Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Way up High - Way Down South

A night in Marrakesh was enlivened by meeting a couple from Dumfries who have travelled extensively in South America - most notably perhaps with a motorbike and side car - and I hope to catch up with them in the UK to extract even more info.
Heading up over the Tizi n Tichka pass I was again crossing the High Atlas this time N-S but took a side turning to Telouet where I spent a  memorable night alongside the remarkable kasbah - slowly crumbling away but with a decorative inner sanctum that defies belief - the kasbah that is, not me. A Swiss couple had learned of a working salt mine nearby and we set off to find it - tucked away in barren mountains a few guys were drilling a seam of pure salt perhaps a foot thick working by gas light in primitive conditions - awesome.
I carried on down the valley which had a surfaced track contrary to the guidebooks' descriptions and passed through a remarkable landscape of rocky valleys, arid mountains and mud walled villages. A student was hitching some 20km home and on arrival I was invited in to meet her 8 siblings and various aunts before being fed with fresh bread, olive oil and honey whilst the kids sat equally fascinated.
A night on a site in Agdz was the introduction to the vast palmeries of the Draa valley which I then followed for many miles south crossing other mountain ranges to pass through Zagora and reach the edge of the Sahara at Mhamid where I experienced the vast stillness that settles over that endless landscape at dusk. 
Dawn of course saw the eerie call to prayer of the small mosque and I was soon heading north again as further exploration is the remit of the 4x4 or camel. Remarkably the Draa had been running south as well and disappears here only to reappear on the Atlantic coast  some 300 miles away. Passing the many kasbahs and palmeries once more I picked up a serene old guy hitching to Zagora who sat contentedly in the back and just gave a single wave as I dropped him off - the experience would be akin to me joining a Martian spaceship briefly and yet he seemed totally at ease with the situation.
After a longish day I parked up in the grounds of the Soleil Bleu Riad where camping was permitted - it had the best loo and shower facilities since leaving Marvao in Portugal a month ago and even with power was under £5 for the night.
The Gorges du Dades was spectacular but for the first time in a fortnight overcast conditions washed out much of the colour of the dramatic landscape as I climbed steadily up to Msemrir where the mostly surfaced road petered out. I did a few more miles of rough stuff but met two shepherds on mules who doubted I would get up to Agoudal. This was confirmed later in the day by a Belgian mountain biker who turned up - he had had to carry his bike in numerous places due to winter washouts and storm damage. Back in Msemrir a group of over enthusiastic kids managed to break my wing mirror glass as they scrambled for a pen each - they were hugely apologetic and looked terrified but later I made an invisible repair worthy of any garage with my shaving mirror and retraced my steps to spend the night in the gorge alongside a small hotel with 2 South Africans in a T5 plus Oz tent, a Dutch couple in a lime green micro caravan, 2 Irish guys in a hire car and 3 Spaniards.
Surprisingly there was light rain overnight but clearer skies in the morning persuaded me to head back up the gorge to retake my photos - which were enhanced by the fresh snow on the highest tops. The friendliness of the kids up in these mountains is remarkable - they have so little and yet always smile and wave - similarly the women folk who are hard at work fetching forage for the livestock, loading donkeys with firewood, washing huge rugs in the rivers or working the tiny patches of fertile ground dotted around the valley floor. Most people travel in the   ramshackle vans that ferry goods, people and livestock around and a lift is always appreciated as there are no fixed schedules to these 'berber taxis'. The stark landscape was some of the most impressive so far with the road zig-zagging between high barren mountain ranges linking up the dusty mud walled houses that formed the numerous small hamlets. Newer unfinished buildings were dotted around and the small bars and cafes all offered basic camping where space permitted so a return for longer next time is planned as the area has much potential for a little later in the season.
Tinerhir some 50km east has provided a place to catch up on the internet, source a slightly better wing mirror glass, chew the cud with a well travelled Ozzie guy on a 3 year cycling trip round Europe and North Africa ( and lose heavily at Scrabble) whilst a storm that came down from the High Atlas blew itself out to leave a fresh and starry night which bodes well for my exploration of the Todra Gorge as I enter my final week in this truly remarkable country.

The piccies HERE should give you a flavour of the past week and my whereabouts are revealed HERE

No comments:

Post a Comment

Help keep us in touch by adding your news and views!