Unbelievable! Near misses & Nomad Hospitality (Day 65 & 66)
We arrived in a wet and windy Dades last night to find that our campsite had closed down... tourism here is down by half this year and everyone is struggling. I found a likely spot and bedded down for the night.
The day dawned bright and clear and I found us in another beautiful spot. We had breakfast and started the ascent of the Dades Gorge... very famous and spectacular.
Some of it is having structural problems at the moment but we power on. We get to a good point for the pics and make the most of it.
We drove through this lot, reached the top and called in at the hotel for a mint tea. We were quietly talking to the Belgian couple behind us when in walk Kerry and Tim from Ouarzazat. We shared the table and an update. They were heading back down the valley but we were ploughing up.
The road gets rougher and the scenery more spectacular the further you go but first we had to negotiate an overhang. We pulled out into a vast landscape with some rather dodgy bridges (some good too), interesting people and lots of puddles. Whilst climbing higher and higher, topping out onto a spectacular ridge, we enjoyed the view down from the top and from the back - it's a lot steeper than it looks, honest!
Now there are two routes around to Todra the long road route or a 45km off road route described by Chris Scott in his book Morocco Overland as "technically the second toughest route in this book". I have had many conversations with my friend Neil about building a rough road not off road vehicle, but I want to test the vehicle so that I know it's capabilities. I decided to give the off road route a go and turn back if it got too hard, that was the best, then the worst, then the best decision of the trip.
I stopped in a tiny village to check the map and look for some lunch, I became aware of a man looking at my truck.....not unusual but I got out to have a word. As usual he asked me if I was German but he asked in English.
This is where the "unbelievable" starts, when we were in Mijas Day 43 I met a guy called Bob from Scotland on his way back from Morocco. We talked a lot about his trip and in one of his stories he mentioned an English speaking Moroccan guide that he had met who invited Bob and his wife in for tea and they ended up staying overnight with him. I don't recall Bob saying his name or where his house was but do remember him saying he had been to university in Fes.
I start talking to the Moroccan guy about the off road route and he says it is possible in my truck but in parts the route is difficult due to the recent bad weather. He invites us in for tea and to meet his family.
Moha has a lovely wife and daughter and when he finds out we haven't had lunch insists on his wife making us Berber Eggs. And it was delicious. Can you see his daughter went to fill the kettle? We spend more time playing and talking and eventually the penny drops and I ask Moha does he remember Bob. Neither of us can believe the coincidence in a country the size of Morocco. I decide to employ Moha as a guide and give the off road route a go. All started off well as we ran off the track and started to climb using the dry river bed.
I decide to employ Moha as a guide and give the off road route a go.
All started off well as we ran off the track and started to climb using the dry river bed. We kept going for a couple of hours through spectacular scenery on a road getting rougher whilst climbing to our pass at 2800m. We eventually topped out and could see the route down to the other river bed, it looked steep, rough and narrow.
I made a few of the switchbacks without too much problem then came across a particularly steep narrow one so got out to have a look. A man appeared from nowhere and my guide said he was a nomad who had moved into the valley that afternoon.
The guys were then guiding me forward and I was carefully making the crossing when I heard a rumble and the back right hand corner dropped. I was grounded and terrified Lynn was screaming and shouting stop, there was only one way to go and that was over.
I got out to find that a section of road had fallen away under my back wheel.
After a lot of head scratching and climbing about we came to the conclusion that it would have to wait till morning then the topic of what to do for the night. We were over 9000 feet above sea level at least 20k from the nearest village and it was getting cold.
It was at this point that Aziz the Berber Nomad who spoke no English, French or Arabic invited us to stay in his tent for the night. His wife Miriam came down to welcome us and she wrapped her cloak around Lynn.
We settled around the fire in the tent and Miriam first made tea. They then insisted that we share their meal, it was a lamb stew eaten from one plate using bread.
It was humbling that these people who have so little insisted on sharing what they had with us, I grabbed a bottle of wine from the van and it now looks so crass lying on the floor as they don't touch alcohol.
The nomads live a separate existence to the rest of Morocco, their children don't go to school and they migrate to these northern hills for the summer moving every few weeks as their goats and sheep graze a patch clear.
During the evening Aziz heard something and jumped up to step outside, he shouted across the valley. Apparently this is the way they communicate with other nomads in the area, it works like a relay from one to another. When he returned he said that there would be six men here to help us in the morning.
We were very fortunate to have Moha who spoke English and Berber, he said his Berber was different to theirs but close enough for communication. They were all fascinated by my camera and couldn't believe that it captured their image on the little screen, no mobiles here!
At bed time Miriam cleared an area at the top of the tent, threw down a rug and rolled another for a pillow. She asked us to lie down and then threw three massive rugs completely over us from below our toes to over our head. We settled down to a fitful nights sleep wondering if the truck would still be there in the morning listening to the camels outside and jostling for position with the goats and a mule in the tent.
Morning came and Miriam was up with the lark making bread. Her mother in law turned in to make some broth, I preferred the bread. The photo with the chicken and lamb is where we slept.
It was time to leave the tents as the men had arrived from around the valley to help me with the truck. Fortunately OWT was still hanging on.
We came up with a plan to scrape down to rock below the wheel and then build a supporting wall to the underside of the truck. The guys were very skilful and worked like trogons at both excavating and building.
When we got up to the truck wheel they put a flat stone in behind and it was my turn to jump back into the cab and with my heart in my mouth I reversed about half a meter onto it. The guys built like fury around it and then placed a flat rock in front, half a meter forward and the same again. After five or six movements I was able to move off. I thanked and paid the guys and moved on, at least it is now a lot safer for those who follow.
We accessed the river bed and made our way down eventually climbing out and onto the old drovers road where we met guys coming up the other way. It was a test for the truck "and the driver" so I had a quick assessment. Nothing broken and nothing moved, truck = a bent rear light bracket, a nudge on the front bumper, and a couple of broken step clips.
The tyres that have bumped into around and exploded rocks over a punishing 42k are fantastic, they don't even show a mark and from my point of view the grip has been awesome.
As for the driver... well he is another day older a few years wiser and still smiling.
In need of a good meal and a pint......well I got the first half at least. So to conclude, an experience we wouldn't choose up front if I knew everything that was about to happen but now we wouldn't swap it for the world. That sums up the best of independent travel.