OK here we go then, slowing down indicating right to turn off the road slowly onto the rocky edge to drop down onto the rough gravel to head off between those two small outcrops, the sun is getting warmer everything is packed away and strapped secure on the roof, it’s getting bumpy as we follow Pete and spread out a bit trying to keep the view ahead clear and not eat dust! The trail is wide and flat with fine gravel that invites more speed , we keep the electric pylons to our left and we zoom off into the brown featureless countryside
The window is down and the elbow is out! Julie is wrapping up against the wind that blows across her neck, sometimes she opens her window to take a photo and a proper gale blows through the cab the brown powdery dust gets everywhere, every night I clean the little camera methodically with the hand blower and cloth otherwise it will jam in no time, the SLR which is double bagged gets a nightly once over and this camera only comes out when we are stood. Every morning too I wash the windscreen Im sure some of the guys must have thought I was a bit bonkers but a lot of these shots on the move are taken by Julie shooting through the windscreen. We stop presently for Jim to tie down his roof tent, he’s missed a strap this morning so needs to secure it, especially now we are on the rough stuff. The rest of us use these few minutes to stand around and peel a few layers off, I for one got took of my fleece and to quickly inspect our own trucks in case we’d forgotten something.
Jim & Caren secure their roof tent
Our little red 90
The not so little but very smart 110 with Ian and Marie
Its deffo getting warmer even Pete is peeling a layer off
Way over on our right lay the Atlas mountains and a constant reminder of where we would be camping tonight. The gritty substance under our feet would give way to snow probably tonight.
Jim had secured the strap and we started up the engines and moved off again, up through the gears 1st 2nd and 3rd for a while before making it to 4th, no need to hit top gear as we had obstacles to negotiate frequently and didn’t want to rush into them! After another hour we stopped for “elevenses” by one of the disused shafts, they were un-capped and left open to the elements, it was a low stone structure that surrounded the hole and incorporated the metal remains of the head-gear. Head gear is perhaps the wrong description, it looked more like a well head used at a water well, only a bit bigger, probably used to lower supplies and miners. I could see the bottom of the shaft and a hole that was dug into the side taking the chaps to whatever minerals they were mining back then, the shaft was maybe 40 -50 feet deep and not the 900+feet I was used to from my own days as a coal miner. Whist doing some research I’ve since read that lead and ore mining was what they were digging for here and at the large mine we were visiting later which was built by the French in their day as colonial rulers.
We took the track down and around the quarry, a couple of large truck were shipping aggregate from here to another new road project. The guy in the big truck let us pass and waved to us. we dropped down to the river level as we approached the old mine complex at Aouli
Aouli Mine complex….the remains
The rusty-red and browns of the buildings struck me as we stopped the trucks and just stared at them. This was a hugely important mine complex employing over 7000 Moroccans as well as a large number of overseas workers because between 1926 and 1949 over 600 small shafts were sunk! Morocco is such a rich land of many types of minerals because they didn’t have any glaciers. The mine closed when France gave up its colonial hold on Morocco taking with them all the French mining companies, however… Moroccan folk still dig small shafts and mine them locally artesian style looking for the likes of lead and vanadinite crystals. I did spot some work going on here and there. The river today was a tranquil slow-moving and shallow affair which when in full rage it washes roads away (often) and explains why all the ground level windows and doors are quite high and explains too why many have steels doors fitted to them. A few fellows were working on the road here and there and stopped to wave, I think this place is visited quite a lot and not just by 4×4 groups judging by the wealth of information I’ve just read on the internet! It’s quite a spooky and eerie place to be sat in. We drove on slowly crossing the rickety looking bridge at the far end of the mining town. Pete got out for a look the concrete foundations had cracks but the supports and steel works was fine though quite a few of the wooden planking had rotted and were in need of replacing
We passed a road gang as they fixed part of the road further up the ravine, the old and battered yellow machine slowly stopped what it was doing and trundled to the side of the road to let us pass, again the lads smiled and waved, nobody asked for anything from us or made signs for smokes.. bon bons.. shoes… or stylo’s, a refreshing change from the last time! We climbed up and out of the ravine leaving the river and the complex behind to make our way back to the road,I spotted in the distance several times some scaffold erections machinery and person or two, the mine may be closed but the locals are still in business it seems.
Crossing the road we head in the other direction now towards the snow-capped mountains, we crunched our way across the land driving over small bushes and around those tufted grassy ones as these sometimes choose to grow on a boulder. There is another brilliant track somewhere around that rose up into the Jbel and called the “Cirque de Jaffer” I think it off to our left and not for us today. There’s hardly vegetation here just grit.. dirt.. stones and boulders, the bareness of it all was amazing the earth here was stripped back to its core revealing its natural colours, greens browns purples and some shade of red. I noticed now we were steadily climbing and had been for the past hour, the track twisted and turned as we rose up and down and twisted down into shallow valleys before climbing again. It was lunchtime as we pulled off the track to park amongst some shrubbery.
Sometimes the track seemed to disappear so heading in a general direction was the norm and keeping a particular ref point in view was the way forward.
The view was….
A couple of guys came by on small motorbikes they shouted and waved but left us alone, down the hill I watched them go, I could see some square shapes in the distance and probably where they were going? We began to collect dead wood and began bagging it for tonight’s fire, I strapped some on my bonnet as there was no room inside or on the top, but it impaired my vision of the tracks so later on I ditched it, the thought was there but it wasn’t a good idea after all.
Pete and Ian standing by the Defenders
After collection enough we moved off the hill down the reverse side and onto a better track, in fact it was a road though it still twisted and followed the easiest route up and down..up and down, sometimes going round the steeper hills but for the most part it was mostly heading upwards. Sometimes we drove through villages, it was difficult sometimes to decide if they were lived in or deserted!
A small town, some districts seem deserted
We had a river crossing today, it wasn’t a huge challenge today just a wide shallow and quiet river, it’s always good to get an easy one under ones belt first I guess. Once today we would come across a green and very fertile valley its early Spring so to see crops was a bit of a surprise, they had built irrigation systems and in the remote parts they installed small pump houses with generators. The Spring melt water from higher up the mountains was helping too.
How green is this valley?
In and out of the green valley we drove and before going back into the scrub and dusty dry floor. Sometimes others found themselves at the front as Pete and Jo dropped back for a break and took some photos of the tour in progress.
Us at the front for a while, still heading skywards
The red 110 eating my dust for a change
A long conversation took place over the radio as to how a horse becomes a mule and where does the old donkey fit into all this??
Mother Nature 1 Road 0
The road we were on dropped down and down eventually winded along with another quiet river again we could say that in its busy periods this river was really wide, in fact the road here and there was eroded, passing as close to the wall edge was advised, the undercut was quite a curve and had washed away the earth with just the actual 4 or 5 inches of tarmac left standing. Eventually we came across a single line of stones across the road, this indicated the road ahead was closed. A young lad appeared and told us the road up ahead was closed so had to turn around and find another way through. We dropped back to Agoudal to take the other road.
“HEY it’s that hotel again!” I said to Julie, Id called it The Bates Motel on account of the eerie introduction to it we had. Actually when they got there act together they served us well and in the haggle for a good price a grand meal was included, the facilities were OK too with plenty of warm water and European toilets! No time to stop and look though as we had a date with a camp site further up at Lake Tislet somewhere in the snow line and to get there not in the dark would be good.
We drove on out into different foothills still heading in the general direction of Lake Tislet. A loggers camp was seen off to the right also spotted was the Moroccan way of loading trucks to the max and higher! Julie also took photos of their special double-decker open-topped transit vans…Remember those old Ford transit vans and those old big cheeked Bedford trucks? Well they are all alive and well in Morocco! They run alongside old Merc transits and are popular” Jack of all Trade” vehicles
Chuck another log on mate…
Room on top for a dozen small ones…
Another seemingly deserted village.
We pass through the narrow villages at a very slow speed, the dust makes it look faster! In the more remote villages we find we have to go a bit quicker to deter the kids from jumping on the back for a ride through the village. We see the kids now in just about every village and they are all on the cadge, mostly smiling and waving us down asking for bon-bon (sweets)… stylo (pens /pencils)…pulling at their clothes (they want clothes)…doing a V with fingers at their lips…( cigarettes)…waving plastic bottles ( wanting water) Some have it down to a fine art, a quick beg before running down a side street to appear again ahead of us as we make our way through the village.
It may sound a bit harsh to read, but it’s never ending, it’s the same script in just about every village out here in the countryside and if you do stop to give something your quickly surrounded by all the kids. I know because I did this on my first visit, It left me with a negative impression to be honest with you. Id notice too how some waved without smiling, glancing in the mirror saw them not smiling as soon as I passed. How the grown ups shoved the tiny ones forwards, how they took their shoes off around the corner, I spotted one grubby looking urchin who looked to be right on his ass re-appear again down the road but wearing decent trainers and riding a bike. Hmmm its all a game! Some of these tracks after all are well used 4X4 routes and at first sight it can be a shock for folk not so poor so easy to fall into giving sweets pencils etc. At the camp tonight the lady would collect any spare clothing we may have and any tinned food to distribute to the less children higher up in the mountains, this she has done for years and something I would contribute to. But for the most part I gave everyone my smile nothing more.
Where the fook is Pete taking us??
Arriving at Lake Tizlet as the sun drops down behind the mountains
Up and up we climbed, reaching the 9000 feet mark as we entered the snow line. Finally we came to the town of Milchil and the camp site by the lake jus ta mile or two to the north.The dusk was just around the corner so finding the only flat spot by the lake we rushed to get our camp sorted before the velvet blanket of night covered us. The rest had gone into the big house for mint tea, on their return we were all squared away the tent was up the beds were set and we were tucking into dinner. The wood was gathered from the other vehicles and a fire was started, people were busy with dinner and cranking up their bedrooms and fiddling with this and that. By the fire that evening everyone sat around in a big half circle to relax and chat about the day The designated fire poker was Marie, it was her job to ensure the fire was burning in the manner expected. It was a bit cold this evening but not half as bad as Pete thought it might be. at some point it became bedtime for the early to bedders, then one by one the rest of us eventually followed.
Ladies in the early evening by Lake Tizlet
Julie had sorted our bedroom perfectly, on my camp bed was a simple blanket to guard against the cold on the ground, my sleeping bag was a mummy style and zipped up and over my head I left a couple of inches to breath through, I had on a pair of light trousers socks a T-shirt and a wool hat, during the night I would peel off if I needed to. If I get cold feet in bed I just cannot sleep and may as well get up and paint the ceiling! Julie had a more square bag she hates being restricted around her feet and tends to go slightly star-fish in bed. We soon drift off to sleep and often my last sight is Julie’s face in the little glow of her electric book! To me going to bed dressed for a few days is no drama and not a failure to do camping it’s just adapting to the conditions and although we were in the snow line were had none on the ground here at the camp
Stood at the waters edge at dawn
I was up early as I often am when camping, this morning I wanted to get the dawn breaking across the lake that we were facing. First I got the JETBOIL on for the first warm drink of the day. The jetboil is the best thing for camping, two cups of coffee/tea can be boiled within 2 minutes and the best kick-start to the day, it wasn’t a really cold morning and hadn’t been that cold during the night either. The camp dog sat a few yards away watching me watching the sun, Cath was up and out with her camera too
Above is a morning shot of our group, that box on the right is our OZ tent. We were the only guys here I think save for a couple of Germans who appeared at our camp fire the previous evening, we swapped smiles said hello and were quite happy for them to sit with is by our fire amply stoked by Marie. The guys I think had booked a room in the Auberge? We were welcome to use the bathroom and toilet, the old girl had supplied towels soap toilet paper just for us, Pete had been coming here for a number of years with his groups so she knew what floated the boat for Europeans. The camp cats appeared in search of scraps but were hissed away by me. the camp dog however found a pal with some of the others and was quite happy to be around them and not bother us at dinner or breakfast. Speaking of which, the bacon was sizzling again and a second brew was in our hands, Julie was still in her bag at this moment sipping her coffee. One by one the guys awoke and trotted past us en-route to the toilet in the house clutching little bags of toilet stuff. The sky was clear and the sun though weak was up shining. We were actually at the highest point of the adventure this morning and from here it was all downhill…literally and of course it would get warmer, a lot warmer.
We were performing like clockwork now, toilet.. breakfast… pack the sleeping bags and beds… toilet again..roll up the tent..pack and strap everything away all shipshape..wait for morning map meeting then away for around 09.30. We stopped briefly in the town fro bread which most people wanted, then away we went.
Milchil the town square
From the truck whilst waiting we watched the town come to life. two youngsters stood opposite our truck and watched what was happening. A guy appeared and also stood and watched, Marie bought something warm to snack on and the guy helped with her “funny money” Eventually everyone was stocked up again on bread and we left the square.
Ladies of Milchil off to work
Trying not to be obvious with the camera Julie took some shots of the locals as they went about their morning. I’ve said it before about them being a bit spooky about having their photos took haven’t I? Note the road in the above photo, which is really good considering, even if it is a single lane, this is probably a sign of how important Milchil is in the region I guess?
Part of Jebel Imidghas..there’s a track down there trust me!
Looking like layered cake…..
Snowy rocky mountains…cold sandy slopes…green vegetation… and the green hill on the left, see it?
The morning briefing said that we were going to Dades Gorge in the Vallee du Dades and we would get to it on one of the trials, so we wouldn’t be on this road for many miles, indeed after a few miles it turned from tarmac to gravel then we were back on a trail. We went through Jebel Imidghas twisting and snaking our way down to the floor of the valley, a range of mountains stood high to our left and right. Jebel means mountain by the way.
Marie takes a photo
We came across few people this morning, just the odd mule here and there, suddenly Ian stopped ahead of me and Marie jumped out, into my view came two girls. Marie wanted to take a photo of the girls with their work animals, she asked then but they were not too happy, she gave them money so then they let her but when she pointed the camera they seemed unhappy and turned their face. So whilst she was doing that I quickly took a shot without their knowledge. If that was me and not Marie Im sure they would have flat refused. Pete took us to a dead-end. the track petered out against the rocks and a small river. Im going to show you a magnificent waterfall but its a bit of a walk up there (understatement)
Not everyone was up for this “little” rock climb and so were happy to sit around in the sunshine chatting whilst we set off after Pete armed with good footwear and plenty of water. Where the hell is he taking us now I wondered.
We had to cross and recross the river several times as we climbed higher on the footpath, he’d been nosey one day and found this local beauty spot by chance on a previous visit. I felt like a bleeding Gazelle jumping from rock to rock!It took a while to get to the waterfall, eventually I just walked through the water having given up on the leaping business. It did look lovely I have to admit. OK come he says it’s just up here a bit further (understatement No 2)
Off we tramped crossing the narrow but rocky river time and time again! We came to some steep steps and then we were in snow…snow? Just how high are we bloody climbing?
Up and up the steep steps went, my knees where beginning to glow like pokers, I’ve not climbed steps like this since 1985 climbing up the emergency mining drift At Nostell Colliery..thats over 30 yrs ago! I was the last one to the cave in the sky, the view back down the valley was just superb, Pete was sat there puffing and panting, “That was hard on the old knees” I sat and joined him in mutual panting, I wanted to swear a bit but couldn’t coz I was panting! But hey WHAT a view!
4 knackered knees 2 smiling faces
Green tinged mountain
Waiting for our heart rate to subside we sat and watched the crows above us, Marie spotted a beastie dash from ledge to ledge, it looked kinda like a stoat? It was too quick for me and the camera. We were ready now for the trip back down which we did in a quicker time naturally. ” Good call to stay here Julie ” I said when we finally got back to the vehicles.
High in the jebel
Driving across a couple of lumpy tracks we dropped onto the usual gritty track that meandered up the valley, now and again we spotted these new builds, the guys were waving and smiling as they applied more mud, as you can see in the next photo the slabs are huge Im not quite sure what they are made out of exactly, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was plain old mud. In some villages we saw smaller blocks being made then lined up in the sun to bake dry. That stripped tree trunk that s leant on the wall will be used so build the roof. At some point this year this will be another friendly Auberge for travellers to rest atOne of the builder chap waved us down and showed Pete his injured finger so out came the first aid box and Pete promptly fixed him up then we carried on, he was well chuffed! Perhaps Pete has earned Atlas Overland Tours a discount for the next season, now that’s forward thinking!
It was amazing to see the domestic animals mostly goat and sheep around these parts feeding on seemingly nothing, on the occasions when we stopped Julie took time to see what they were eating, and saw a small green moss, a bit like alpine plants only smaller. Those large football sized shrubs often grow on boulders and it’s not always easy to spot so as you can imagine there is a lot of twisting and turning of the wheel when driving on this terrain!
WE began to climb slowly as the end of the valley came closer and we would soon be on the narrow and high track that would go over the distant pass to the Dades Gorge. We would stop soon for lunch though.
Around the next bend we saw a group of vehicles parked up and the people were doing what we were doing. Pete got into conversation about the way ahead, the two leaders exchanged information as to the state of the track in both directions. They had tried to get over the pass but the snow had beaten them and so where coming back to try another route. We thought we’d give it a go after lunch.
The first hill had a churned up track that ran steeply up and over, we made that quite easy, low box into second then third and plenty of grunt saw us climb up effortlessly.
It looked a good deal harsher on top until another mile when the green stuff returned we could see our track, a thin pencil line that ran up the side of the distant hill and it looked thick with snow, hmm… Pete figured that maybe we would get up easy but he couldn’t tell what it was like further on, what if we have to turn back, would the track be wide enough, would have to reverse all the way back down? Could we do it? Experts we were not, but willing to try I think..Hmmm…
This was an adventure and not an expedition. OK so we would go to the base of the hill have a little look round then return, but don’t tell the Frenchies! Pete took us off the track to look at another pass just over there.. He shouted on the radio that we should take his truck as wide as possible to avoid the sticking shitty sub surface, he slewed across and gave it more power sinking lower the four BF Goodrich’s got enough grip to pull through. Watching this we followed that turn got wider and wider as each of us followed. The 110 in front of us crabbed sideward on the hill as it clawed its way across to Pete, chucking new mud up and at us. We waited a minute then set of to the turn taking it nice and wide to the hill then we too slewed sideways as the back-end began to slip, but we piled on the power the momentum taking us forward through the invisible mud. Looking at it at the beginning gave no indication it was so soft and wet under the short grass, not until the first truck went through. Ian came next in the old troopi and roared loudly as they slithered across the hillside to join us at the other side. two young lads and their goats were walking in our direction as Pete surveyed the hills in this direction and reinforced the decision to go find a different way. Suddenly “Erm Pete Im stuck” came over the radio For some reason he’d cut the naughty corner and was now up to his axle and going nowhere. We all turned around on this firmer ground and crabbed our way back across the hill-side to see Jim and Janet firmly glued. Why didn’t he do as we all did? I couldn’t understand it and now everyone was up-to their ankles in mud trying to push him back. Why is everyone doing this we have at least 3 winches between us, perhaps its a bit of team building? Pete swung his truck in an arc and parked in front of him ,Jim pulled his winch 20 yard to Pete and hooked on. Slowly and under instruction he pulled himself out of the mire. It took just a minute or two with the winch and no broken backs! Now Pete had sunk down after using his truck as an anchor! He used his engine to rock his truck back and forth to ease out of the four sludge-holes his truck had made. He makes it look so easy! I sat and watched the whole episode hopefully I can learn from this.
Even driving back on an even wider curve, I couldn’t see any clue as to the sub surface. It still looks nice and dry. Back home I guess the clue would be those sharp spiky stumpy clumps of grass? The two shepherds were here too, they pulled vegetation up and threw it behind the wheels to help. Sop we dropped off the plateau, the little rise was now well churned up as a dozen French and English vehicles had come this way twice in a couple of hours! Passing the half built Auberge where matey boy waved and shouted his thanks.
Going back up the valley track to find a different route through
So for the rest of the morning we retraced our steps to find a different route, unfortunately the route to Dades Gorge was out of reach on this trip so we made our way west to another gorge called Todra which means we would up and over on a superb wide but twisty super smooth tarmac road the excellent viewing point and deffo a show stopper!!
The vantage point for the best view was just over this crest, it was long and had plenty of room for at least a dozen vehicles. The view is breathtaking!
We are but ants….
Somewhere of in the distance over to the right was our original crossing, The Dades Gorge but because of the snow we would be going more over to the left to go through the Todra Gorge instead. Beyond that was the town of Tinerhir and some rough going over the Jbel Sarhro but hey that would be tomorrow.
It nice and warm with a healthy breeze coming up from below
We stayed here for a while just soaking it all in, the colours and the shapes and the sheer vastness of it all certainly knocked you on your ass and put life back into perspective! We pulled away from the viewpoint and made our way down the side of this mountain range.
Some villages in the outer reaches are deserted and the mud dwellings crumble and blow away in the Saharan winds returning to the earth from whence they came in the first place this town had a mixture of old and new, some even sported nice paint jobs, in the middle this old building is quickly returning back to earth, the stone walls will be re claimed to build something else. It’s easy to see how the cycle of things work out here.
After an hour we start to drop down to the level of the river the towering rocks get higher and higher the further into the gorge we go. The deeper we went the narrower it felt as the road followed the river, today it was a mere trickle. Taking a photo from the truck with the point and shoot didn’t do justice, I guess a tripod an SLR and a wide-angle lens and a carefully selected spot would have been better. But hey we were with others and on tour so trust me when I say it was awesome!
It looks like it doesn’t it?No we simply followed the river around the obstacle..in this case a mountain! The shale on the left is the river, at the moment its only just alive, when its in full flow… One winter Im told, this road was in places washed away you can see the repairs towards the edge.
Julie managed to capture these adventure types on the walls on the gorge, I never saw them my eyes firmly on the narrow road! It was late afternoon so most of the day trippers had gone, tourists are bussed down here from Marrakech daily in “Misery Wagons” So called because the drivers don’t smile, I did agree with Petes analysis over the next few days, especially on the day when refusing to yield in front of an oncoming fast bullying”Misery Wagon” in the desert, the driver just glared at me, “Fukc off you fukcing miserable twat” was my amused response. The town at the other end was up and coming thanks to the tourist interest and now these daft rock climbers! The buildings were all in the distinctive red, similar to the rock face in the deepest part of the gorge, when the shadows played on the surface the red really comes out. Our camp was on the right just after the town, it was dotted with Palm each camp bay had great shade. It was built for us Europeans with our toilets and showers a plenty, it had new looking restaurant but we were camping so can’t comment on the food. The guy behind the counter was helpful to me in acquiring the free but dodgy internet connection! Like most places it only worked if stood really close to the point of origin so to see white skinned folk stood at doorways starring into I-Phone, meant it was the best place to stand to get the damned internet I just wanted it to send a photo of our progress and a quick update after all I have my fans to think of.
Julie about to empty the washing machine..
Thanks to Richard down in Wales we have a mobile blue washing machine. In the morning half fill with water washing powder and half a doz clothes, during the days drive the sun heats up the water and the bumpy tracks do the rest, at the end of the day simply empty out and swill through with some cold water and hang out to dry, the stuff is dry usually before nightfall, mens socks and underpants are usually ready by dawn funnily enough…
Parking under the canopy of a tree has many advantages and a couple of disadvantages, one is likely to lose and eye when leaping atop the truck to get the tent down, so a little gentle pruning is needed or pull the truck forward…..
Pete and Carrick doing some chores before the pub opens..
We arrived at the camp site in good time so took advantage with some chores and washing and tidying, it’s not always possible to do this every night Tea was a mixture of several cans and packets, tonight would be chicken curry before tripping across to the bar at Pete’s truck and the semi-circle grew larger as more arrived and there we sat laughed and drunk the drink until cloaked in darkness, thankfully the strip light was not pink otherwise the Germans may have joined us. It wasn’t to be a late one tonight as we were feeling tired it had been a great but long day.