Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel (ret.)
April 2, 2018
With Spring in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco comes the harvest of the cherries, amidst the roaring rivers that flow from the snows of Mount Toubkal and surrounding peaks. Mount Toubkal, the second highest peak in Africa, rises to nearly 14,000 feet, competing with the heights of most peaks of the Colorado Rockies. In the Spring, a tourist will meet colorfully dressed Amazigh (Berber) women harvesting cherries from local village trees and selling them on the roadside. I made this trip on a regular basis when I was US Ambassador to Morocco.
For me, the most beautiful itinerary was driving up the Asni Valley, the road to Imlil, and always stopping for lunch – and sometimes a night – in the village of Id Hammou, where my friend Mohamed Id Hammou and his family live. Mohamed owns a small six-bedroom hotel, decorated in traditional Berber designs, furniture and antiques. His sister does all the cooking for guests, and he and his family will create a memorable day for anyone visiting them in the mountains. Several years ago I recommended a trip to then Department of Energy Assistant Secretary, Dan Reicher, who remarked upon returning home that it was among the most memorable days of his life. I have since heard this remark from many of the visitors to Mohammed’s village.
The most unforgettable day for Mohammed and his village was when Hillary Clinton, then First Lady, travelled to Id Hammou for a visit. The rivers were running wild that year and many bridges had been knocked out, but the villagers had built a stone bridge in a shallow area of the river where Mrs. Clinton and a few members of her staff, and my wife Kathleen and I were able to cross into Id Hammou. As we entered the house, chickens scooted in and out Mohamed’s mother was spinning yarn, and his father chucking walnuts. Later that day, a whole lamb was roasted in a pit and we feasted on a special Moroccan meal with Mohamed, his father of 90+ years, and other family and friends on a veranda with Mount Toubkal towering over us under a very bright Moroccan sun and striking blue sky.
It didn’t take long for a rumor to take shape as people wondered why Mrs. Clinton would go all the way up the mountain to visit Id Hammou. “Why would she go to the mountains in the middle of nowhere? What is the reason to go to Id Hammou?” Some talked about a young American woman who lived there and speculated, “Maybe it’s a relative of Hillary’s? Yes, it’s her sister.” Mrs. Clinton doesn’t have a sister but, at the time, Mohamed was married to an American Peace Corp volunteer, whom some mistakenly claimed was that sister. To this day, wherever you go in Morocco, someone will say that they heard that Hillary’s sister lives in Morocco, somewhere in the mountains.
The High Atlas is a mystical place that should be on everyone’s bucket list. And if you go make sure to call on my friend Mohamed who will treat you to a most memorable, once in a lifetime experience.