We scramble around to get ourselves mobilized, packed, and fed before we jump in our taxi with our driver Mohammed who will be carting us around Morocco for the next several legs of our journey.
We jumped in the car and head south to head through the Atlas Mountains. There are three lines of the Atlas Mountains, the low, the mid, and the high we snaked up the hairpin turns to the peak at 2600 and a bit metres. Then we went down. On the way up and down we encountered many overstuffed trucks with everything from hay to clothing to mattresses. The views were very nice, but nothing dramatic like the Rockies.
These were tall mountains of volcanic rock that were covered by small shards of shale and the vegetation was sparse except in pockets where water ran down the mountains.
It was nice to escape the heat of Marrakech as we went up into the mountains, but we were still sweating from the hairpin turns and the hair raising attempts to pass on corners with our family in the car. Mohammed told us that Marrakech wasn’t the real Morocco. Too busy. Too fake. Too touristy. Too pushy. He was right.
As soon as we left Marrakech it was a notable difference. The speed of everything changed. Except the driving got faster and the roads were very narrow. Like just fit a car narrow. It was like a jousting fight with cars coming at each other at 120kph on what we would consider a 60kph zone.
Oh well, I was in the backseat with the kids and I don’t think Deb wanted to tell Mohammed to slow down. No one likes a foreign front seat driver. “Just think you are at Wonderland or Disneyland” I think to myself. Then Mohammed lets us know that he has never had an accident in the 19 years of him driving.Haha.
We got to the other side, stopped for lunch and then made our way to the small village outside of the Todra Gorge at Dar Ayour where we had a big room with a balcony overlooking the pool and mountains that formed the gorge. We warned the kids that that was where we were going the next day. They didn’t seem to bothered by it.
We had supper and headed to bed so we could be ready for the big hike the next day.
After breakfast, we met our guide, Nordeen, and headed to the gorge by following the muddy river that ran through the village.
It was great as we were there about 9:15am and the place was virtually empty. We had heard about the hoards of tourists that flooded the area on a daily basis. Plus the area was flooded two days prior so that might have scared some people off.
We walked through the towering walls of the gorge that have been shaped over the millennia by a river carving it out. The walls of this gorge, compared to other ones that we have visited in the past, is that they were straight up. Like 950′ straight up. Forming a 2000′ corridor that got as narrow as 33′ in some places.
There was a nice kahsba settled into the base of the cliff. Unfortunately, it was devoured by a landslide a couple of years back. So now it is a nice historical site…
We were doing a geocache (earth cache) at the gorge so it was fun to find it at the start of the gorge. Tick check done!
Nordeen led us up the narrow winding path towards the summit of the cliff. It was very arid and not much in the way of vegetation anywhere. The rocks, as you can see from the picture above on the left , seem to rise in vertical sheets from the ground. That was pretty cool. It looked like a massive loaf of bread.
We only had one standoff between Lulu and all of us. Lew found bursts of energy on the climb, but eventually it hit her breaking point where she said I’m not gonna go any further and she sat down on a rock didn’t budge. There was bribing with ice cream, candy, piggyback rides, you name it. When That girl something in her head, she doesn’t let go. She must get that from her father. Haha.
With some gentle cohersion, and bribing, she started to walk again with a serious face of displeasure on her face. Wilson was great as he tried to make it into a game of bouldering over big rocks which she bought into and started to have fun. But as you get closer to the top, the rocks become more unstable and Nordeen encourages them to stick to the path. Aka game killer. Haha.
We reach the top where we make our largest inukshuk yet out of all of our trips. And it is looking straight down the valley to where we came from and towards the gorge. We push it in every direction so that we test to see if it will withstand the worst winds. Engineering class…done for the day.
Right at the centre of it is a large heart shaped rock that I found on the walk up. Deb gave me the “Be smart about your heart rock sizes on this world trip…remember it is the memory, not the size, and less is more” chat. Last trip around the world, I picked up some decent sized rocks and shipped them home. Shipping costs more now, so I am downsizing my romantic trinkets.
We stopped at a nomadic family home at the very top for a visit and a cup of tea. The grandfather was there watching the kids and the mother was off getting water for the day (which she does every day) down at the bottom of the climb. The father was off somewhere tending to the herds.
The live in a sideless tent where they will eat and sleep, but they have caves dug into the hills for storage, shelter during bad weather, cooking, and a kitchen. None of the caves were bigger than our guest bathroom. Make do with what you have, and they seemed to be happy.
Wilson and Lulu played with the kids. Soccer, charades (kind of), and they tried to teach the little boy baseball, but he liked playing with the pickaxe. He was maybe three years old. Two younger girls were very shy, and our kids tried to approach them but they weren’t too interested.
After the nice reprieve at the top it was the nice meandering walk down with the promise of the swimming pool at the end. The good thing was that the village where we were headed was visible the whole way. This provided incentive for the kids to keep moving towards a target where they knew fun lived. Kind of like the pot at the end of the rainbow! But it was far, and the approach was slow…
We got down the side of the mountain after about another hour and a half of toe jamming into the end of our shoes and rocks poking through the soles (this is why you wear hiking boots I guess) to the bottom. Black toenails await!
Thank god it was a beautiful day and it was hot, and everyone was still out on their tours, so we had the pool to ourselves. We enjoyed a light lunch at the poolside and then it was full on WWF wrestling in the pool. Body slams abound. Full Nelson water face pounds, and water butt drops all over the place.
The hotel had arranged for us to go look at a local women’s cooperative store where they had scarves, dresses, and carpets. The salesman greeted us with the proverbial tea at the door and led us up to the carpet room. Having a cup of tea together is like us giving someone a hug when we see them. But there is no hugging here.
We all sit down in front of a big wooden loom and he explains how they make wool from local lambs and camels. Camel wool is actually really soft compared to lamb wool. I would have figured it would have been the other way around. They use natural colours to dye the wool, and each one has a different use, like the blue comes from indigo that is actually an insect repellant. The pink comes from roses, yellow from saffron, purple from lavender, green is from cumin, black is from the same stone that the use they use to make mascara, and much more.
Then the carpet slinging starts to happen. All carpets of all shapes and sizes. A lot of the carpets tell a story over time about nomadic life with the southern cross, the sand dunes of the Sahara, the Atlas mountains, wars, and caravans of camels as the nomads move from one place to another. Many carpets are reversible with one story on one side of the carpet and another story on the other. A good two for one deal when you buy a carpet!
Headed into the store, Deb and I had discussed that we might like a carpet for the upstairs hallway, which Erin (who is staying at our house) graciously measured out before we went. So, we told him some specs to narrow his carpet slinging down a bit as we were getting a bit of a pile. The next filter factor was the cost. Too bad we had figured out a couple of the carpets we liked. “This one is 15000, that one is 22000, but I give you a special price of 30000 for the two of them. We make a very special price,” he says. Gulp. That was about 10000 more than we had budgeted. For each. “What do you have that is cheaper,” I ask.
So he starts pulling out the real cheap stuff to show us the difference, which is pretty significant. He is playing his cards well…haha. The ones we like were bright, colourful, and the symbols and their layout created a story from one end of the carpet to the other. The cheap ones were just patterns and the colours were dull.
So we narrowed in on the one that we liked and then we told him our budget and bargained hard the good old Moroccan way. For each price drop he tells us the hard work that went into making the carpets. We hold tight and almost walk away, but then he comes down to a level we are comfortable which is, according to our driver, a very good price for a carpet of that size. He even threw in all of the turban scarves for free. Bonus!
The late dinners were starting to wear on all of us, as they start dinner around 730pm every night. The kids are rarely getting to bed before 930pm at night. And then then they expect the kids to get up early to drive to the next place, and with kids that get car sick fairly easily they don’t sleep too well in the back of the car. With tired kids, we headed back to our room where we had arranged to get henna by one of they local women in our room. Deb and the kids got it done which was great, and then we headed bed with dreams of the Sahara in our head.