Whilst we were sad to be leaving the desert, we now had to focus on another long journey ahead of us with a 460 km drive to Midelt.
Instead of carrying straight on at Erfoud and taken the ‘main’ road north to Midelt we turned west and on to Tineghir and the Todra Gorge. We passed by or through more biblical looking towns either nestling amongst lush date palmeries or crouching at the foothills of the Atlas mountains slowly appreciating that the rocks were getting sheerer and the roads were getting narrower.
Just before we got into the Gorge, we got stuck for about twenty minutes in some road works where we watched a precariously perched CAT excavator tried to do its best at digging away at the centuries hard rock face. It made me think the Highway Agency really has it very easy.
Soon after this point I also saw a most bizarre sight for Morocco … a half naked man, around 50 or so, sporting extremely tight leopard skin leggings, bronzed torso and a very proud white and pink Mohican. Could this be someone who had fallen off his own Marrakech Express some years ago and just decided not to go back? Admiring his chutzpah, I mused that I could think of many worse places to just ‘turn-on, tune in, drop out’; as he lazily dodged the mercs and lorries going about their daily business up here in a fault in the Atlas mountains, he seemed completely oblivious to the stir that he was creating in his wake.
The Todra Gorge is famous for its trekking and mountain climbing. Taking a more grounded approach in the car, I found it to be a glorious mass of perspective-distorting geology. At one point sheer rock is looming at odd angles above you, towering over buildings, cars and people, giving the feel of being transported to some sort of miniature world. Apart from the tourists, it also seemed to be the meeting point for many brightly dressed children who splashed about in the crystal clear river, singing, chanting, clapping and playing drums. It seemed like a joyous place to stop and hang out for a while. Unfortunately we had to press on to our regularity event some four and half clicks around the corner.
Turning again off the main road and going even more ‘off piste’ we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere – but on greater inspection realised that high in the rocks were a number of caves, visibly being lived in. We were at this mid-pint in the regularity control for about an hour and during that time became aware we were being watched…and before long we had a few visitors who nimbly ran down from their dwellings, over jagged rocks to stare inquisitively at us. Mostly men and women who seemed quite old but very, very fit. A bit later a couple of young men on bikes also stopped and when we explained that we were waiting for some little French cars to come past on a rally, they politely suggested that this was not the road for tourist cars – pointing excitedly at the map and showing us that to get to Midelt we really should have gone north at Erfoud to Ar-Rachidia and that we most certainly were going the wrong way. Once the competitors had driven through, and they had seen and heard the throaty 2CV’s in all their glory, they seemed satisfied that we knew where we were and what we were doing and bid us a cheery farewell, cycling up the steep incline at great speed, seemingly with no effort at all.
Lunch was just down the road at an Auberge. All of the drivers were already sat in front of the most delicious smelling feast and soon we too were tucking in to a great tagine full of meatballs and cheese. A different and satisfying meal bolstered us all for the remaining 230 kms ahead. On the subject of food as we headed back out on to the road we started to notice the changing nature of the geology around us. Rock formations that we thought looked like slab upon slab of curved chocolate marble cake with the occasional mille feuilles thrown in for good measure.
Much of the road around Aït Hani and between Tizi-n-Tirherhouzine and Midelt could easily come straight out of the film The Big country and certainly could be used define the term ‘panoramic view’.
The emptiness of the roads was also quite extraordinary. The 2 CV’s might have played tag with each other but otherwise there were no other cars to over-take and pretty much no oncoming traffic. This stretch of Morocco is about as far away from the congestion of our roads in the UK as is possible. Frankly I’m surprised we didn’t bump into Jeremy Clarkson and the boys pulling a few J-turns.
Images: Alex Broadway
A few couples chose to play some music to accompany them across the agoraphobia-inducing vastness of the plains; mostly classical, turned up to the max. Other than the scenery, there were no dramas. Although at one point a small huddle of 2CV’s stopped at the side of the road to rubber-neck as John Rowe topped up his tank, looking magnificent in flat cap and berber scarf combo.
Images: Alex Broadway
Eventually we reached our destination. Well, the blurb in the brochure was right – Midelt is slap bang in the middle of Morocco in the high plains between the Middle and High Atlas and does not seem to be the most exciting part of the country. But after our truly epic day, we were tired, the cars were dusty and most of the group seemed ready for a good night’s kip and so were happy to stay put in the hotel restaurant that night. Here we drank good wine and revisited our long and varied journey so far, we spoke about the splendour of the Gorge and how all school children should be made to come to the great plains on geography field trips in order to study the incredible number of different rock formations, and thus instil a love of geology at source . We reminisced about our time in the desert, which already seemed a million miles away and that many of us had fallen just a tiny bit in love with.