It was a long way to the top if you jump rocks and roll.
Today we are going to walk through the Dades gorge. A bus up through the gorge offered a sneak peak at what we were in for. The mountains, valley, palm trees, and cultivation. It was looking similar to the valley of Roses, and we were a little disappointed. Then the rock formations appeared. Vertical lines in the rock walls of the mountains showed the immense pressure that had hit the area at some stage in its past. After this came Anna’s “Sugar Loaf” where the wind and rain had eaten away the softer rocks leaving hard little (bigger then us) bubbles of rock.
After these formations, it looked as though the valley would continue on as before. We asked the driver to stop and let us out. He was a bit surprised at this, but hey, what would he know about the best places to see?
Walking down the road a bit, we crossed over a bridge. The river is flowing very well here, and is a proper river, not just a stream. There is a small town on the other side of the valley, and we made our way up to it. At the moment, it is still a lot like the valley of roses. Cultivation and palms, people all around doing whatever people do out here. The town is built around an older town, as is usual, and we stopped for a few photos of the winding streets. The women we passed were all friendly with some brilliant smiles. The best smile we got was a woman that was laughing as we had just taken a photo of her donkey’s backside. Weird tourists!
We ran into a guy walking along that wanted to explain where the gorge was. Over there, turn right, follow the river then turn left, was what we got out of the conversation. Politely extracting ourselves, we moved on. About 20 meters down the road we ran into a Canadian coming up. He greeted us in French, and we replied (In bad French). Then we said something in English. His reaction was instant. Thank god. I only pretend to speak French. It was the same for us, we said. A quick conversation. He had been in Morocco for a few weeks with friends, and was just walking up the valley. He gave us directions to the gorge we could clearly understand then headed on upwards (He had a time limit today). Unfortunately we were still in sight of the local guy. He came back and decided to escort us to the gorge entrance, against our protests. Along the way he started talking about the plants (This is a FIG tree… this is water… This plant smells like hashish. It didn’t, but had a very pleasant fragrance) We were now worried that it would turn into an impromptu tour with the hand at the end as he had already told us he works with tourists as a guide.
At the entrance to the gorge, he put the hand out, but we had nothing anyway (always leave everything at home when hiking in the hills – you don’t need the weight).
At the entrance there are a few big boulders that had fallen down, announcing its presence. We started up into it. Apparently it is a 2 hour hike, and the Canadian warned us we would get our legs wet. We just didn’t think it was right at the beginning. There was a big pool of stagnant water we had to go through. Using a stick, we found that if we used the rocks underneath the water it would come up to just below our knees.
Not wanting to walk the entire gorge needing to pee, I found a nice spot. I finished just in time for the guy to walk around the corner. He was still following us. He gave us directions to go over a small steep hill, but we declined, thinking it would get rid of him.
The water was freezing cold, and we were in the shade. Around the corner there was another deeper section, however we could get around this by using our feet on one side, and hands on the other to push ourselves along. After this the going got easier. It opened out a little bit and we were walking along a stream bed. Mostly dry, but a few puddles that were easily navigated, or rock jumping to get across.
There were some massive boulders that had fallen down the steep walls of the mountain, and we had to go under or over most of them. Then the walls started closing in again, and it was looking more like the Siq at Petra (The alternative way in, not the one with a path built through it). The walls were incredibly high, and at times we had to walk sideways to fit through. It was turning out to be a lot of fun. The larger puddles proved to be challenges, and we took it as such, as we had put our shoes back on, and didn’t want to keep taking them off, sowe had to work out ways around or over them.
This included some interesting rock climbing techniques, and the use of hands, feet and handbrake (your butt).
Winding our way along there were brilliant views of the walls, and the sun hitting the higher peaks. Occasionally when we were facing the right direction, the sun came all the way down, providing some much needed warmth.
In this way we made it through the siq, until towards the end we came to a rather large rock collapse. There were some stones piled up here to climb the boulder, but were very precarious, and it was still quite difficult to get to the top, however we managed it. This was the beginning of the end.
A little further away we came to a solid wall. The surrounding mountains met up with each other here. There is a dry waterfall that would look stunning with the snow melt coming over it (If you could make your way up here with the running water) and a small fissure off to the right. There was a fig tree growing in it (It is lucky I now know how to identify them…). Squeezing past to see if we could continue, it suddenly ended. Almost stuck, I had to back back out.
By now it was getting fairly late, and we were a bit worried about becoming stuck here in the dark. There is no way we could navigate the siq after nightfall, and we would freeze to death if we stayed there (we probably wouldn’t but it would be darned uncomfortable). Knowing this, we made our way back out. There was another way we could have gone (using more of these pre piled rocks) but this led upwards, and we were not sure if it would be faster or not, so we just backtracked. The sun was lower in the sky, and all the rocks were changing colours. Deeper reds to a shade of purple. Going back is always much faster than going out, and that was the same here.
Back at the beginning we looked at the alternative path, but decided against it, as from this side it was an almost vertical cliff. One last bout of freezing water and we were through. On exiting the siq, we found the sun was much higher than we had though. This left us plenty of time to walk along the river in the wrong direction. Hoping for a bridge that never eventuated, and only finding mud that wanted to suck your shoes off. There were still people out doing their washing.
This is an interesting sight, and you have probably already seen photos of it spread out over rocks or trees. Basically they wash in the river, then throw the cleaned clothes over whatever they can find. Spiky bushes are preferred, as it stops them being blown away, yet any surface will do. Trees are filled with colourful clothing, and bare rocks are dressed up.
On making our way back to the road we had some amazing views of the rocks towards sunset, and we appreciated them as long as we could waiting for a bus back down. We were at least 16km from town, so we started walking.
Along the way we tried to flag down passing cars. This is apparently common in Morocco, but it is the first time we have tried hitch hiking, and no buses were going past. Eventually one truck stopped for us, and a person walking in front also ran over. He jumped in, and we asked if we could also get a lift. They were not going back all the way to town, but we were welcome to go with them part way. Another car pulled up behind, and we asked him. No problem. We jumped in, and found out our driver spoke some Dutch. This gave Anna a chance to have an almost normal conversation. Samlal is in the import export business. He is Moroccan born but now Portuguese. Every few months he comes to Morocco to pick things up, and trucks them all over Europe. Hence his Dutch. A really nice man, and drove us all the way back to town.
He knew a wholesaler just out of town, and asked if we wanted to go. We feared it was a carpet shop, but as he had given us a lift we said yes. It turned out to sell everything other than carpets (and those too if you looked hard enough). We got a run down on all the spices, and the shop had everything from Argan oil to Xylophones . We were impressed with the pottery though. The plates were stunning. A fantastic starting price, and beautifully done. Unfortunately they were a bit too big and heavy for us to take. Samlal offered to take what we bought and deliver it to Eindhoven, but as Anna no longer lives there, it was not possible, and it would only break in our bags. We thought about buying some jam jars, these were also beautifully done and came in green, blue and brown. The whole set would have only cost us three of four dollars, however due to a misunderstanding between Anna and I, we walked out with nothing. This is one of the few times we have been really tempted to buy something. Afterwards we resolved to find out how much postage to Australia is (Note: it turns out to be 1200Dh or AU$150 for 5kg, so there goes that idea!).
All in all it was a really good day. The gorge made it for us, but followed closely by the Moroccan sense of hospitality outside of the tourist trade.