Morocco: Todra gorge & Marrakesh

November 1999


The five of us had decided to continue to travel together and today we were going to head for the Todra Gorge just outside Tinerhir. At mid-day a van came through Merzouga and we caught a lift back to Rissani. Rissani was no longer gripped by chaos; it was not market day. We had no problem finding a taxi to take us back to Tinerhir and managed to pass through this town within a quarter of an hour.

Back in Tinerhir the cartel of taxi drivers were still leaning up against a car fleecing more unsuspecting passengers. We stopped at a restaurant by the side of the taxi station for a very late lunch, before taking a taxi the 15km up the valley to the gorge. The valley floor was covered in palmeraies irrigated by the crystal clear river that flows through the gorge and onwards down the valley. Many small Berber villages were dotted amongst the palms, and ruined kasbahs clung to the rocky valley sides.

The road ended at the mouth of the gorge, the result of a fault line dividing the High Atlas Mountains from the Jebel Sarhro. The gorge was fairly narrow, maybe only about 20 m wide and the sides of the gorge rose vertically almost 300m above us. At the mouth of the gorge and just inside were a few hotels. We hiked up the gorge, crossing the river on a rather wobbly plank, to the furthest hotel and began to compare room prices amongst the handful of hotels. We settled on the cheapest back down at the end of the road. Once we had checked in the generator failed, plunging us into darkness. I went down to the reception to collect a handful of candles, while the proprietor lit kerosene lamps in the restaurant.

Again we found ourselves in a peaceful location. Our room at the hotel had a view looking up the gorge, the river flowing past us below, the sound of the water cascading over the rocks and boulders, echoing against the walls of the gorge. It was very dark, especially as the generator still had not been fixed. We walked over the road to another hotel and ate dinner at their restaurant before returning to our room to retire early, ready for an early start the following morning to hike through the gorge.

At 09.00 we began our hike up the gorge. Once through the narrowest part of the gorge, at the mouth, the river disappeared underground and the ground opened up allowing some small fields to be cultivated. We hiked all morning, following the gorge as it twisted and turned further into the mountains. The geology of the area was fascinating. All around us we could clearly see the strata of the rocks tilted at a forty-five degree angle, pointing upwards to the sky. The further up the gorge we ventured, the more barren it became. We reached a point where the gorge almost doubled back on its self in a giant u-turn. On the far side we had an easy climb up the forty-five degree slope to reach the top of the cliffs looking back down on the gorge. We rested here for almost an hour while Trevor went off to climb a nearby peak, all for a bet over a beer. We had decided that tomorrow, Friday, we would go back to Marrakesh and go out for a few beers in the evening. I knew one of the handful of hotels in town that served beer and the thought of a few cold beers was just too tempting; after all I had not had a beer since I was in Essaouira and the desert atmosphere was one thing that always brings on a thirst for a beer.

On our way back we were getting increasingly thirsty, our water supply was running dry. There was a Berber tent along the way where we stopped for a much-needed drink and stocked up with some more water. By 17.00 we finally arrived back at the hotel, exhausted. In order to make an early start to Marrakesh tomorrow we returned again, back to Tinerhir.

The taxi drivers at Tinerhir waved and said hello when they saw us back in town again. They were beginning to feel like old friends, our paths had crossed so many times now. We didn't stay at the Hotel L'Oasis; once was enough. I must mention that conditions at the Oasis have probably improved by now as they were in the middle of building a new hotel above the restaurant. Instead we checked into the Hotel Salam, on the opposite side of the park. The owner was very friendly and I managed to negotiate a large room on the roof at 25 dirhams each. We ate at the hotel and had the best tajine I found anywhere in Morocco. That evening I decided I liked Tinerhir. There's nothing special about the town, most people just pass through here on their way to the Todra gorge. It's the people that make this ordinary town an interesting place to stop; even our new friends, the taxi drivers. It was a small enough place where you could recognize people walking down the street and know which shop, hotel or restaurant they worked at or hung out at.

We booked ourselves on to the Friday morning CTM bus to Marrakesh. This bus would go direct to Marrakesh via Ouarzazate. Eventually the bus arrived and was mostly empty. We climbed aboard and began our day long bone rattling ride back through the mountains. Again we had another racing driver at the wheel of the bus. The suspension of the bus was very hard and we literally flew over every bump in the road. I had to hang on to the seat in front of me to stop myself flying around the bus. I began to brace myself every time we hit a bumpy stretch of road; this was not doing my coccyx bone much good.

Halfway through the mountains we again stopped at the same village for a late lunch break where I had stopped just over a week ago while on my way to Ouarzazate. I went back to the same café with the others and sat down in the garden and ordered a tajine. Across the road the guy who had tried to sell me some crystals before spotted me, walked across the street and greeted me like an old friend. He still had the same crystal and was now offering me a very special price. Unfortunately for him I was still not in the market for crystals or fossils. If he was selling something I wanted I would of bought it from him; he was a very amiable salesman. The bus was soon on its way again, the crystal seller waved as we drove past down the road.

Back in Marrakesh we had the same problem of finding accommodation for the night. The city was busy, again; I think Marrakesh is permanently busy with tourists and travellers. We started at the Hotel Ali, which we found to be full. We left our luggage there and Trevor and I went off around the old city to scout around for a clean, budget hotel. We found room at the Hotel de la Paix, which was just opposite the hotel I was staying at while I was recovering from my fever. We walked back to the Ali to pick up the other three and our luggage and returned to check in for the night. That evening we went along to a hotel at the bottom of Rue de Bab Agnaou to enjoy some cold beer, which we deserved after our desert adventures.

On Sunday our group split up. I was the first to leave and got up early in the morning to catch a train north to Meknes. Scott was taking the night train to Tangiers that evening and Trevor, Jana and Angela continued travelling together, heading north a few days later.

Continue reading this journey: Meknes & the north