized rocks, and walls of the land’s terracotta-colored earth. And between each town, we filled our traveling tummies with more of the valley’s treats, from juicy figs to miniature green apples and fresh-from-the-shell almonds.

We even made a little friend along the way: A chameleon crawling along a grapevine. Sharif scooped up the reptile like he were a little toy, telling us, as he opened its mouth, that if we gave him a little water, he’d be our friend. A few healthy gulps later and our new lizard buddy was crawling on Jacobo’s white shirt, slowly shifting from a vibrant grapevine green to a lighter, less conspicuous shade.

We ended our walk in the town of Ouirgane, where, almost full from trail snacking, we dined on cous cous, olives and freshly baked slabs of bread. Indeed, the day wasn’t what we’d expected, and certainly wasn’t the foodie version of Morocco that we’d had in mind, but I’m pretty sure that no country has every tasted quite so good.

*Update: Our tour was booked through Linaya Transport. They can be reached at 00 212 524 33 03 99 (apparently they’re in the process of getting their website up and running).