The sun was behind the eucalypts when we sat out for breakfast, so it was still cool. With the exotic birdsong it felt like being in Australia again!
We spent a long time finalising the website before driving up to the reception area where we hoped to get a connection. It became very hot while we were working on it, and Adrian was distressed to find that 3 of his 4 maps weren't working. He spent a very long time trying to sort it out, and by now it was gone midday. We drove back down to the campsite and walked into the pool area to have a swim to cool down before leaving.
Slightly refreshed, we drove to nearby Marjanes, and after having lunch (in the heat), we went in to shop, but discovered that they didn't sell booze, despite having read so. The assistant told me that Carrefour did.
Back in the van, Adrian finally sorted the problem with the maps – the .jpg had come up in capitals, so it hadn't worked! He was now happy again, so after sending a happy birthday email to Tom, we headed for Carrefour. Here we found that, sure enough, there was a drinks 'cave', downstairs, separate from the shop. We went in, feeling a bit like naughty schoolchildren! We bought some beer and wine, not knowing when we might next get the chance, as we are heading off south into the mountains. We were served by two pleasant non-muslem girls at the checkout. A lady, not in Muslem dress, was buying a few cans of beer, which she put surreptitiously into her large handbag, covering them with a cardigan!
It was now 3.15, so we returned to Marjanes, so that Adrian could visit the 3g store, which would now be open. He was able to recharge the card for one month – the first one only lasted a week. He had seen that we had lost a front hub cap, and we suspected that it was when we'd gone over a seriously deep hole in the road. We drove back towards Carrefour, and sure enough, found the hub cap. It was now 3.45, and we just wanted to get out of Fez! It was like the feeling we had in Melbourne, near the start of our year long trip in Australia, when the engine had blown up and it was 3 weeks before we could leave!
Back around the ring road, we passed one of the many tall wireless masts disguised as palm trees, having felt that we'd never see the back of them!
One of the wireless masts disguised as a palm tree
We now set off for nearby Sefrou, where we hoped to camp. We stopped for petrol, but Adrian's card wouldn't work so he had to pay by cash. We finally got out of Fez, and at Sefrou found our way to the arid, terraced, but deserted campsite. A chicken and its little chicks greeted us. We heard a cock crowing, and plenty of other animal noise, but no people, until a small girl with a back pack came by and lingered near the van. Later a man did appear, and we paid him, hoping that he was the rightful owner! We were parked with views right down over the town - as our book said - the best thing about the site!
In fact there were no facilities at all – lucky that we didn't need any!
We sat out for drinks and for our seafood supper, with our magical view down to the spread out town with the hills beyond. As it got dark, the lights sparkled on the white houses. A cat came by, then a hen with its 7 chicks, and later a group of larger chicks. We came in at 8.15, by which time it was dark. We read several emails which had arrived after our website.
Sefrou spread out below us
Supper above Sefrou Mother hen and 7 chicks
The lights sparkle, Sefrou
Thursday 10th September Another souk, trogladyde homes, a lovely lake and a smart town 48 miles
There were plenty of noises in the night – a constantly yapping dog, cocks crowing, and the loudest 'chanting' we have heard at 5.30. It must have echoed from the town below, and came from several different points! It sounded like a whole lot of 2 stroke scooters!
It was already warm when we sat out in the sun for breakfast. The hens came by again, plus three sheep!
At 10 o'clock we drove down into Sefrou. This town has a Medina and a Mellah (a former Jewish market) although we couldn't tell the difference. They were separated by a deep-down litter strewn river.
Although it appeared to be the 'Thursday market', to us it was much like any other souk. An elderly man spoke to us in English, telling us about the Mellah, but sadly he only really wanted to act as guide. We received more stares here than at previous places. We noticed as we have before, that only men sit at the cafes. We passed a long group of 'white' people on a tour – they didn't look as if they were enjoying it much! We had fun wandering around. Shoes were piled up as if in a jumble sale. The great slabs of meat lying in the heat made me glad to be vegetarian! We didn't enjoy seeing a little lady bent almost double as she walked along.
We managed to find our way back, being pleased to pass a post office. We went in hoping to get some stamps, but first we were in the wrong part, then next door, the man said 'no stamps'. He did find some – but they were only for Morocco!
There were walks from this town, but we were much too hot to walk when we returned to the Ixi. We gave the 'guardian’ 5dh and left at 11.30.
We drove a short distance to the town of Bhalil, known for its trogladyte homes. As we arrived, a man in long robes wanted to act as our guide. We declined, and made our own way, hoping that we would find what we wanted to see. A group of young girls walked past, really laughing at us. We felt very conspicuous! We did reach the 'cave' homes. A little old lady was sitting on a bridge. She indicated that she wanted to show us her home. This we accepted, and went into her long, narrow 'house', beautifully kept. We declined her offer of mint tea, but did get a photo of her, which she was happy about. We gave her 10dh (66p) which she was really happy about.
A trogladyte home in Bhalil
We found a stone seat to sit on, and looked out to hundreds of coots, which we saw were crested coots, with red knobs above the white patch. There were a few other birds too, but we couldn't identify them. This was obviously an area where people came for recreation - there were horses to give rides, and pedalo boats. A lovely spot. The temperature was a cool 27°C but we were at 1500m (4600ft) and after the last few days at above 30°C was very pleasant.
Now we drove on to somewhere completely different – Ifrane, a town so smart with green watered lawns and the roads lined by a superfluous number of trees. The town had been built in the late 1920's by the French and had pseudo alpine villas.There were flowers on the roundabouts – French marigolds, petunias and salvias. It is here that a Royal Palace was built in 1995.
Dayat Aaoua where we saw hundreds of crested coots
We located the campsite mentioned in our guide book – but it was closed! A pleasant teenage schoolgirl, told us that it was closed, and pointed us in the direction of the 'lion', carved by an Italian prisoner of war, and the thing to see.
Unfortunately we didn't find it, so headed south, where more trees had recently been planted beside the road. This was the way to the airport, so we imagine that the trees are for the benefit of the King when he flies in and heads for his palace. A new golf course was being constructed nearby.
Lush grass and tree-lined roads, Ifrane
We soon came to the campsite we were heading for - Camping Amazigh, Azrou - right beside the road, but set in a grassy orchard of old cherry trees. The gate was closed, but a chap came and opened it for us and we found a shady spot to settle. There were roses by the washing block.
We sat outside for supper, watched by 6 little tortoiseshell cats and two dogs. We came in at 8 o'clock, when it got dark. It felt cooler than previous days.
Writing the diary in our cherry orchard campsite
Friday 11th September Our worst journey ever 119 miles
The night and morning were cooler too. With all the cats and dogs outside, we ate breakfast inside. The cheery owner with his Manolo smile waved as we left.
Six little kittens by the van
We drove on into Azrou, parking near the large rock (the Azrou).
The rock at Azrou
This is a Berber town. We walked past the large mosque, looking for the Post Office marked on our map, but couldn't see it. We then walked through a side street where there were lots of cafes with just men sitting at them. A group of Berber women were sitting on the pavement.
Berber women (and a man) on the pavement
The road was good at first, but badly pot-holed. We could see evidence of recent rains where the sandy soil had washed across the road. Once more, finding somewhere to pull off was difficult. We managed to stop by a little bridge over a small river where there were usually stalls. There was no-one here to hassle us. Adrian was concerned about what might happen if it should rain as we had seen a lot of evidence of landslides. The rains had been recent, as grass was just beginning to grow.
Stone coloured sheep pass the football pitch
A mud brick house
We passed many more flocks of sheep. Most of the minders waved – one was wearing a football shirt, but one young chap with his sheep and goats looked at us suspiciously.
We joined a larger road south, passing a man on a grand horse followed by a lad on a donkey, which made us think of good King Wencaslas with his sage.
We drove, perhaps unwisely, through the centre of Ain Leuh, as it was crowded and narrow. As we drove on, we passed two men leading donkeys loaded with logs. They smiled and waved. We were hassled by kids, who stood out in the road in front of us. We were driving up into the forest - the 'Route des Cedres.' We were delighted to pass a group of Barbary apes who live in this area.
Barbary apes - note the baby one on the back
When we came to a junction, Adrian decided to take the longer but safer route. The tarmac was now wide enough for the van, and going was good. We came to another junction, and as the road looked so good, took the way of the shorter route. This turned out to be our downfall!
The road was wider, and good at first, so spirits were high! But then we had to turn off – and this is when things got bad!
Lunch stop by the river
A wolf in the mountains
The road before it got bad
It was plain sailing to our campsite near Midelt, which we reached at 6.30. The camping area of this 'tourist complex' was in separated long plots divided by over tall shady trees, making it very dark. And – a worker was flooding the area to water the trees! The manager came round with a large bag of apples for us. This area is known for apple growing – there is a festival in October. We thanked him, and Adrian asked him to stop the man from watering our pitch!
It was a 'beans on toast night', after our well deserved drink outside before it got dark.
We were most surprised to get a connection to talk to Paul and family on skype, especially as we had today received an email from Nicky saying that they were having great problems with their Internet connections.
We pass some cedar trees after our ordeal - the road is now good!
Saturday 12th September A deservedly quiet day! 33 miles
We turned off towards Aouli, as the man had suggested. It became very windy, and plastic bags of all colours had blown about.
After several miles, we came to a small town with grand street lights. It looked hilly ahead, and we didn't intend going any further. A man approached and asked us if we were interested in minerals. He invited us (of course) to his home, but we declined. We pulled in a bit further on, hoping to have lunch, but were immediately hassled by another man. It had become really windy – we could see sand 'willy willies' – so we returned a bit along the road, and stopped where it was a little less windy.
After we'd had lunch, we drove back to the town of Midelt, finding our way to a small Acima supermarket where we bought a few things, including some fresh fish, which like last time was put on a bed of ice for us. Fruit and vegetables were not very good and there was no fresh bread or alcohol, but I did buy half a pomegranate!
A chap outside, when Adrian was returning the trolley, accosted him, trying to sell a box of fossils from the Atlas mountains. We declined for a long time, but remembering that Louisa is fond of 'rocks', succumbed in the end.
Dark clouds were gathering as we made our way to the municipal campsite in the town, but unlike yesterday, we thought that we'd be in a safe place if it did rain!
We arrived at 3.20 to find the campsite better than described in our book – instead of bare gravel, there was a lot of grass and some bushes. There were even roses and a bottlebrush tree.
We were asked to drink tea with the manager. We should have been suspicious! After drinking the mint tea – which was not too bad, and not too sweet – while he told us about being a berber, he said that his brother really worked here, and he worked for a charity for women doing sewing. He asked if we'd like to see. As we knew that there was some kind of charity workshop in this town, we agreed. He led us into another room – and out came the carpets! Some beautiful colours, and interestingly described by our host. When we declined, out came some fossils – beautifully polished, with all the hard talk of how difficult it all was to mine and polish them.
In the end, without me realising, Adrian had succumbed to buying a polished ammonite! As it is nearly his birthday, I said it could be for that, but forbade him to buy anything else in Morocco without my consent!
On the lookout for rocks and fossils
There were buckets of apples set up along the road - we imagined that if someone stopped, a figure would appear from nowhere to sell them. Nearer the few towns, there were stalls of apples. We saw storks nests on the top of high masts. The pavements of the towns were all recently developed and smart. The town of Rich, which was just off the road, had wide pavements with flowers and trees. There was a tree filled picnic area, but nowhere to park easily.
We received emails from Rosemarie and from Sylvia saying that I had won the annual photographic award from Hermitage Horticultural Society. Today was the Autumn Show and opening of the new Village Hall.
Sunday 13th September Through a fantastic gorge to the extreme heat 105 miles
No chance of shade for coffee!
Further along the road, we were lucky enough to find a tree for shade so that we could have lunch. A young lad in a football shirt watched us all the time, and waved as we left.
We now came to an area where the rocks looked all 'churned up', a bit like Hartland Quay. Then it was the 'Legionnaires Tunnel', a short tunnel through the rock, built by the French in 1929. This was at the start of the spectacular Gorges du Ziz - a stupendous meander through almost vertical rock, making us think of 'Goosenecks' in USA, but here the rock was bright red. After that, the contrast with the patches of green palm trees was amazing. Even here, when we stopped, 'touts' came up offering their wares.
On the way to Gorges du Ziz
The Gorges du Ziz
We rounded a corner and came across the breathtaking sight of the aquamarine Hassan Addakhil reservoir.
Hassan Addakhil reservoir
We had a lot of palm trees for shade which we need - the temperature at 5 o'clock was still 34.7°C! I had started writing the diary, when Mohammed came over and asked us to drink mint tea with him. We were reluctant to go, and told him that we weren't going to buy anything. He took us into his little 'Aladdin's cave' of a shop, where with the usual ceremony, he poured the tea from 'Aladdin's pot' from a great height to make a froth. We chatted for a while – he was a very likeable and knowing guy – then he and his 'brother' gave us a fantastic rendition on their drums, playing with their hands, and singing along with it. Quite magical.
Our shady spot at Source bleue de Meski
We just felt sorry that we can never really relax and just enjoy the friendship, but are always wondering what is in store. Adrian said that we didn't buy things now – we were old so didn't need to collect things. Mohammed said, 'You are not old, old is in the head, and you are not old'.
The sun was now just going down, so we walked up steps above the washing block to see it. It still felt extremely hot, so in the dusk, Adrian rigged up a light and cooked our unknown fish bought yesterday on our stove outside. It tasted very good. A group of men had been playing boule behind us, but now all the day trippers had left, plus the Moroccan family beside us and it was really quiet. We came in at 9.30 when the van had cooled enough (28°C). Even then, a chap came around touting for business - selling dates, offering trips and asking for English beer or wine. They start so young - earlier a little boy of about three had brought me a tiny camel woven from bamboo and asking for 'bon-bons'.
Mohammed pouring tea and playing drums with his brother
Monday 14th September So this is the Sahara! 80 miles
Luckily the night cooled down and we were able to sleep. We got up in the lovely early morning cool and I finished writing yesterday's diary which the 'tea drinking' had interrupted.
It was still cool as we sat outside for breakfast. Mohammed had brought us a fresh Moroccan loaf, as promised. He said that his family had baked it. It was certainly good.
We had a discussion on what to do and where to go next, as the extreme heat had concerned us. We contemplated staying here another day, and catching up, leaving early the next day. We decided on leaving this morning, heading for the Sahara and hoping that we could find a shady place to stay tonight. First though we headed for the pool, having had a look at it first – so different today with no other people about. The floor and steps were very slippery – I was glad to use Doug's water shoes which Hil had given me. The pool was very clear but surprisingly deep – we wouldn't have liked to have been in it yesterday with all the children.
Source and pool, Meski
We pulled in and were immediately confronted by Hassan, who said that he and his brother Ali had a campsite in Merzouga, where we were heading.
The road now widened, and there was non-stop habitation of adobe looking villages.
We drove through the nondescript town of Erfoud and later the town of Rissani where dozens of young people were cycling and wandering along with no regard for traffic. It was 12.15 and we think that school must have turned out. Incongruously we also saw more women wearing long black robes than we have done recently.
As we neared Merzouga we could see the pink of the dunes in the distance. We then drove through a stretch of absolutely flat, barren, stony desert. Occasionally we passed camels wandering around.
Palm trees in the desert landscape
Camels in the desert
A beautiful pool on the edge of the desert
We came back to cook supper with the minimal amount of cooking. Just as we were about to eat, Hassan came over with some fresh dates for us.
At 8.30pm, the temperature was still 33°C. We went over to the pool again (our fourth swim today). It was all in darkness, so we took our head torches. The stars above were amazing. A worker was lying on a sunbed by the pool. He greeted us, then spoke to someone on the phone and lights came on in the pool. It was a magical swim, with bats swooping down and the stars above.
It was still 30°C at 10pm.
The sand dunes of Erg Chebbi from our campsite
We went over to drink tea with Hassan in a large adobe type room. We booked a 4x4 drive into the Sahara at 5.30 tomorrow morning to see sunrise.
We walked across the developing campsite to the edge of the desert. We saw some camels, then a Berber man took our photo and tried to show us his fossils and minerals.
The incorrigible but charismatic Hassan
Tuesday 15th September Saharan Sunrise 144 miles
The alarm went at 4.45am for our 4x4 trip into Erg Chebbi dunes to watch sunrise in the Sahara.
At 5.30 we were picked up by Youssef, a man of not many words, but he did speak some English.
It was still dark of course, and the stars looked amazing.
The stony tracks we took were very bumpy – it might have been less so on a camel! We were surprised to pass a lot of habitation, and several 'auberges' right out in the desert.
Once into the sand dunes, we waited half an hour for the sun to rise. We loved seeing all the different colours as it became gradually light. Many people had come by camel and had stopped some distance from us.
Having had our 'fill' of sunrise in the desert, Youssef drove us back by a somewhat quicker route. We got back at 8 o'clock and I began preparing breakfast. Hassan arrived with a loaf of Moroccan bread (2dh), which we were glad of as it also meant that we didn't have to buy some for lunch.
After breakfast, we both had a swim in the lovely pool. Adrian chatted to the young Dutch couple next to us who had ridden into the desert last night by camel, and come back this morning – rather like we did in the Thar desert in India.
At 10.15 we were on our way. Hassan had wanted Adrian to visit a shop in the 'town', but he'd got out of that. As we drove into Merzouga, we joked about Hassan being there on his moped, zooming all around us - and sure enough, there he was! He waved a cheery goodbye! He had caused us a lot of anguish at the beginning, but the site he led us to was certainly great.
Sunrise in the Sahara
We drove back across the flat, stony desert to Rissani, pulling onto a rocky space for coffee, where Adrian drove over a large boulder but no harm seemed to be done.
Rissani was again teeming with people – young lads in T-shirts and jeans contrasting with the many ladies dressed all in black.
We stopped to get some fuel near our turn-off, but again they didn't take visa card.
We then drove west on the N10, across flat desert country with no shade. We were both feeling sleepy after our early start. Just before Tikkert-n-Ouchchane Pass (839m), we managed to pull off by a small tree, but it didn't offer any shade. As I started to prepare lunch, a youth stopped on his motorbike and came asking for food - it must just be a habit!
Near Alnif, the 'bridge' had been washed away some time ago and the road was diverted through the large dry river.
A range of flat topped hills were beside us for much of the way, making an interesting skyline amidst the flat, stony desert. We enjoyed seeing the many palm trees in the oases.
Back across the desert to Rissani
Tasserine had small block buildings, unlike the adobe type houses in other places.
We made our way to N'kob, where we intended staying tonight at Camping Auberge (as many sites seem to be called).
We drove through a narrow ornate archway to a small site with not much shade, It was 3.30 and the temperature was 37°C!
Adrian put out the awning to provide a bit of shade and after refreshing with a cup of tea, we made our way over to the pleasant looking, but rather over green pool.
As always happens when we put out the awning, it became a bit windy, so in it had to come again! By now we had a bit of shade, but it was still very hot.
The campsite man came over with a pot of mint tea and a large plate of dates for us.
The desert and the oasis
We drove across the flat empty desert with its occasional isolated dwellings. It amazed us that in this remote area we sometimes passed someone who would thumb a lift. Little birds flitted past. We were still driving past the range of hills topped by a vertical 'wall'.
We joined the N9 and headed north to Ouarzazate, crossing then following the Draa River. We still had the flat topped mountains to our right, but those on the left were different, sometimes spilling down to the road. We passed numerous palmeries. Donkeys, loaded high with vegetation staggered past.
We ascended the Tizi-n-Tinififft Pass, which climbed to 1660m. It was a stunning barren 'goosenecks' view. We stopped before the top, with the best view, sitting on a low wall to have our tea/coffee.
Wednesday 16th September A stunning pass then on to Ouarzazate 97 miles
We heard the birds again this morning. It had thankfully got a bit cooler towards morning. We'd enjoyed this pleasant site, apart from the hundreds of flies – was Australia worse than this?
It was already hot when we left at 8.45.
Driving through empty desert
We continued along the Draa valley, with its frequent palmeries, to the large pink town of Ouarzazate. This is where Rosie Kopacek had worked for many years, but it wasn't at all what we had imagined.
We needed to buy some food, especially as it is Adrian's birthday tomorrow. Lonely Planet had said that Ouarzazate was well stocked with supermarkets, but we had a frustrating time trying to find anything. After much driving around, and looking up in our books and on the tablet, we found a tiny store, where we bought what we could. At least they had fresh bread, but no 'extras' for tomorrow.
It was now past lunchtime, and we needed somewhere to stop. Adrian followed a parking sign on his map – and we ended up at the airport! It was very quiet, with no activity today, so suited us well for our lunch stop.
We spent much time discussing what we should do now. We'd planned a gorge route for tomorrow, but needed somewhere for tonight. We settled on trying a site a short way back, but first we needed to get to a bank for some money. With so many places – campsites and petrol stations - not taking visa, we always needed to have ready cash.
After driving round the town again, we found a bank, opposite a petrol station. Adrian got some money - but the petrol station didn't have any diesel! Neither did the next one we tried! We tried a third - and they had some - but didn't take Visa! We handed over some of our long fought for cash, then stocked up, we made our way to la Palmeries campsite. This was like someone's back yard, edged with palms and with pomegranate trees. Washing was drying all round the edge of the site. Apart from dogs and cats, hens strutted about, and a peacock. We found a bit of shade and got settled in. The site was run by a young Moroccan and his French wife - but the best thing was that there was a washing machine we could use!
We hung out our washing and although 5.00pm it all dried. Wonderful!
We climbed up some irregular steps to the top of the entrance building just in time to see the sun go down.
We sat outside for supper, and then until 9.30, looking up Adrian's past birthdays in my diaries on the tablet.
Adrian's 73rd birthday. After opening his presents and cards, we sat outside with scrambled egg for breakfast. Once again the milk we had bought was buttermilk!
We waved goodbye to the French wife with her 6 month old baby. It was she who had done the administration – unusual here.
We drove the first bit of bumpy track back to the road, reminding us of exactly a year ago in Romania, when we had bumped along from a campsite run by a young Dutch couple. Women were walking along with huge piles of sweetcorn stalks on their backs.
We thought that we ought to see a bit of Ouarzazate, and with perseverance parked in a side street and walked around the centre.
Thursday 17th September A Gorgeous Birthday! 90 miles
Adrian in the neatly paved centre of Ouarzazate
We knew that we couldn't drive the whole way up this gorge, as the road becomes a track, so stopped at a campsite at Ait Oudinar . This turned out to be a 'yard' behind a hotel. We were welcomed by Daud (David) who spoke quite good English.
We parked in a pleasant spot above the river, surrounded with what looked like silver birches. There was a rough grassy area beside us with some bright red cannas. David told us that there'd been a big flood in August and all the surface had been washed away and they had just reinstated it.
He invited us over for thyme tea while he told us of the various 4x4 trips you could take. I wasn't keen on this, but when he suggested a trip for an hour or so up through the next narrow bit of gorge, we agreed.
He said that we could go right now, and it seemed a nice thing to do on Adrian's birthday. Off we set, with him driving, and accompanied by his 4 year old son Mohammed (he must have been an older father!). Apparently all first sons are called Mohammed. We asked what language they spoke at home. David told us that they spoke Berber. They learnt Arabic at school and then French.
In the Dades Gorge
We started on the many hairpins through the steep sided gorge. It would have been very difficult and nerve racking in the van, so Adrian was really enjoying it. David stopped several times when he knew that the view would be good for photographs. When we got to the narrowest part of the gorge, he stopped to let us walk through. Little Mohammed joined us, revelling in exploring the holes in the rock. Just before the end, he turned and ran back to the car before we could stop him.
David drove us a bit further where we looked down to a Kasbah. On the way back he pointed out simple rock dwellings where nomads live when not following their sheep and goats.
We zigzag up to the second gorge with our driver Daud and his son Mohammed
We passed an elderly man and David stopped to give him a lift. Mohammed moved to sit between the two front seats, looking backwards. After a while he got sleepy, so the old gent lowered him onto his lap, where he slept until we got back at 5.45.
Adrian had really enjoyed his 'birthday trip'. Now it was time for bubbly and birthday cake, with the candle! We sat by the van, watching the changing light on the barren mountain above, which was amazing.
A smart Kasbah and simple rock dwellings
We came in at 7.15 then went over to see what the restaurant held in store. After a moment's misgiving, when we found the restaurant all in darkness, we realised that everybody was sitting outside so made our way there!
David was busily dashing about serving customers – there were 2 groups of younger people- but he still found time to be hospitable. The other people had obviously booked their meals, but we were happy to have a nice vegetable soup with fresh bread – all we needed. We were given long wooden spoons to eat it with. Afterwards we shared a delicious plate of fruit. We came back to the Ixi at 8.20.
Happy birthday with cake, candle and bubbly with the glorious lighting up behind
Moroccan soup with a long wooden ladle
Friday 18th September Another gorgeous gorge 70 miles
The night and the early morning were cooler, but the day became hot. The sun came over the mountain, so it was warm for us to have breakfast outside after we had caught up with the diary and photos from yesterday.
There were no shower heads on the showers, so we gave up on that and left at 10 o'clock. David and his wife (we presume) waved us goodbye. Our meal of soup and fruit yesterday had come to £6!
We drove back down through the first lot of gorges, which looked different from this direction. We saw the fairytale castle on top of the rock again and the rocks that looked like melted mud. We marvelled once more at the number of dwellings built in such inhospitable places. We passed a group of Berbers on the road with loaded donkeys and camels.
Back down at Bourmalne, which we could see across the river first, we headed eastwards towards the Todra Gorge.
Now we drove across the flat, pink, desert plain towards Tinghir, with the interesting pink hills either side of us.
Camels and donkeys on the road
Looking towards Tinghir
We stopped and took in the surroundings before driving back to the gorge, stopping to admire the neat 'allotments' by the river beside the immensely narrow entrance to the gorge.
The bridge is out!
This time we parked and walked for a short way through the gorge, joining the groups of tourists. Swallows flew out from holes in the cliff face above. 'Hey Jude' was playing from a parked car.
‘Allotments’ by the narrow entrance to Todra Gorge
We arrived back at Camping Atlas just before 4 o'clock. After parking the van, we sat out above the river to peruse the maps once again to decide our ongoing route, before cooling off with a shower.
The sun was glowing on the bare red mountain tops opposite as we sat out with our aperitif.
Inside immensely high Todra Gorge
Saturday 19th September A catching up day 0 miles
We had both agreed to spend another day here and 'catch up' with things. It was lovely to think of not having to dash off.
The sun was still behind the palm trees, so it was quite cool when we sat out for breakfast, but soon became very warm.
With the bonus of a washing machine here, it was a wonderful opportunity to wash the bedding – sheet, duvet cover and pillow cases, knowing that they would soon be dry. I even ironed Adrian's smart shirt!
I at last wrote the few postcards we now had stamps for, then we walked out, posting them on a box right outside the site, before going in search of the bakers which the campsite man had told Adrian about, 50m along the road. We could see nothing like a bakers, but could smell bread from a large metal 'container door'. We opened it a little and a women got up from a mattress on the floor. Another women lay on another mattress. We asked for 'pain', and sure enough, she picked up a warm Moroccan loaf from a pile on the floor! We came back and ate some with our tea/coffee.
Three Berber ladies walked through the palm grove on the other side of the river. They took off their shoes and hitched up their clothes and waded across the fast flowing river to the gate below us. This was closed, so they banged on it and our campsite man came and opened it. They joined a group of ladies from this side, and went off together, completely disregarding us. (Our book said that there was a bridge, so it must have got washed away.)
We sat out until 9.00pm. It was very quiet. The stars were really bright, but we couldn't recognise anything.
Evening sun on the mountain top
We'd joked about staying a second day anywhere, as things were never so good on the second day. The wind was so blustery that we had to shut down most of the roof vents. Catching up a bit with the website kept us busy. We walked down the steps to the river, but the gate at the bottom was locked.
Later the wind dropped and we were able to sit outside for supper.
Adrian had put out the awning to give us some shade. Whenever we've put out the awning, it has become very windy. Today was no exception!
The bakers and the loaf we bought
A nice place to be, with the palm trees opposite
The Todra River and the locked gate
Sunday 20th September Back through pink desert scenery 129 miles
We woke early to hear light rain! It was still warm - 21°C. We left at 9 o'clock - we had really enjoyed our stay at this pleasant 'campsite', where we were very much left alone.
The door to the bakery was firmly shut, so we continued through our pink world back to Tineghir, where the green palmeries made a big contrast. The colours seemed intensified by the dull weather. The river had washed over the road and the surface was really bad.
We needed to stop here for bread. The first place we tried – an 'alimentation' had virtually nothing in it. We bought some drinking water before making our way back to one of two small supermarkets we'd passed. Here we were able to buy a small loaf, but again there was very little in the shop – just 4 eggs sat in a small bowl on the counter! There was an attempt to make a green town park. An enormous amount of house building was going on. We noticed again the Berber women, often with white 'lacy curtains' over their long robes. Out of town, women were bent double with huge piles of greenery on their backs.
We made our journey back across the often bleak desert towards Ouarzazate lighter by listening to the first cassette (of 8) of WH Davies' 'Autobiography of a Supertramp', which Simon had given Adrian for his birthday. It is one of the only books Adrian remembers enjoying (for his GCE 56 years ago). We certainly found the first part entertaining.
At Boumalne we stopped to get fuel before having coffee at the edge of a large rough 'square' beside the walls. The centre of the town was seething and bustling with people on what appeared to be market day.
From here the line of houses beside the road went on for ever, like in northern France. At El Kelaa M'Gouna we saw people washing carpets in the river.
The sun was now out, which made somewhere to stop for lunch more difficult but we were able to pull on to a track with some shade from a tree.
We drove on, passing Skoura without even noticing. We took a long bumpy track towards the reservoir Mansour-ed-Dahbi, which is supposed to be good for bird watching, but we didn't get close enough to see anything except the lovely turquoise water.
Driving back to Ouarzazate
We arrived back at the vast, smart town of Ouarzazate with its new pavements and abundance of fancy street lamps.
We drove north on the N9 through barren desert country. About 3.30, just as it got a bit hilly, we came to our campsite, right by the road. We found a shady spot to park and soon went for a swim in the pleasant pool. Like others here, it wasn't very warm, which surprises us. The temperature outside was a pleasant 28°C.
The Mansour-ed-Dahbi reservoir
It felt quite cool as we sat out with our drink, but then we sat out to eat the lentil soup I'd made before coming in at 8 o'clock when it got dark. The stars were good.
Another pleasant pool
Monday 21st September 'Lawrence of Arabia' then on to Marrakech 129 miles
It was cool until the sun came over the hill. It was really pleasant sitting out for breakfast as there were no flies! By the time we left at 8.15 it was hot. We noticed that the receptionist wore a short, sleeveless dress.
We took the side road off towards Ait Benhaddou, a hill town, known for its use as a film set. It was used as the setting for Lawrence of Arabia and about 20 other films. We'd read that it had been much rebuilt, but was still a site worth seeing.
The long 9 km there were difficult as the rough tarmac was only wide enough for one car, so passing a vehicle coming the other way (of which there were many) had to be done with caution, as often they had no intention of moving over.
It was still cool when we parked in the large, rough square, refusing the 'guides' who approached us as they pointed the way. We walked down past the few open stalls and came to a wide dry river, with sand bags put across to act as stepping stones during wet times.
We entered a kasbah, where we paid a small entrance fee, but weren't sure later if it was official. We walked along some of the dusty sand coloured passages, but didn't intend climbing to the top of the hill. Having got our impression of the atmospheric place, we started following an 'exit' sign, not knowing where we were going, but eventually coming down to cross the river again. There were more stalls here. One pottery stall had prices on all the goods. This attracted us, so we looked further. We had wanted to buy a wedding present for Danielle, and one of the large dishes seemed ideal – except that we now had to look after it! We bought a couple of tiny pots too. The proprietor was a very pleasant unpretentious man. We handed over a note, as we were a small amount short with the change we had with us. He went off to find change and some time later gave it to us – including a bit in euros (one euro is approximately 10 dirham).
Back over the river bed, we bought a small painting from a man working with something that came to light when heated – like we used to do 'magic writing' in lemon juice. He demonstrated it for us.
Back near the van, a 'Superette' store was advertising 'timbres', so we bought a few more stamps and then some postcards. Nearby was another small supermarket where we got a Moroccan loaf, We now only had enough change if using the euro, but he didn't want that, so Adrian had to return to the van for dirhams. By now it was very hot.
We had decided not to travel further on this road, so made the hellish journey back to the N9. We now headed towards Marrakech through the red landscape with occasional green and with flat topped hills. We had thought that this would be an easy day, but we hadn't bargained on the Tichka pass!
There was no shade when we pulled off the road to have lunch, using our dwindling food supplies, as we hadn't really shopped for 10 days. We left at 1.30, passing non-stop makeshift stalls selling apples – dozens and dozens of them. We wondered at people sitting sometimes with just a box or two of apples in the heat – and how did they get there? Later the 'stalls' were selling coloured rocks. Some foolhardy salesmen stood right out in the road, almost shoving the rock at us.
We started on winding up beside the dry valley of the Tizi n'Tichka Pass. They were supposedly rebuilding the road, so the surface was often non existent and very rough. The fridge only burst open twice this time! We were following a slow, smoky gas tanker and were being followed by a huge truck. We pulled off the road for a moment, but when we restarted, there was another tanker. In fact the worst thing was the number of large trucks, as this is a main route (the only route!).
We eventually came to the summit (2260m) and started descending, initially through an orangey/brown landscape dotted with tufts of green, but later it returned to red, and at one point was multicoloured like the painted desert.
We came to a small town which was absolutely bursting with parked cars and people, but we couldn't see why. Having thought we'd made the hilly part, we then began ascending to a second pass (1470m). Very many large vehicles were coming from the other direction, loaded high with goods – some with cows or sheep standing precariously on top.
On the Tizi n'Tichka Pass
Tuesday 22nd September Tranquil Gardens and shopping at last 15 miles
Near the gardens it was busy with vehicles and people and we didn't think that we'd be able to park. Luckily we did, at the last minute, directed as always by a 'Guardian'. The gardens (70 Dh each) were a tranquil delight. A haven of green and lushness midst the busy town. There were a lot of tourists – English was the predominant language we heard, but the people weren’t all English. The gardens were restful, peaceful (apart from the people) and cool. It was shaded by palms with a beautiful cactus garden and a delightful waterlily pond, giving a feeling of Monet's Giverny. Large flower pots were in vibrant blue and yellow, which I wasn't sure about, but the whole image was delightful.
Having had our respite, we walked in the heat to the nearby Acima supermarket, hoping to get some beer and wine there. We entered a half empty mall, making our way down escalators (which weren't working) to the store below. Here we spied a 'cave' where we filled our small plastic trolley with beer and wine, wondering how we would get it back to the van.
When we got to the lift, the security man said that we couldn't take the red plastic trolley out of the shop but happily gave us a full size trolley which we could. At first the lift didn't work. A nice young assistant came by and pressed the button and it did work so he ushered us in. He spoke only a very little English, but we made him understand that Adrian would go for the van, while I waited with him and the trolley across the busy road. This went to plan – crossing the manicly busy road with a trolley full of booze was an experience! I learnt from Youssef that he lived in a village 22 km away. Two days a week he looked after sheep. And he had a 2 year old daughter called Fatima Sara. He seemed a very nice chap, and deserved the small tip we gave him when Adrian arrived and we could hand back the trolley.
It was gone 5 o'clock when we got back to the campsite. The first thing we had to do was to fill the water tank, which was practically empty. While we were doing this, a camper had come into 'our' spot! The next spot was just as good, so we pulled in there.
Beautifully tranquil la Marjorelle gardens, Marrakech
We made our way to the pool to cool down. It was busier than we like, with another small group who had arrived, so we didn't stay long!
Later we went over for our 'free cocktail' - just an orange drink. It was too hot to cook (35°C), so we just had 'tea'. We did some more of the website, but were dripping sweat - it was still 32°C at 9 o'clock and at 10.30 was still 30°C! A campsite man had surprised us by asking if we had a 'problem - medico'. We think that he got the wrong van!
The lovely pool at le Relais, Marrakech with its excess of sunbeds
Wednesday 23rd September Manic Marrakesh 0 miles
The night was very warm but the morning cloudy, so pleasantly cool as we sat out for breakfast. We'd booked a taxi into Marrakesh for 9.30, but were ready before that.
We shared the taxi with a German couple from the site. Our ride in was an experience in itself!
It was like riding the dodgems – and people did manage to 'dodge' each other somehow! Twice our driver spoke on the phone, which meant that he had no hand for the steering wheel when he changed gear!
We were dropped near the centre, with a pick up time of 3 o'clock. Much of that time was spent trying to get back to where we started!
We were near the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque and the tranquil gardens of the same name where roses had been planted – it's strange how people always want to grow what is difficult for that climate! It was already hot, but luckily for us, the day was mostly cloudy, so cooler than of late.
We spent the day not ever knowing where we were, despite our many maps, and Adrian found this very difficult to cope with! We managed to find our way to the main square - Jemaa el fna. This is where everything happens, especially in the evening, but we weren't going to be there then. There were stalls of all kinds, including snake charmers. We couldn't believe the number of knife sharpeners with their 'unround' wheels. We found a cooling cafe to sit at and drink my minuscule coffee and Adrian's mint tea. We both had a pain au chocolate, which, although I didn't feel I needed, was good, because it was a long time before we were able to have anything else! We were gearing ourselves up for what lay in store!
Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech
After walking round a bit more of the square, we headed for the souk area. This is where things began to get difficult! The narrow passages were crammed with action – stalls of all sorts - pedestrians, bicycles, mopeds (the worst!) and even small trucks. How everyone avoided others is a marvel! Tomorrow is a big feast day, so today is especially manic! We remembered that on Aid el Kebir each family sacrifices a sheep – so that explains the vast numbers of sheep we'd been seeing – just one in each truck. In fact we saw one man pushing through the crowds with a sheep straddled around his neck!
Jemaa el fna, Marrakech, where it all happens
A pleasant seeming chap started talking to us and said we should go to the tannery area. Just as he was leaving us, he suddenly said that that man over there will take you as he is going that way to his house. How horrible it is not to trust people. We came to where he said his house was – and it just happened (!!) that another man was walking past who was going to the tanneries, where it seems the Berbers from the hills work. He gave us a sprig of mint to hold, as the open air tanneries were dirty and smelly.
Push your way through here!
The Berber tanneries
Thursday 24th September To the Cascades d'Ouzoud 106 miles
Our chap led us back by a different route. Adrian gave him 25dh then we made our way back to Zebra campsite. This was very neat and pretty, apparently run by a Dutch couple. We found a spot with a bit of shade, then sat out at a table and chairs under a gazebo with our lovely view to the hills.
The Cascades d’Ouzoud
Rosie above the falls
Adrian cooked some of the frozen fish he'd bought outside. It was OK, but we decided next day to throw away the rest, which was rather strong smelling! The resident cat cleaned our plates afterwards! Everywhere seems to have cats, and last night there were 2 peacocks too!
We sat out until 9.30 enjoying the lovely situation and views of the stars. We had a fun game of table tennis on the table beside us before coming in.
Our lovely spot at Camping Zebra
Friday 25th September The falls again then back to Marrakech 173 miles
The Dutch owner Renate came to see that everything was OK. She reminded us both of our friend Jackie, and the Swiss lady camping near us reminded us of our neighbour Rosemarie.
It was pleasantly cool sitting out for breakfast at the table and chairs provided, and with the lovely view.
We had decided to view the falls from this side of the gorge, where we'd seen a viewpoint yesterday. When we got there, we were ushered into a parking space – only one other car there - then tried to find our way. All the stalls were still closed, so it was nice and quiet, but we couldn't see where to go at first. When we did, we made our way towards the viewpoint (completely devoid of barriers), passing a lot of Barbary apes 'monkeying around'. There were a lot of little cafes (closed) – we imagined the havoc the apes would cause when food was served!
The view of the falls was certainly splendid. We could see where we walked yesterday, high above the vertical cliff walls. And at this hour on what is still a holiday here, there was virtually nobody else about.
We had a long way to go today, so by 10 o'clock, we were on our way towards the rather plain town of Azilal then through pretty orange/green countryside towards the Bin el Ouidane Reservoir, which we could see mistily far below.
The cascades d’Ouzoud from the other side
We stopped with our nice view to have coffee, but were constantly hassled by 3 young girls. Today, being the second day of the holiday, meant that there were a lot of people wondering what to do with themselves.
When we got down to the dam, the road went across it, with a sign saying 'no photos'. Much further down the valley, we stopped and got out, hoping to take a photo, but were loudly whistled at by a soldier high above us.
We came to a second smaller dam, where another soldier was on guard. After that we wound up and up over an unnamed pass, from where we could look down to the absolutely flat plain below, with rectangular plots of cultivation.
After the town of Afourer, we reached the N8, which we were taking back to Marrakech.
When we pulled off into a shady spot at last for lunch, we were watched constantly by a group of young boys, so it wasn't relaxing, especially when they got bolder and started banging on the van!
We headed for Marrakech, over the flat plains, listening to the second part of 'Autobiography of a supertramp' to ease the journey!
Around 4 o'clock, we turned off onto an exceedingly long and bumpy track to 'Camping Car Maroc', our campsite for tonight. It was dusty and difficult, and many times we thought that we must have got it wrong - not least when we arrived at a large closed gate. Someone came along on his moped, and as if by magic the gate opened and the French owner showed us to a spot. We were surrounded by nice shrubs, including white jasmine and bougainvillea.
Bin el Ouidane Reservoir
Later we both went over to the fantastic pool for a swim. This 'campsite' is attached to a very smart hotel, an oasis in the midst of desolation!
We sat out after supper with just the sound of the crickets and with the large moon rising we could see just a few stars.
The haven of ‘Camping Car Maroc’
The other thing this town is known for is the jelleba buttons, which the ladies make. These intricate buttons are for the special long robes, and are made by the ladies sitting in the narrow passages, with the thread to make them hanging across the 'streets' like washing lines. We found a group of ladies doing this, but were greatly hassled by some little boys, one of whom tied a button onto my bracelet. The lady cut it off again, but they didn't want their photo taken, and didn't seem to want to sell the buttons. We eventually managed to 'lose' the boys and get back to the van, where a chap insisted he had been 'guardian', but we only had 1dr in change to give him. We drove off – now being lunchtime, we needed somewhere to stop, and had to suffice with a parched place beside the road in full sun, by a pile of rubbish. Four young lads came along, but only walked around us and didn't hassle us at all. Once on the N8, we started to ascend on a winding road, turning off to a lovely shady lake, Dayat Aaoua.
We bought a Moroccan loaf and a hot crepe and a pastry. A man came and chatted, but only wanted to act as guide. We walked back to the van, passing an astroturf football pitch! (Tom yours might have been this big!) It was 10.30 when we left, and now hot. A 'guardian' popped up for his car park fee – we hadn't even seen him! We should have stayed and had our coffee, because then we could find nowhere to pull off! Much later we pulled onto a dry, stony football pitch, but by now the crepe had become tough. A man with his large flock of stone coloured sheep, matching the ground, came by. We wondered what the sheep could find to eat. Egrets were following them, searching in the scrubbed up soil. Some men went by on a tractor and cheerily threw us an apple. This area was quite productive. We saw a tractor ploughing the ground and there were lots of fruit trees, presumably apples. The few houses were made of mud, with mud roofs.
After lunch, we followed an ambiguous sign, looking for the Source of the l'Oum-er-Rbia, Morocco's longest river. After some way up a difficult stony track, we realised it was the wrong way, and Adrian had to reverse for a long way before he could turn around. White was coming out from the hills at what would be waterfalls in Spring – we imagined it might be salt. Soon afterwards we came to the start of the walk to the actual source. There were a lot of cars parked, and 'touts' looking to guide you to the source – a 20 minute walk each way. In the heat (30°C+), and after the stress of the bad roads, this was not on. We drove on, but by now there was just a strip of narrow tarmac, hardly wide enough for the van. This made driving difficult, especially when passing an oncoming car. We saw people walking a long way to a well for water. On driving on the many ensuing hairpins, we saw a wolf.
We lost sight of any road surface. Occasionally we had odd scraps of former tarmac, but this was no better, as they were filled with huge deep potholes. Words can't describe the horror which now ensued, and we were so anxious that there are no photos to record it! The fridge burst open 5 separate times, although locked. The 'road' degenerated into a 4x4 track, which was often washed away. So many times we wondered if we would get through, or if a washed out bridge might stop us from going further. The red soil parts were the worst – sometimes we had to negotiate washouts across the road, just praying that we wouldn't get stuck.
The clouds had darkened, and then our worst fear – it began to rain! Luckily it never came to much, but as bad as the horror of what we were going through was the fear of what might lie ahead. I could only think 'this WILL end!' At one red muddy stream, where water had washed across the road, local ladies washing clothes waved to us! Sometimes we lost track of any sort of road at all. At one point a horse barred our way, and didn't move until the very last minute. We then saw that its two front legs were tied together, which was very distressing to see. We came to areas of fallen rocks, so this was another worry. And all the time we were at 2,000m (6,000ft) with sheer drops below. Sometimes the blend of different reds and greens was lovely, but we were in no mood to stop and take photos! It was 5.40 when we emerged to 'Scottish grassy moorland' and some tarmac!! This was sometimes still deeply pot holed, but we felt that we had made it! It had taken us 3 hours to do 30 miles! The sun was now shining, but it had obviously rained hard here – we now felt 'lucky in our unluckiness'
After the stressful time of yesterday, we wanted a quiet day today! We spent the morning getting back on track and didn't leave until midday. We drove south for 20km through desert scenery towards the town of Midelt. between the Middle and High Atlas mountains We stopped to get diesel. A chap from the adjacent restaurant came and spoke to Adrian about mining and fossils in the area. He told him of a road off from the town where we would get to this area. We decided to drive that way, but vowed to turn round at the first sign of any difficulty with the road! As we neared Midelt, the road became very wide, with newly paved pavements and watered grass with beds of roses. It had a 'Palm Springs' feel in the otherwise arid desert!
The patron wanted payment for the camping tonight, as he was then leaving, ready for the big souk day tomorrow. As we walked back over to the van, there were a few huge spots of rain, and then thunder and more rain. We battened down the hatches! The storm came and went all evening, but we felt happy to be safe, unlike yesterday!
The morning started cool as the sun was behind the trees. I wasn't feeling too good, which didn't improve when the day became really hot. We left at 10 o'clock, having phoned Simon and having filled the water tank. We drove up and down Midelt, but didn't find the big souk which was supposed to happen on Sundays – we were just glad that we hadn't walked! We drove south across flat, desert-like country with mountains up ahead. We could see that it had rained quite hard. We climbed the Tizi n' Tairmeht pass (1907m), then down to cross a tributary of the Ziz River, which did have a little water in it.
Soon after this was the very plain town of Ar Rachidia with its 'EU' type paving and excess of trees. The sand coloured adobe type buildings made us think of Sante Fe. A few miles on we reached the campsite at Source bleue de Meski. A pleasant young chap – Mohammed of course – showed us in. He spoke reasonable English and told us that he had spent 3 weeks in Leeds. We were to see quite a bit of him! He showed us around the site, which on a Sunday afternoon was teeming with Moroccans who came here at the weekend. The reason for this was the pool formed by the spring which emerged from the rock at the start of the Ziz River. The pool was full of young boys, and the whole area was buzzing with noise and activity. There was table soccer, and the inevitable little shops. We were shown to a spot next to a Moroccan family with 3 boisterous but happy children, The father lay resting while the mother, in long clothes as all the women were, minded the children. Mohammed gave us a large stripy mat to use outside the door – the locals used these to lie or sit on.
A man approached us, pushing for business to take a Sahara trek with his 'cousin'. Mohammed came along and was annoyed at his persistence. Mohammed insisted that we drink tea with him before leaving. We were keen to get off before it got too hot, but couldn't refuse. He seemed such a nice guy and had a real loud laugh.
We set off south towards the Sahara just after 10.30 – it did already feel hot. As we drove south, we passed lines of palm trees in the valley below, contrasting so beautifully with the pinky-orange rock.
A tout on a moped tried to get our attention, which, with all the various signs for camping and treks, and the extreme heat, confused Adrian. On the desert road, the van felt strange, and the tyre gauge showed a flat tyre. Adrian investigated, but all seemed well – he thought that he had read the temperature of the tyre but it was the strong wind which made the van feel unsteady. After much to-ing and fro-ing, we came to Ksar Bicha, which Hassan had told us about. It was now 1.15, and there was no shade, although we could see a nice swimming pool. Adrian enquired, and 'Ali' wasn't there at that moment. We parked by the one small tree, which gave a little shade, to have our lunch – at which time a sandstorm blew up and covered everything in the van with a fine layer of sand before Adrian could shut the door. We could taste the sand in our mouths!
We had decided to go back to one of the other campsites – this place didn't actually advertise camping anyway! As we returned the 5km or so, there were more short sandstorms. And who should we see but the tout on the moped! It made us think of our lovely Column Sands song 'Directions' where he keeps meeting a man with a bag of coal!
Just before we reached a wider road, sand was blown all across our road and the inevitable happened – we got stuck! We were glad then of our 'friend', and another chap who came along at that point, to help us get out! Giving the other chap a small tip, we ended up following our 'tout' , who was also called Hassan, to the campsite he suggested – by now we had been so confused by all our different information, that we couldn't remember where we were actually going anyway!
In fact his site, Haven le Chance, was right next to the one we'd intended going to. It seemed OK, with a tree offering some shade. Just across from us was a delightful swimming pool. It was really windy, but we both went for a delightful cooling swim.
A Moroccan welcome - mint tea and dates
We spent time rethinking our route, sitting outside, which was (at 32°C) cooler than in the van. Just the flies annoyed us again. We could hear hundreds of birds, presumably sparrows, in a tree. Again we cooked using minimal heat, and using the outside stove. It was lovely sitting out in our isolation (again the only campers here). It was now dark – Adrian rigged up an outside light again - but after supper we sat in the darkness. The stars were phenomenal! We came in reluctantly at 9.40 to clear up, feeling tired after our very early start!
We passed a little patisserie where we bought bread and two little cream slice type cakes for Adrian's birthday cake. They even had candles under the counter, so we bought one, even if the assistant was more interested in being on the phone or chatting to another person. We went into another small supermarket, which wasn't forthcoming, but they did have some stamps – only 5, but that was better than nothing! We'd been trying for 2 weeks to get some! In another shop I bought a postcard of Ouarzazate for Renee and Lena. There was a nice selection of babouska, (Moroccan slippers) which we'd promised to get for Millie, but the man wanted more than I was going to pay. Adrian had gone outside as he'd found it too hot in the shop. At a market stall we both bought a prickly pear fruit which the man peeled for us. It was delicious and refreshing. From another stall we bought a large box of dates to take home. It was very hot when we drove off at 11.20, stopping out of town to have our late tea/coffee, parking beside the road. We followed the road north-eastwards, passing the large reservoir to the Dades Valley, through barren desert with the flat topped hills at first. Much of the road had been resurfaced. We drove through the town of Skoura. It was a monochrome landscape – sandy pink – with the blue sky and occasional green of trees. We were lucky enough to find a tree to pull off under to have lunch. The sardines we opened were 'Moroccan style' it said on the tin – but we hadn't expected them to be little balls! We had a nasty moment when getting back onto the road. At first the van stuck on the soft ground, then as Adrian pulled out, a car was coming which he hadn't seen. Luckily the driver was able to pull over. We drove on, passing lots of stalls and shops selling rose products – rose water mostly. This area, incongruously, is known for its rose production in Spring, but we could see no rose bushes – we found out later that they grow in a side valley. At Bourmaine we turned north to follow the Dades Gorge. This was a steep pink coloured gorge with houses of the same colour. Rocks were contorted into strange shapes, and the valley bottom was filled with the green of trees.
We reached the large town of Tinghir at about midday, when the children seem to have just come out of school so it was quite busy. We drove north towards Todra Gorge, passing a 'Look out for camels' roadsign! We could already see the damage from the recent floods. We soon came to Camping Atlas, again a flat area behind a hotel. It was by the Todra River, with date palms and olive trees and with the stunning red cliffs towering high above. There was a place to deposit rubbish (hard to find here) and even a washing machine, which we didn't need today. We asked the camp manager the state of the road north of here, as we had wanted to travel that way. He told us what we feared – the road through the gorge was fine, but after that it was no good for motorhomes. Adrian in particular was disappointed, as it meant retracing our steps to Ouarzazate, but after our experience of a few days ago, we knew not to risk it – and this time it was 100 miles! We therefore decided to drive the few miles to the gorge and back, but first we had lunch. We set off at 2 o'clock and soon came to the gorge – busier with tourists than the Dades Gorge, and with some stalls selling brightly coloured fabric, although most of the stalls were empty. The enormous vertical red cliffs were stunning against the azure blue sky. The Todra River tumbled alongside. We drove through the gorge, enjoying the scenery, then continued for some way, not wanting to turn round. After some miles, our mind was made up for us! There was a missing bridge, with a rough diversion through the river. Now we knew that driving on this way would be silly.
We came to a police check, and were asked to stop. This surprised us, as foreigners are rarely stopped. I had got up to check on a noise at the back of the van, and had just sat down. The pleasant policeman asked a few questions, and then pointed to my seat belt! We had come to the flat land, and now we had to drive right around the outside of Marrakech to the campsite we were heading for. This was a bit like driving in northern Italy, with crazy moped drivers and hundreds of other vehicles going every which way. Finally we reached le Relais de Marrakesh campsite soon after 5 o'clock. This was quite lush, with laden olive trees, geraniums, oleander, bougainvillea and ornamental grasses. Also there were other people here! Campers from all over Europe – France, Belgium, Germany, Austria – and an English couple Tracy and Colin! They used to work for the Caravan & Camping Club, organising trips abroad, but now ran their own company. They were sussing out a trip to Morocco for next spring. We chatted by the lovely swimming pool, where we both had a swim before coming back to have supper (still magicking a meal from our meagre resources) and sitting out until 10.15. It was very warm(30°C at 10pm) and quiet.
The night was warm. After catching up with the diary and photos, we sat outside for breakfast. We chatted to the two young Austrian lads next to us, who had camped at Midelt when we had. Time got on, so we thought that we'd have coffee before we left for the Majorelle Gardens. Just then Colin & Tracy came past and we chatted some more. It turned out that they knew Sue Horsman and Dave from the Historic Caravan Club! It was now hot, so time for a swim – and shower and hairwash for me. By then it was lunchtime, so I rustled up some cheese and biscuits with our last few dates. At 12.45 we set off – firstly for Marjanes to replenish our stocks and hopefully booze. This wasn't to be, as they didn't sell alcohol! (Adrian looked it up later and found out that Marjanes stopped selling alcohol last year).The shop was horribly vast and horrendously busy – presumably because the next two days are a holiday. We'd seen Colin & Tracy by their van when we'd arrived, but they didn't see us. Now we had to make our way to la Marjorelle Gardens, which had been partly designed by Yves St Laurent. The traffic was nightmarish and it was very hot – a sign said 41°C! There were vehicles of all sorts – the mopeds were the worst. We also saw trucks with sheep – on one flatbed truck lay 3 sheep with 2 men holding them!
He took us round the two different tanneries and then of course, he led us towards a store where another man ushered us in. We were given the inevitable mint tea, and out came the carpets! The one good thing was that there was a loo which I could use! Adrian did end up buying a leather belt which he wanted, but in their cleverness they had conned us again! Then of course we were left, not knowing where we were, and not risking asking anybody for fear of getting conned again! There were virtually no signs, and the few named roads didn't tie up with any of our maps! We wandered through narrow 'streets', squashed in between all the people and the mad vehicles – an absolute nightmare! We could well understand Tracy and Colin getting a taxi back to the point to catch their taxi to the campsite! We wandered on in this frenzy until 2.15, where miraculously we got back to our place to get our taxi. It was by a 'co-operative' of craft stalls, which we'd wanted to see. Adrian had already bought a Moroccan loaf as he was so starving, but I was too fraught to eat! We looked around the stalls, and as there was a small cafe here, ordered a welcome omelet (and some chips) with a large ice-cold bottle of water (we had almost drunk all of ours). We were ready for our 3 o'clock taxi back. The other couple arrived, then after the mad cap journey back, we arrived at le Relais campsite. Walking back to the van, we spoke to the Dutch people who had been at Merzouga – they were camped next to us! The day was now cloudy and windy, but after a refreshing cup of tea we had a pleasant swim in the pool – no other takers today. Although it was cooler, we still had 'tea', sitting inside, which made a change, because of the threat of rain. Adrian spoke to the nice young German chap who'd come in next to us on his trail bike, with a tiny tent.
It was after 10 o'clock when we left, as we'd sat outside for breakfast and got chatting to Andreas, from Munich. He was such an easy chap to talk to – reminded us of our Tom. He spoke good English - he had spent a year in New Zealand when at school. This was a good day to travel, as, being Aid el Kebir, everybody must have been at home slaughtering then eating their sheep! There was practically no traffic – certainly no lorries. It was strange passing the shops and stalls all locked up and deserted. We drove north eastwards on the N8, out of Marrakech, with its neat plumbago hedges, and as every town, the prolific number of fancy street lights. The road was flat, straight and tree lined – a legacy of the French perhaps. When we stopped for coffee, three young girls plucked up courage to come over and ask for food and pens – just for fun it would seem. We turned east on to the R208, passing north of Demnate where it became the R301. We found a tree for bit of shade for lunch. There was no bread available anywhere today. The loaf we had bought a couple of days ago had become rock hard, so we just had some stale sliced loaf and savoury biscuits. We started winding through fertile, hilly ground. The soil was an orangey colour, dotted with green, and the scenery dramatic and pretty. We turned off this road and at the village of Ouzoud, we passed the campsite we were heading for, and continued towards the falls. We avoided the main carparks with their guardians waving us in and carried on through the village. We came to a 'turnaround' and a young chap appeared and said yes, we could park there. He led us towards the falls – on a paved path at first, then across rough ground to view the falls from various precarious positions high above – no sign of a barrier!. We could see that there was an actual viewpoint from the other side of the falls, and thought that we might walk there tomorrow morning. These highest falls in Morocco are certainly impressive.
There was just one other couple there with 3 little children. We came back and Adrian moved the van to somewhere with a bit more shade. We received an email to say that our Hermitage friend Richard Beverley had died, which really saddened us.
We went for another swim to cool us down, meeting Hassan on the way – all dressed up in Berber gear, and looking very different. He wore a brilliant blue gown with bright orange headgear. Two Dutch couples were in the pool. One couple had driven from Holland to Algeciras in 2 days!