As we drove East, the landscape became much drier until all we could see was sand
1. Tiz-n-Tichka Pass
After a good night’s sleep in our tent, we freshened up and got dressed for the first time without running water, feeling only slightly sore from our adventure on Mount Toubkal the day before. After breakfast, we helped to load our bags back onto the mules before walking back to Imlil.
At 10 am we met Ali and Khalid who were going to be our drivers for the next couple of days. We left Imlil, 90 km south of Marrakech, and travelled in a north-easterly direction towards the breathtaking Tizi n’Tichka pass.
In the High Atlas mountains at an elevation of 2,260m, this pass links the area to the SE of Marrakech with Ouarzazat. After driving over the pass, and stopping to admire the view, we visited an Argan oil factory where we were able to have a go at grinding the nuts that produce the oil that is exported all around the world.
We then travelled for a couple more hours to the south-east to Ait Benhaddou. The last twenty minutes of our journey was off-road across the desert which was a great way to arrive at our hotel for the night. We had a great evening with good food and live music.
2. Gorges du Todhra
After leaving our hotel, we drove through small earthen-coloured villages nestled amongst green palm trees in the Valley of the Thousand Kasbahs in the province of Tinghir.
The Gorges du Todhra or Todra Gorge is part of a system of gorges carved out by the Todra and Dades rivers in Tinghir province. The gorge is composed of pinkish-grey limestone cliffs that tower up to 150 metres above the valley floor which, in places, is only 10 metres wide. The scenery is amazing but we only had time to take a few photos before a ‘watchman’ arrived on horseback and announced that a flash flood was on its way. Apparently, the river can get high very quickly and cars can easily get stuck. Our drivers wanted to get through the gorge before the flood arrived so we climbed back into the cars and set off up the valley. A few miles along the gorge, the promised water arrived, we drove through the start of it and then got out to watch from a safe distance; when the river had calmed again we got back into the cars.
After a few minutes our driver, Ali, shouted something and stopped the car. He jumped out and ran a few metres down the road. We weren’t sure what he was doing until he signalled for us to come and look. Scorpion! It was walking across the road. Ali then saw another one was lying flat against the road surface, it looked like it had been flattened by a car, we all jumped when he poked it gently with his stick and it came to life and ran off.
We climbed back into the cars for another fourteen miles and then arrived at our hotel in the quiet village of Tamtattouchte, a traditional Berber village. We spent the evening by the pool playing cards while thunder rumbled in the distance.
3. Sahara Desert
We set off towards Ait Hani, passing through Assoul along the valley of Douziz and the ancient village of Tadirhoust. The scenery was striking with more sandy coloured cliffs and earth-coloured houses surrounded by green vegetation. It felt that not much had changed here for centuries.
In the middle of the afternoon, we stopped at Cafe Touroug, an unlikely place in the middle of nowhere but with very good internet. We stayed for a while so everyone could look at their phones while drinking cold drinks.
We then passed through El Ghfate and to Erfoud which had a great fossil shop with some fantastic geological specimens including belemnites, trilobites and crinoids. Although it was very hot, we were all pretty excited as we were getting near to the desert. The cars left the tarmac and we drove across the sand to Goulmima via Amalagou.
At Rissani we drove through an ornate arch, with nothing else nearby but obviously symbolising something significant. We checked into our hotel, had a shower, packed our overnight bags and went to find our camels.
Yusef our guide for the next twenty-four hours introduced us to the camels and, after a few photos, we set off into the desert. The sun was getting low in the sky but it was still very hot, we quickly got used to the awkward rhythm of the camels and enjoyed the quiet beauty of the desert all around us. By the time we reached camp it was almost completely dark.
There was loads of food but we weren’t really hungry. After dinner, our hosts lit a fire, even though it was still really hot, and entertained us with some amazing drumming. After a while they invited us to have a go – some of us were better than others – but we all enjoyed having a go. It was a fantastic evening and then we fell asleep on camp beds under the stars.
Those of us who wanted to watch the sunrise woke at 5.15am and climbed the nearby sand dune to watch. It was amazing to be able to see for miles and not hear anything. A short while later, we climbed back onto our camels and reluctantly said goodbye to our desert camp.
It was good to have a shower and breakfast back at our hotel though and everyone enjoyed the drive back across the desert. Our hotel for the night was at Sawaadi, we really enjoyed the swimming pool and playing cards in the Berber tent in the hotel garden.
Our first stop was at the World Heritage site Ksar of Ait Behaddou in Ouarzazate province. Ait Benhaddou, is an ancient fortress city of clay buildings surrounded by high walls. It is situated on the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech and is one of Morocco’s most impressive historic landmarks and a popular film location.
The Kasbah el Glaoui in Telouet was our next stop. The kasbah is named after “El Haj T’hami el Mezouari el Glaoui”, the highly respected head of the Glaoua tribe. He was also known as the Lord of the Atlas and served as the pasha of Marrakech between 1912 and 1956. Some parts of the Kasbah are well maintained, for example, the Harem and reception hall areas which show well preserved Andalusian-style decorating. Unfortunately, the older parts of the Kasbah are in complete ruins.
We then drove into Marrakech to Riad Puchka, our base for the remainder of our holiday [see next article].
More of our Morocco adventure to come…