Sunday 15th - Wednesday 18th May.
After having a great desert experience, we again hit the road in the campers and set off towards our next campsite near Todra Gorge. We headed north again to Erfoud and then west along a road that reminded us of outback Australia. We passed through small towns and long patches of barren rocky plain. On the way we stopped at a Museum/Gallery that was built around 3 wells that had been rediscovered and improved as a focal point in a Moroccan artefacts and lifestyle displays.
It had been rescued from being a rubbish dump and we were quite amazed how well it was displayed. After a short lunch in the carpark we continued on towards our destination.
We arrived at Tinerhir and turned north towards the gorge and our next campsite. We stopped to take photos from a vantage point above the city and all too soon the inevitable salesmen were on to us. When we came to the gorge we were amazed how many people were about, the road was busy with cars, buses, scooters and pedestrians blocking the way. Clyde had stopped ahead of us and was approached by someone asking for money to go into the national park, meanwhile a truck loaded with cows pushed its way past us and ploughed through the crowd so we thought it was a good idea to keep close to him and he opened the way for us. There were people everywhere, young men paddling in the river, families' picnicking by the river bed and on the side of the road and groups of young women walking and talking along the side of the road. Later the drivers all decided that they had not a chance to see anything as they were concentrating so hard on keeping on the road and not hitting anything or anyone. Apparently Clyde had held his steering wheel so tight that he ended up with cramp in his thumbs. We finally arrived at Tamtattouchte and after narrowly missing the young children looking for handouts by the road we drove into the campsite of Baddou. We spent two nights here, surrounded by the red rocky escarpment and had a chance to get some clothes washing and camper cleaning done. We also enjoyed a meal in the campsite restaurant which was one of the best we have had.
Our next stage of the journey took us down through Todra gorge and we had time to stop, take photos and admire the steep red cliffs and the rocky stream which a couple of days before was filled with people.
The scenery is spectacular. People who live in the area could be seen with their small donkeys, or herding sheep and goats.
We stopped for photos again at the lookout over Tinerhir and headed off in the direction of Ouarzazate. Steve & Hamid had left earlier and had arranged to meet us at the roadside stall of Fatima the scarf lady. As we were "on our own" we were giver a couple of two way radios so that we could co-ordinate our stops. Luckily the directions were straight forward and we found them easily enough waiting by the side of the road for us. We all had a look at the ware's she had to sell and with a bit of bargaining bought something from her. All back into the campers again and we travelled a short way looking for somewhere to stop for on the side of the road for lunch. Then on to Ouarzazate, where we went straight to the campsite to be greeted as we arrived by Steve and Hamid and after setting up we were treated to a special soup they made and bread for supper.
Just after we had eaten it started to rain, so most of us retired to our campers for the night, Steve, Hamid and Ewout went into town to see the sights where Ewout got to try snails from one of the local vendors.
We left Ouarzazate the next morning and stopped for coffee and croissants at a Petrol station café while having our briefing for the day. This was to be a long day, driving over the high Atlas Mountains and down into Marrakech. So thus fortified we headed off in a convoy of 3 to tackle the Tizi-n-Tichka pass which has some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Morocco's western High Atlas, the road has its fair share of hairpin bends and blind corners so you have to be constantly alert. As well as the risks of the road there are the usual hazards that happen along most Moroccan roads, animals, slow vehicles etc. We also found the peddlers that jumped out from the side of the roads with their wares quite annoying trying to sell us crystal rocks, mushrooms and other touristy stuff. The drive was very interesting though, scenery spectacular at times and the windy hairpin bends meant you had to keep your wits about you. As we came down the mountains we were engulfed in fog and that made it interesting again. Finally down to the plains we headed into Marrakech where we caught up to Steve and followed him through the crazy traffic to the campground.
The first night Ray and Debbie ( Desert Detours) arrived to spend some time with us and Hamid made a lovely dinner of lamb or chicken and vegetables Moroccon style for us all. We have been very spoilt with the meals that have been provided and almost forgotten how to cook. J
The campsite was about 12 kms outside the city and was serviced by a good mini van business which made it easy to get into and out of the city so the next day it was organised that we would all go on a guided tour of the towns main attractions. First stop was the Gardens Majorelle, originally designed by a famous French furniture maker and artist, and later owned by Yves Sain Laurent, it is a quiet, pleasant walk through an interesting assortment of tropical and desert plants. After the gardens we were taken by bus to the tombs built by the Saadian Sultan Ahmed el Mansour in the late 16th century as a final resting place for himself and his successors. then for a walk around the El Badi Palace (the incomparable palace) consists of the remnants of a glorious palace built by the Saadian king Ahmad al-Mansur in 1578 the original palace was torn apart by the Alaouite Sultan Mawlay Ismail. The design of the palace is influenced by Granada's Alhambra. Then it was on to the souk where we taken through the maze of stalls, being shown the different crafts going on and a visit to a traditional Pharmacy where we were introduced to the healing and health giving properties of different herbs, spices and oils. It was hard not to be tempted by all the different goods on sale in the market but we had to restrain ourselves as we were only on an orientation outing that day. We then walked through the large town square of Marrakech, Djemaa el-Fna (Square of the Dead) where snake charmers, musicians, storytellers and healers vie with each other to be noticed by the milling crowds. Colourful stalls selling freshly squeezed orange juice stand side by side encircling the market and you have to watch out for the many scam artists that lure you into parting with your money. After we had enough of the square we made our way to the meeting place where we ended up having some lunch and a drink while we waited for the bus.
Most of us had a quiet afternoon then, reading and taking easy and settled for a quiet night in.
Friday 20th May.
Today we were taken to visit the Government store where you can buy handicrafts, souvenirs and clothes at fixed prices. It was nice to have a look around without be harassed by the sales people and get a chance to really have a look at the goods on offer. We all walked out with a few purchases and were happy with what we got. After the government shop we were let loose on our own with some time before we had to meet the bus at our meeting place. We headed back to the souk to have another look around, thinking it would be nice to be on our own for a bit but as we walked up to the first shop we ran into Clyde and Anna. Still this was no problem; we have got on very well with them both and have enjoyed Clyde's wit and Anna's humour and after a bit of a wander through the souk trying not to get lost we finally found our way back to the square, got our bearings and made our way back to the pick up place for the mini bus. We had another quiet afternoon in preparation for the evening visit to the square where we planned to see the sights at night and have dinner at the stalls set up around the square.
When we first arrived at the square we were amazed how busy and noisy it was in contrast to earlier in the day. We decided to have a look around the entertainment at first and then wandered through the food seller stalls where they are constantly competing for your business. We weren't ready to eat yet but it was hard to walk through without being accosted, so we saw a café on a roof top and decide it would be a good place to relax, have a drink and enjoy the atmosphere from a distance. It had a great panoramic view of the square and we could watch the carnival going on while we had our coffee's etc.
At about 7.30 pm Clyde, Anna, Ewout and I left Una and Ian to enjoy their drinks as we had arranged to meet Steve, Hammid, Debbie and Ray in the square. We again wandered through the food stalls and after fending off a few salesmen we settled on having dinner in a stall that sold a lot of barbequed meat and tagines. It looked clean enough and so we all sat down to have a bite to eat. Most of us had meat on skewers and chips, as this is the safest food to eat; served with the Moroccan bread and a couple of different sauces it was quite an enjoyable meal.
After dinner we went for a walk through the shopping mall where Ewout and Clyde bought some cheap sunglasses then we all sat outside a Café and had drinks while discussing some of the events of the last few weeks while watching the passing parade of people going by. It was a very enjoyable evening but we were glad to get back to our camper and settle down for the night for tomorrow we leave for coastal town of Essaouira.