The Cascades d'Ouzoud
For the last stage of the journey with the tour group, our numbers suddenly dwindled. Halfway through the tour, at Meski, one couple decided for whatever reason that it wasn't what they expected and by the time we arrived at Meski they were gone. Another couple with a large van opted to do an easier pass than the Tisi-n-Test and headed to Marrakech a day earlier than us and then left. Then right at the last minute the couple in the last of the big vans decided it was too much effort to drive the 160 km to the Cascades and then back again to head to the coast. So off they went.
That left Liz and Paul in their little VW and us! Happily the four of us have got on best of all and have been interested in seeing and doing the same things. Ray and Steve then offered us a change of plan. Hamid was to come with us and look after us on the final leg of the trip while they would head home to Spain. No problems with that from us and so with Hamid in Paul's van we headed out from Marrakech.
We left Marrakech passing yet again over the old stone Tensift Bridge built in the 10th century and still in use on the main road. After a stop at a little town to buy bread and partake of mint tea, we headed through some pretty dull countryside of olive trees and olive processing plants. Most of the towns along the main road were even duller with their odd propensity for having more half-built structures than completed ones.
Once off onto a side road, we stepped back in time. Wheat and barley were being harvested by hand - and not with a sickle … literally being picked stalk by stalk by hand. The cereal is only about 30 cm high but stretches in a yellow swathe as far as you can see to the foothills of the Middle Atlas in the distance.
First stop en route was a natural bridge over a limestone canyon, Imi-n-Ifri. We decided not to have a guide thinking we could easily walk the path under the huge structure. How wrong we were… and the guide knew it too and calmly appeared just when we were struggling up huge boulders and wondering where the path was. Jackdaws, choughs, swifts and pigeons whirled around us (Paul is the bird identifier of the group) and scarab beetles were underfoot. Going down and under the bridge was fine. It was just the 213 steep steps back…
Our campsite for two nights was Zebra Camping, built and run by a Dutch couple who also run 4WD trips. The place was superb, the best yet on the whole trip. The others don't know what they missed by choosing not to finish here - their loss. At the little restaurant that night we were treated to a terrific three course meal as our final farewell meal of the trip courtesy of Desert Detours. Again, the other's loss.
Next day was a full day walking. We had engaged a guide to take us on a 6 hour walk. Mouloud was an English Literature graduate from university and spoke wonderful English. He was a fount of knowledge and a delightful man. We walked first to the spring from where the water for the cascades originates. By the stream, through olive groves and fields, along the irrigation channels, and up tracks in the hills. The spring was surprising. So much water seeping out from the limestone of the mountain and then tearing away at quite a speed. The loudest noises were the frogs and they were everywhere!
Through farmers' fields and villages we walked to the top of the waterfall. Apparently theses are cascades as the waterfall drops down in three levels. Can't say I ever thought about the definition of a cascade! Mouloud assured us these were higher than Victoria Falls - by 2 metres (though not of course as big). The water drops over the precipice in five separate falls and is a stunning sight from the rather scary edge of the cliff top. We wound our way down a dirt track that turned back on itself several times and eventually braved a very rickety bridge of logs and feed bags over the river to the other side.
A rest was due and we watched the spectacle from a small café in the cliff side. Again the going down was fine - going up the 499 steps and then up a steep 'short cut' up the side of the mountain to the top was, well, good exercise.
And what a pleasure to get back to Zebra camping with its hot showers and clean toilets and small swimming pool and sun lounges…
And so finished the guided tour by Ray and his team at Desert Detours. We can honestly say that we had a marvellous time. Ray's knowledge of the country and his ability to guide a trip like this are unsurpassed. We saw things we would never have seen otherwise, tackled roads that we would have hesitated to venture on by ourselves and learnt a great deal about a beautiful country we knew little about before.
This was the Discovery Tour and we never expected it to be smooth roads and luxury campsites. Perhaps some of the others on the trip had different expectations, but we went with open minds and were prepared have our eyes opened.
We were not disappointed.