18 August 2014

Morocco days 8 & 9: Todra Gorge

I was up at 5.30am to watch the sun rise over the Sahara – a serene sight, to be sure. When everyone was compos mentis, we clambered aboard our ships of the desert for the one-hour trek back to civilisation, old hands now at riding camels up and down the dunes. Breakfast followed and teeth-brushing but there was no time for showers and it was hot in the van that day, so the smell of our camels lingered a little longer than expected.

We were heading for Todra (also spelt Todgha) Gorge about 4 hours’ drive away but we stopped a few times along the way. First up was Adarissa ATL, a fossil factory, museum, exhibition and shop. A quarry about 15 kms away produces fossils and fossilised marble dating from between 300 and 600 million years ago, which is sliced and chiselled and polished to produce everything from table- and desk-tops to hand basins showing sea anemones, trilobites and the ancestors of the modern squid in fossilised form. Shopping, though I couldn’t exactly fit a slab in my bag!

We also stopped briefly to check out the local water supply system, an ancient series of underground aquifers uncannily similar to the system I had seen in Nazca, Peru. It always amazes me how our ancestors came up with similar inventions in such diverse and widely separated places around the world.

The aquifer system ... oh, and did I mention the rather handsome local shopkeeper?
Just before lunch, we stopped at a small Ksar, the name for a fortified mud brick town, for a fascinating glimpse of traditional Berber life in the small local museum, where the exhibits included everything from domestic and agricultural utensils, clothing and religious items to doors and window frames. The traditional Berber omelette I had for lunch was very good, as well.

At last, we reached the beginning of the gorge where we would spend the following two nights – and it was spectacular, bordered by cliffs with a strip of buildings perched along the tops and bottoms, and a central green belt nurtured by the river running through the centre. As we drove the 14 kms in to our hotel, the cliffs grew ever steeper and more precipitous until the gap between them allowed just one row of buildings either side of the river. And our hotel was situated below one of these towering cliffs across the river – a very picturesque setting.

Refreshing showers followed – swims for some, as this hotel had a pool – and a sumptuous dinner – I had a tagine of chicken with prunes, both delicious and cleansing! By 9.30pm, my eyes were closing. After a long hot day’s travel and not much sleep the previous night, my bed beckoned.

For the morning of our second day at Todra there were several options: a strenuous guided hike up the narrow paths and scree slopes of the gorge to visit a Beber settlement, a guided walk along the gardens and trails bordering the river, or relaxing at the hotel. I chose the latter – and it was a good choice. After a week of fairly intensive travelling, a relaxing morning, catching up on chores and journal writing was exactly what I needed.

At 11.30am, most of our group set off in the van for the 10-minute drive towards the end of the gorge, from where we walked a kilometre or so into the steep-sided and narrowest final section, with 200-to-300-metre cliffs towering over us. It was a dramatic landscape but the height of the cliffs provided shade and the river was shallow enough and very cooling to walk in.

From the gorge, it was just 5-minutes’ drive back to the village where we enjoyed a traditional Berber lunch in local household, where they also just happened to sell rugs. Everyone agreed that their lunch was rated the best of the trip so far and, from the flash of credit cards, I think the shopping probably the most enthusiastic to date. The rugs were certainly very beautiful and I was sorely tempted to indulge but the reality is that I don’t need another rug, so I enjoyed being enchanted by all their gorgeous colours and patterns and watching my tour mates bartering for their choices. I think they got some good bargains!

We were back at the hotel by 3pm and, while many chose to watch the latest World Cup football match, I couldn’t think of anything worse to do so took myself off for a walk through the palmeries and fields near the hotel, where I was entertained by the birds and bees and enjoyed some quiet time under the shady trees. The first week of our ‘Best of Morocco’ tour seemed to have passed very quickly and I looked forward to what the next part of our Intrepid adventure would bring.

Speedy, on the right, was our friendly 'go-to' guy at the hotel

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