I awoke early and saw the spectacular sight through my window of the first sunlight of the day hitting the vertical rock face outside the front of the hostel. I must have had the best hotel view in the area!
At breakfast I asked the hostel owner Rashid if there was a physical ticket for the Marrakech minivan transfer he had arranged for me, to which he responded ‘no ticket, I call them’. He would, though, be escorting me back to Tinerhir so I was confident that things were sufficiently legit and that I would get to Marrakech. Whilst waiting for the minivan to arrive I chilled in a cafe in Tinerhir people watching with a rather hungover Rashid (apparently he’d been drinking with some Spaniards the previous evening at a campsite)!
I took the opportunity to ask him about other hiking opportunities in Morocco as my mind was turning to another future visit to do some serious trekking. The Atlas mountains can now be added to my global wish list which includes returns to Nepal and the Andes, as well as the Rocky Mountains and a heap of other stuff closer to home.
The highest peak in North Africa is Jebel Toubkal (4167m) and would be the obvious one to do given its proximity to Marrakech but there was also some other interesting stuff in this area. Rashid explained how you could go from Todra Gorge to Dades Gorge and then from there significantly further north towards Azilal. After my experience of the heat the previous day, one thing for sure is that this wouldn’t be something to attempt alone, but you can arrange guides and mules in support.
I boarded the tourist minivan at noon. As a result of Rashid’s contacts I had basically gatecrashed a tour group coming back from the desert. By this point many of the group were sprawled out sleeping as they’d been up at 5am having done what I did two days before.
Having not seen that many tourists in recent days it was strange a to pull up at a restaurant for lunch with around 8 other tourist vans. It is not my intention here, though, to get on a high horse about the relative merits of independent travel versus organised tours. It doesn’t escape me that I have taken many organised tours in the past and they’ve been great. Thinking back even to last year I did a 15 hour day trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park. They can be a great way to do things if short of time and from a point of view of meeting people. But if I’d done such tours on this trip I’d have missed out on a lot of the randomness described in this blog.
I was slightly missold the tour by Rashid as the bus barely stopped as it was focused on getting back quickly to Marrrakech. That said, it was a much better way to travel than by coach. The scenery was amazing the whole way through and early doors we saw the sight of snow-capped peaks on the horizon framed by the Skoura Oasis in front (above).
And the scenery became even more spectacular as the journey went on, a particular highlight being the hulking presence of the below snowcapped mountain towering over the valley below.
We continued to wind our way up to the top of the big 2,620m Tizi n’Tichka mountain pass. This was the main route across the Atlas to Marrakech but was undergoing some serious repair work. After the slow journey up, on the descent the minivan driver was doing his best Nigel Mansell impression, hairing around bends where there were thousand foot drops off to the side with sometimes no barriers. As I gazed out of the window it felt up there with the death road in Bolivia! Soon we were to stop at the top of another mountain pass for sunset which afforded some more great views.
It was then time to board the minivan for the final time to commence the last hour of the journey down to Marrakech, where we arrived at around 8pm. The minivan dropped us about a block away from the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa. It was a rarity for me to do this but I had pre-booked a hostel this time. Perhaps overconfidently I thought that I would be able to find the Dream Kasbah hostel on foot. This optimism turned out to be misplaced. I underestimated the size of the square and the amount of people that would be in it. I also stupidly failed to ask the van driver what side of the square we had been dropped at. To cut a long story short, I quickly realised I needed to take a taxi and then got fleeced paying over the odds for it; and I still needed to pay a couple of lads on the street some dirham change to escort me through the back alleys to the hostel. But once there I received a warm welcome and the hostel seemed like a cool place.