Sunday, 23 June 2013

I'll take the High Atlas Road

04-06-2013 - 06-06-2013

Before I could start tackling the big mountains of the High or Haut Atlas I had to get there and this involved a long drive through the middle part of Morocco and into the (semi) deserts of the south.
Whilst driving from north to south, it was interesting to see the differences in farming methods between the plains of middle Morocco and those in the more mountainous and (semi) desert conditions of the south. It was harvest time for wheat, barley and fodder in both areas. In the more northerly temperate and less mountainous areas some of the harvesting was being done by hand and was very (mainly female) labour intensive, however, there were also men using combine harvesters. Many of them were wearing conical straw hats – bit like a sombrero with a narrower brim.
In the southerly more desert areas the work was all by hand and nearly all by women who carried the hay, straw, fodder in large baskets on their backs. On several occasions these women asked me for suncream to put on the backs of their hands, presumably because this was the only part of their bodies exposed to sunlight as they laboured. I realise that it is not a good idea to comment on another culture – I believe the trendy phrase these days is ‘consider your privileges before speaking’ – however it was notable that the women of all ages were working from dawn to dusk whilst the men were often sat in the shade for hours on end, admittedly some of them watching over herds of sheep or goats. However, much of the herding seemed to be done by children, sometimes quite young.  
There were many men commuting long distances from remote villages to the larger towns – I lost count of the number of people to whom I gave a lift. There were very few parts of my journey when I did not have at least one hitchhiker with me – one time I stopped somewhere on the Tizi-n-Tichka pass road to pick up what looked like two women and seven not small women crammed themselves in.  Sometimes the conversations were limited to me just understanding ‘selaam/bonjour’ and ‘shukran/merci’ and them eventually understanding that I was ‘anglais’. Other times with a mixture of my poor French and their better English the conversations were fuller – one teacher even quoted Samuel Johnson about tiring of that London is tiring of life. I turned down all the offers of hashish, money etc. - but occasionally accepted  thé à la menthe.

Enroute to the High/Haut Atlas I broke off the journey several times.
Diana and the bathing nymphs
Tangier Gate - Volubilis
I visited Volubilis on the Zerhoun Massif – a Roman site occupied from about 300 Before Common Era. The site was surrounded by olive groves and wheatfields and that gives a clue as to why the Romans settled there.

Triumphal Arch Volubilis - spot the wheat and olive trees
The Macaque family
Later I stopped in the cedar forest south of Azrou and came across a group of semi-wild macaque monkeys that were clearly used to being fed by tourists. Wherever, you stop in Morocco even if it seems quite remote, within minutes there is someone trying to sell you something or just simply saying ‘donnez-moi Dirham’. Naturally enough the traders here were trying to sell me items made from cedar wood. After Midelt and the border between the Middle Atlas and the High Atlas the trade is mineral stones and fossilised trilobites and ammonites. 

Middle Atlas
Tizi n’Talghaunt/Tizi-n-Tairhent pass 
By time I reached the Tizi n’Talghaunt/Tizi-n-Tairhent pass (1907m) over the High Atlas the trees were mainly gone and it was semi-desert. Down through the Ziz gorge and to the oasis town of Er-Rachidia (the spelling differed from one signpost to another) where I turned right on a desert road westwards. I was tempted to go further east/south to experience true desert conditions, however that is not where the mountains are.

High Atlas - eastern end
I read somewhere that in Morocco the size of a town is measured by the number of palm trees rather than its population. After much thought I decided the UK equivalent could possibly be the number of CCTV cameras. My overnight stop was at Tinerhir – which judging by the size of the palm grove is a major town – in the Auberge Atlas camping site on the road to the Todra gorge. I was parked next to the Oued Todra and surrounded by palm trees.
View from motorhome at Auberge Atlas
Todra gorge
Bonne route
The following morning I cycled about 40km (return) through the gorge with its 300m high vertical walls and onwards to the small village of Tamtattouchte on a, thankfully, nearly traffic free road. On my return there were a number of rock climbers on the clearly marked routes on the sheerest walls. I wonder how well it would go down if similar markings were made at Tremadog or the north face of Ben Nevis. There were also coachloads of tourists being accosted by the traders selling pashminas, carpets, mineral stones and ceramics.

Dades gorge

Later in the day I drove from the oasis of Boumalne du Dades up the Dades gorge past weird rock formations and many villages to a high point in the mountains before returning to Boumalne and the main road. I stayed overnight at a camping site in Skoura – Camping Amrhidil. At most campsites I was the only resident – at this one I suspect I was the first resident this year (and possibly longer) – and the amenities are quite Spartan, if there is toilet paper and the shower is hot it is a **** site.
Gorgeous Dad
Dades above
Weird rocks - Dades gorge

However, I was now ready to get to the high High Atlas at last.

My favourite roadsign - beats boring old 'ford' anyday - of course, there was never any water
Shepherd's camel

Mouflon sheep and the two headed camel


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