My day had begun atop a camel in the Sahara desert. Two long-distance grand taxi rides, a bus, and another taxi ride later it ended with me in the foothills of the Atlas mountains at Todra Gorge. It was certainly an interesting travel day and one that I shall remember for a while.
I saw the direct bus to Tinerhir leaving Merzouga in the distance at 7.30am as I dismounted my camel. It certainly would have been an easier way to get to where I wanted but logistically I was never in with a chance of making it. Plus, in travelling direct rather than from town to town I would have missed out on a lot of randomness!
I was back at my B&B Chez Julia by about 8am and then showered, ate breakfast and chilled for a while. Whilst it was time to move on in some ways it was a shame to leave as it was such a chilled out place.
The first leg of the journey was a grand taxi to Rissani from where I took another one to Erfoud. It was a tight squeeze as they managed to fit four of us in the back!
On arrival I was dumped on a corner on the edge of town. I had asked the driver where the bus stop for Tinerhir was and was pointed up a road that demarcated the boundary between the town and the desert. As I looked out the wind was whipping up the sand from the desert and I thought to myself that this didn’t look very centre of town like. I saw a cafe across the street and a man I spoke to verified it and I had also by now seen a signpost to the Gare Routiere. So I headed off in that direction.
With two hours to kill I walked into the bus station cafe where to my surprise the Manchester United v Liverpool game was on TV. It was bizarre that in a place that had seemed rather foreboding 10 minutes earlier I now felt relatively at home.
But my Premier League experience was short-lived as the locals soon switched channels for the second half of the Real Madrid v Eibar game (although it did come back on again later after the Madrid game had finished).
At 3pm my bus arrived and I commenced my 3 hour journey to Tinerhir near the Todra Gorge. Local buses like this are great and a hive of activity with people hopping between towns, jumping on and off at multiple points as they go about their daily business. My personal favourite was someone putting a tied up live sheep in the undercarriage of the bus, which when I came to get off the bus was situated between me and my suitcase (fortunately those working the bus were able to help me!).
I had no fixed plan on arrival in Tinerhir at 6.15. In fact, the first thing I needed to do was find a toilet as I didn’t fancy a bumpy taxi or truck ride to the gorge whilst needing a piss! So I went for a walk along the main drag. Tinerhir, despite getting a lukewarm write-up in the Lonely Planet, seemed on first impression an OK place. The fact it wasn’t a desert dust bowl helped and there was a cafe bar strip along the main road enticing me in. I picked one and ordered a coffee while I deliberated.
It was still light at this point but I knew this would fade rapidly and with it would the ease of getting to the gorge (pictured) that evening. Trying to do this or just bedding down somewhere in Tinerhir for the night were both in play as options. I’d already in fact had two hotel offers for the latter option and I’d only been in Tinerhir for 20 minutes. In the coffee bar I then got talking to a man called Rashid who owned a place in Todra Gorge.
He got to work giving me the sell on what his place had to offer. I was initially sceptical but the price he quoted was within budget and included dinner. He was also bigging his place up as some kind of Mecca for climbers and promised me a map for a hike the next day. It seemed like a good option so I agreed to get a shared taxi back with him. Logistically it would have been hard otherwise for me to get to the gorge that night, with less people going there and I didn’t even know where the taxis went from! I’d lucked out as I had just happened to get chatting to the owner of the B&B located closest to the start of the gorge!
On arrival, though, my first impression was that the place didn’t quite live up to the hype. The internet connection was poor and my room had this really annoying flickering light. I then later discovered that the place only had electricity between 6pm-midnight. To get a hot shower wood needed to be burned to power it. And then the next morning my naive hope of being provided with an Ordnance Survey style map did not come to fruition (instead he sketched his own map out on the back of a piece of paper).
But in spite of those negatives, on balance the place did have a certain charm that I came to like. Firstly, it was in a spectacular location right by the gorge, a bit up from the main village, and this would explain the power issues. The view of the gorge out of my window was quite possibly the best close-up hotel room view of the gorge’s vertical rock faces in the whole valley. Plus the staff were friendly and helpful and the food good. It can be good to trust people and just go with the flow sometimes.
The next morning I went for a 4 hour hike in the surrounding area and saw some awesome mountain scenery. I added an extra half an hour on to the recommended walk to get up as I high as I could for the best views.
4 hours of walking was enough, though, as I was really taking a pummelling from the sun and heat. When I got back to village I found a great rooftop terrace to hang out at and take in the views of the valley. No photos unfortunately as my phone battery was now dead. I blame the power issues back at the hostel!
I got chatting to the restaurant owner Abdul whose use of the English language centred around using the word ‘welcome’ every 5 words. His promotion of his business empire was all fairly harmless with him extolling how he had the best couscous in the gorge and would soon be opening a 4 room hotel on the site. If ever I came back to Todra I would be most welcome to stay; even if the hotel was full I could stay with his family. I signed his guest book affirming the great food and hospitality.
I then, though, agreed to take a look around his weaving business. Some of his products would get sold at market stalls in the gorge but apparently his business reach went much wider. For some reason I naively thought I was about to get a privileged view of his factory set-up and see some weaving in action. What I entered would more accurately be described as his carpet showroom and he unfolded about a dozen rugs for me to view. The more I said that no I didn’t want to buy anything the faster he unfurled these rugs at me.
But this time I stood firm and didn’t buy anything. As ever a sharp businessmen, he affirmed that good promotion is far better for him than any money he could receive. Whilst I could happily have stayed on his terrace all afternoon, I had probably outstayed my welcome. To be fair he was a nice guy and I didn’t feel too pressured but it amused me how he had all these different tactics. As I left he said I would be most welcome at any time to pop over for a cup of tea as this would give him the chance to practice further his English.
I headed back to the hostel although with a splitting headache brought on by the earlier heat. I chilled out for a while, including on a great viewing platform above the hostel, before eating my dinner. By now a few other people had also turned up there.
I’d be on the move again the next day. I’d originally had an idea to travel by minivan north through the gorge to the mountains to a place called Imilchil. But this plan was always ambitious given the limited time I had available (only 3 more days left) and uncertainties around when there would be transport going, and the potential difficulties of connecting transport from Imilchil in the direction of Marrakech. So this idea fell by the wayside and Rashid helped arrange some onward transport for me to get to Marrakech (although the precise details seemed a little sketchy!).