Fantastic gorges, desert and offroading (August-September 2013)

 

We are back in civilization in the big city of Marrakech after a week of driving through mountains, the fringes of the Sahara and wonderful gorges. Morocco has once again surprised us with its huge diversity and we are certain that it is impossible to see everything in less than several months.

After our little rest north of Meknes we did not get as far as we wanted to. Some nasty tommy bug took Fabian out which resulted in another day on a camping area – this time surrounded by plum and fig trees very much to Jasmines liking. Following that we headed to the Route de Cèdres south of Azrou to try our luck in finding the endangered Barbary Apes in the cedar forests along the road. It was not an easy task as they were hard to spot in between the rocks and quite skittish once we found some. The route itself was very pleasant to drive though and we ended up at a lake with loads of birdlife and a very relaxed atmosphere. On our way towards Midelt a bit later we were surprised by loads of less elusive apes eating rubbish at the side of the road – a bit of a disappointing view after hours of searching in the forest. 😉

On a camping spot a bit north of Midelt we met Annette and Andreas again who we ran into twice before – at Fez and Meknes. They are also on their way down to South Africa and back up the East Coast in a Hilux with camper build on the tray. It is certainly a good feeling to have met others with a similar route so early on our trip as not too many people are traveling down the West Coast nowadays. We decided to meet at Todra Gorge again to jointly drive the track that connects it with the Dades Gorge.

But first we were keen on some track driving and our guide book recommended the Cirque de Jaffar as a decent piste with good views on the High Atlas Mountains. It turned out to be a rather outdated information as the track was truly rough with second gear in low range as a maximum for most of the time. Nevertheless we enjoyed to be of the tarmac and drive the Land Cruiser where it performs best again and the views of the mountains and the ever scenery made it a worthwhile half days drive.

Further south we crossed one of the lower passes of the High Atlas Mountains and drove through the magnificent Ziz Gorges until after Er Rachidia where we camped in a relaxed date palmery. After a warm welcome with tea and freshly picked golden dates we had a stroll through the fruit gardens and palmery itself.

The desert was calling in form of the dunes of Erg Chebbi in the Southeast of Morocco. Not really being in the Sahara proper the reddish sand dunes are very picturesque for being so accessible. We took the piste from Erfoud along Erg Chebbi towards Merzouga where the biggest dunes are situated and spent a night in a Kasbah style hotel where we were able to camp for less than 3€ in total. The use of the pool with free towels was included and we were brought tea and nuts as well as offered to join the breakfast buffet in the morning which we declined to not feel too guilty. 😉

The expected beautiful red evening light over the dunes did not really appear but a sandstorm during the two days before made sure that there was barely any tire tracks or foot prints.

As it is our habit we arrived at the highest dune the next day at the worst possible time – in the full heat of midday. It did not stop us from climbing it up though which was the most exercise we got in a month or so and left us entirely exhausted. Our reward was a nice view over the whole area and we realized how small a strip of sand Erg Chebbi actually is.

Even though we could have spent another day down there it was time to head towards the Todra Gorge and our meeting with Annette & Andreas. After a long stretch of rocky desolate landscapes the gorge itself was an amazingly lush view full of palms and mud built houses. The little camping spot in the gorge proper had a perfectly shady location with a cool climate at least in the evening. In the morning Martin & Vicky who we met shortly in Rissani joined us in their T3 Syncro van to drive the connection to the Dades Gorge together. Unfortunately we have heard cracking noises from the transmission area when reversing the day before so Fabian went to check on the oil levels just to find out that the transfer case was almost dry. Just having changed the oils before when the clutch and rear main seal was replaced this was an unwelcome surprise. After a lot of work with our tiny axle oil pump the noises were almost gone and we were ready to head on with a bit of a delay hoping for the best. The decision was made to take the longer route turning west in the village of Agoudal instead of north of Tamtatoucht. The reward was a beautiful track with changing scenery after every turn which was quite easy to drive as well. The views of the High Atlas Mountains were spectacular and it took us the rest of the day to reach the Dades Gorge where we camped in a dry river bed a bit away from the road. And yes, we know it is not smart to camp in a river bed no matter how dry it might seem at the moment as distant rains can change that very quickly. 😉

It was a brilliant spot anyway apart from the pack of wild dogs running up and down the gorge at 6:45am fighting and barking.

On the way to Marrakech we made another stop at Ait Ben Haddou, one of the best preserved and restored mud built towns and part of many movies e.g. Gladiator. Of course we were there at the hottest time of the day but on the other hand did not have to share the site with many other visitors. After another long drive over the Tizi n`Tichka pass of the High Atlas with many serpentines we were back in the flatter country of the north.

The car needed a bit of attention so it got new tie rod ends and an overdue oil change and we spent two evenings on the crowded square Jemaa el-Fnaa with its story tellers, snake charmers, endless food and orange juice stalls and the sound of different musicians. Getting lost in the crowds is an incredible experience in itself and the pure energy of the masses of people congregating is brilliant.

Tomorrow we will drive a bit south again towards Imlil and the highest mountain of North Africa where we will finally do some real hiking before heading back north towards Rabat to get the Mauritanian visa.

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