Morocco/Spain diary: Day 10

Monday, 22 September, 2014. 08:40

We are having breakfast in the hotel dining room, which is full of other travellers, many of whom seem to be Australians. The buzz we are overhearing is that the roads are still cut by the floodwater, as everyone is wondering what they’ll be doing today. I poked my head outside and overheard a guide saying something indistinguishable to a woman, who then answered, “So what do we do? Stay here another day?”

The breakfast room is packed to capacity. Another group is here with backpacks, obviously having checked out of their rooms, but they’re not going anywhere. One asked their guide if they should move to the second dining room downstairs to give everyone else more room to eat breakfast, which sounded like an extremely sensible idea, but their guide said no, just sit here! There are barely enough seats and tables for everyone packed in here at the moment, and more of our group will be arriving. Also, the WiFi is not working this morning, so we can’t even share our misery on Facebook!

Maison Kasbah Taborihte window view
View from our room at the Maison Kasbah Taborihte, Todra Gorge.

Someone said the other group here didn’t get to do their camel trip and Sahara overnight stay, because of the sandstorm we heard about earlier, the day before we got there. So I guess we were lucky there that it passed quickly. The weather this morning is dry, but there is low cloud and tendrils of fog spilling over the rocks above us in the gorge walls. There is a gap in the cloud through which I can see a patch of blue sky, so hopefully that means the rain is over.

The beds here are very hard. We’ve had really hard beds in one or two other places as well. It seems to be a thing. The benches around the edge of the breakfast and second dining rooms are also very hard. They look invitingly soft with cushioned padding, but when you sit on them you get a shock as it’s not much different to sitting on solid wood. I think it’s just a thin layer of hard packed wool providing the minimal padding. Back in the market in Sefrou, we saw people hauling sheepskins, and in another place we drove past we saw men pulling wool out of old mattresses. Lahcen said they recycle the wool, stuffing it into new mattresses. Hopefully they wash it first, though I wouldn’t bet on it.


On the way back to our room we passed Terry and Ben. They said that Lahcen had said last night that we wouldn’t be leaving until 10:30 this morning. I suspect that’s simply to give him enough time to evaluate the situation and decide what to do if the rivers are still high.

My back muscles are a bit sore, I’m not sure if from the camel rides or sitting in the back row seats of the bus all day yesterday, and M. has bruises on her legs from the first camel ride, when she was positioned awkwardly on the saddle.


We are sitting in a huge traffic jam on the hotel side of the first weir that stopped us yesterday. We’ve been here for maybe a couple of hours, as they finished filling a huge hole in the spillway, but the traffic has just started to move and we are creeping forward. Although when we walked down the maybe 800 metres to the river from where we parked the van at the back of the traffic queue, we saw that traffic was backed up on both sides of the road, which means when cars come through from the other side they won’t be able to climb up the hill on this side.

When we left the hotel this morning just after 10:30, we drove up the Todra Gorge to the point where we were stopped by the roadblock yesterday. This time it was open and we drove through the steep-walled gorge, past a hotel stuck into the rock on the opposite side of the river from the road, and to a small open area on the far side. The bridge to this hotel had been washed away completely, and there was no way for anyone in that hotel to cross the river to reach the road.

Todra Gorge
Todra Gorge.

The bus let us off at the far end and we walked the few hundred metres through the steepest and narrowest part of the gorge to be picked up by the bus on the other side. As we passed the stranded hotel, some men came out with a couple of logs and started to build a makeshift bridge across the river. The rock above the hotel was a huge overhang, which Lahcen said had not yet successfully been climbed by anyone. The gorge walls are popular with rock climbers, and he said this was where the rock climbing scene in Mission: Impossible 2 was filmed (though later research when I got home suggests this is not true).

Washed out bridge
The previous day’s flood had washed out this bridge across the river in the Todra Gorge.

The gorge was spectacular, with red rock towering up to the sky, and black rain streaks running down it. You could see the erosion marks on the walls created by floodwater carrying rocks and boulders down the gorge, with deep round gouges in the walls about three or four metres above the road surface.

Buiding bridge in Todra Gorge
Men work to build a makeshift replacement bridge in Todra Gorge.


We have made it across the river! We are now able to drive on to our next accommodation for the tour, where we had originally planned to spend two nights, but will now spend just one night.

After the gorge, we drove a short way back towards last night’s hotel, where we stopped at a Berber rug weaving cooperative, named Kasbah Dar Ahlam. They greeted us and we doffed our shoes to walk into a large room carpeted with rugs. A man prepared mint tea in silver teapots, one with sugar and one without. He heated them over a charcoal burner, which he pumped with air from a pair of small bellows, sending red hot embers showering out into the room. We hoped he wasn’t going to set all the rugs on fire! The tea was good, and not too sweet like some others.

Making mint tea
Making mint tea.

Then one of the men there explained how they made the carpets, starting from the raw wool. A woman was carding the wool to make it soft and pull the fibres out, and Zi got to have a go at doing it as well. Next was spinning, and Michelle tried to do that with a large hand spun spindle, but it was clearly an acquired skill. The man then described dyeing the wool. They used all natural dyes: saffron root for orange, indigo for blue, poppy for red, alfalfa for green, lavender for purple, and fixed the colours with salt, vinegar, and lavender root. There was also a woman weaving a rug with a fairly primitive looking loom which had obviously been hand built, using unfinished pieces of wood.

Following the explanations we were shown many examples of the rugs in different sizes, colours, and designs. Some were quite plain with a few decorative designs scattered across them. Others were very intricately patterned all over. The most intricate were a design called a “carpet map”, which was really beautiful. M. and I admired one with a blue border, but we have no room at home to put it anywhere. We were half dithering over it, when Terry decided to go ahead and buy it. A few others also bought rugs, which the Berber guys rolled up into tight bundles for transporting.

Berber rugs
Berber carpets.

After the carpet buying, we went upstairs in the same building for lunch. This was a fava bean soup, which was spicy and smooth in texture, then some mixed salads and “Berber pizza”, which was Moroccan bread split in half and filled with spices and finely ground beef, or onions for a vegetarian version, and finally a plate of fruit: orange slices spiced with cinnamon (which were amazingly good), grapes, and pomegranate kernels.

From the carpet place we drove back down the gorge, over the first river which was flooded yesterday. The water level had gone right down and it was easy to drive across now, but there had obviously been a lot of silt and rocks washed onto the road.

River wash
The first flooded road, now dried out.


We’ve just had a toilet and coffee stop, at a hotel on the top of a cliff overlooking the valley town of Boumalne Dades. The view was magnificent, along the green valley with the red mud brick buildings on either side flanked by the hills. There was a small gift shop there and I bought a faded and curling postcard which looked like it had been there on the display stand since the 1970s, for all of 3 dirhams.

Clouds over Todra Gorge
View of the Todra Gorge valley.

Back in the Todra Gorge, we approached the first weir, but had to stop well back from the river, because traffic had queued up quite a distance. We walked down to the river and saw that the water level was reasonable over the spillway, but the flood had gouged a huge hole in the road, as well as stripping the concrete off another section. A front end loader was scooping dirt and gravel into the hole, and a dump truck was bringing loads of the same material to dump there. We watched for half an hour or so, and it looked like maybe another hour or two of work to fill in all the gaps. Crowds of curious onlookers were monopolising every vantage point to watch the spectacle. Motorcycles were making it across, and some people were taking off shoes and wading through the spillway, but it was definitely not yet okay for cars.

Flood damaged road
The second flooded road, needing repair.

The sun got hot and we walked back to the van to wait in the shade. We estimated an hour or two to complete the repair work and then clear the traffic jam and get across the river. This turned out to be fairly accurate, and eventually we were across the spillway and on our way again, with much cheering and applause.

The damaged road
The hole in the road caused by the flood.

We stopped in the town of Tinghir at the bottom of the gorge to get money from an ATM, pharmacy supplies, and wine from a small “supermarket”, as Lahcen described it, but it was more like a general store. There was no alcohol on display; it was all stored in a secret back room, which the owner let us into as non-Muslims. It was packed with all sorts of things, wines, beers, spirits. We bought a few bottles between us as tonight’s accommodation won’t have any alcohol to buy.

Now the bus is passing through a series of small towns which grow lots of roses and almonds. The area here is famous for rose products. A lot of the towns here look very similar, with their red mud brick, or mud-red painted clay brick walls.


We arrived at the Gite d’étape Tamaloute after a spectacular drive up the M’Goun Valley as the sun set. We forded a few spillways which would no doubt have been impassable, if yesterday’s floods had reached this area, as they appeared to have done judging by some patches of recent looking silty mud on the road and a few rockfalls that made Mohammed drive carefully to avoid them. We got here after sunset but while the sky was still not yet dark.

After ten minutes to settle in we went down to the dining room, to discover we were the first there. I had a bottle of white wine which I’d agreed to split with Maria, and I put it in the drinks fridge (full of Coke and Fanta and bottled water) to cool down. M. had separately agreed to split a bottle of red with Karen. The others trickled in for dinner, for which Lahcen had phoned ahead our choices. The options were: (a) vegetarian, or (b) with meat. The meal began with a soup which was similar, I thought, to the fava bean soup, except with rice and some small chunks of vegetables in it. The main course was couscous, with either (a) carrots, potato, eggplant, pumpkin, or (b) the same plus chicken. Dessert was slices of melon: what Lahcen called rockmelon and which had a rockmelon-like textured skin, but which was green like a honeydew melon inside, and tasted like a honeydew melon. The other was the ubiquitous yellow ridge-skinned melon which we’ve had several times. I asked Lahcen what sort of melon it was, and he said it was just called “melon”. (Later research suggests it was probably canary melon.) The white wine I shared with Maria turned out to be somewhat sweet, though not as sweet as prosecco. She was disappointed, but I thought it was okay with the sweet vegetables in the couscous.

Vegetable tajine
Vegetable couscous at dinner.

On the way back from dinner we walked into a dark area away from the lights to look at the stars, which were numerous and wonderful. We could see the Milky Way easily, but I didn’t recognise a single star or constellation from this point in the northern hemisphere, despite trying for several minutes to locate anything at all familiar.

We came back to our room, showered, and are about to hop into bed.

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