Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls by Claudia Crook
We were trying to go to The Waterfall.
"We" were a motley crew of solo travelers from Hong Kong, the UK, and the US, all headquartered at the same backpacker’s hostel in Chefchaouen, Morocco. "The waterfall" was the oft-spoken-of Akchour Cascades in the Rif Mountains, apparently a must-see during any extended visits to the area. We'd each individually been told to go there several times by locals and long-term travelers though it wasn't in our guidebooks. What could be more enticing?
We were already late heading out to the trail, but I couldn’t help stopping en route to pick up some snacks for the road: a few warm, flat discs of khobz, briney green olives, and a few ounces of jben, the regional specialty cheese hailed as feta’s creamier cousin.
We arrived at the trailhead with no map, no compass, and no way to verify the accuracy of verbal directions we’d been given – take the path to the left by the bridge, it’s 2 hrs’ walk - but the urge to be out in the mountains was stronger than our want for guidance, and we quickly bounded off into the rugged landscape.
We clambered up steep, rocky inclines and scurried down into verdant valleys, passed makeshift cafés with plastic lawn chairs scattered along the riverbanks, and forded rushing rapids on driftwood bridges. The sun was hot, but the steep cliffs and Mediterranean foliage in the valleys kept us shaded and cool. About an hour and a half in to our hike, we were stopped in our tracks by the impressive sight of a towering rock arch, and more literally by the presence of a deep body of water at its base. We stopped under the branches of the solitary, gnarled tree, standing at the edge of the water like an aged guardian of the pass and marveled at the sheer size of the bridge. We recognized quickly we’d come to the end of the path – but where was the waterfall?
After some reflection, we realized we must’ve missed a turn at the outset and ended up at God’s Bridge, another popular attraction in the area – and a solid 2-hour detour from the cascades. Unsure of where we had gone wrong, or how to figure it out, we decided just to head home.
But first, we would feast. A warm, flat rock served as a banquet table for the bread, olives, and cheese we laid out upon it. I was powerless to the pull of the tourmaline pool and congratulated myself on being prepared with a swimsuit; the water was bracingly cold but baptismally refreshing. Washed and fed, we traced our steps back to where we began.
In the end, we cut our losses - but what losses were there to cut? We were supposed to start earlier; we didn't. We were supposed to turn at a fork in the path; we missed it. We were supposed to get to a waterfall; we were just as happy to end up somewhere else.