The next day we took a minibus to the heart of the Atlas range through mountain villages with spectacular scenic backdrops. Our destination was Oukaimeden, a Moroccan ski resort with a passing resemblance to an Alpine equivalent. Once there we took a short stroll to catch the great view and to start acclimatising to the thinner air. The hillside was dotted with rudimentary stone houses, temporary home to shepherds during the summer when the pastures are in their prime.
Sasha, Wendy and Katie.
By now the group was complete and I had settled into the cover I had chosen. To fit in unnoticed, British middle-class respectability was the card to play. I decided on the impeccable credentials of a Putney resident working for a bank. To give myself an air of innocence in Morocco I told them an old traveller’s tale I’d once heard about being robbed by the locals in an elaborate sting involving drugs and police corruption.
I was able to run a rule over some over members of the group and take a guess at why they were here.
Wendy and Graham hailed from North East England and had the Geordie accents to prove it. For a while they had me going, but Graham let down his guard. Before playing whist with Hasan, Omar and me he claimed ignorance of the rules, then proceeded to wipe the floor with us. A pro like him doesn’t ever want to lose. Picture them leaving a Monte Carlo casino, she in a black cocktail dress, he in a white suit stuffed with their winnings, and you’ll see them as they undoubtedly really are: international high-rollers at poker, backgammon and bridge. With a background like that I guessed they were probably on the case for a Far East gambling syndicate.
If middle-class respectability was the hand to play then Katie and Sasha held a trump hand. Charming and graceful, both mothers, their claims that they were celebrating Sasha’s significant birthday was undermined by their youthful looks. They said they were dancers. Well, they had to have some way of explaining the physical resilience they showed on the mountains. I couldn’t prove it, but I’d wager their strength and suppleness of limbs were the product of Mossad’s renowned training camps for female agents.
Our charismatic, polyglot guide Moustapha would lead us on the trip; and affable chef Hassan would provide our food.
Hassan and Moustapha.