Boumalne and its valley from the Kasbah Tizzarouine
Day 7: From the Erg Chebbi to Boumalne du Dades (Sun, Feb 18)
The morning was spent walking in the dunes with my friend’s family. By noon we were all back at the Mohayut to pack up, and soon after 1:00 PM we were back on the road. We went in convoy back to Erfoud, where they were stopping for lunch. We said goodbye, I topped up on diesel, and continue onwards to Boumalne. From here onwards it would be me alone! From Erfoud I continued thru Jorf and Mellaab to Tinejdad, where I joined N-10 going west. Then it was thru Tinerhir (and the intersection to the Gorges du Todra) to Boumalne (and the intersection to the Gorges du Dades.) All in all, it was nearly 250 km of surface road in 3h30.
And what are these Gorges? The Gorges du Todra and the Gorges du Dades are two canyon-type formations that run almost parallel to each other nearly 50 km apart and in a general NNW direction into the High Atlas. They are connected at their northern ends by a piste of 42 km that goes over a pass at an altitude of 2800 m.
My original plans had me leaving N-10 in Tinerhir to go up the Gorges du Todra, do the connecting piste, and then come back down to N-10 at Boumalne by the Gorges du Dades. At the Mohayut, just before he left us, our guide Hassan called a friend of his that had just done that very same piste. The report we got was so dismal that I changed my plans: I would overnight in Boumalne and do the Gorges du Dades.
In Boumalne I stayed at the Kasbah Tizzarouine: nice place, with a great view over the valley.
The Gorges du Dades
Day 8: From Boumalne du Dades to Zagora (Mon, Feb 19)
This was going to be my very first day of true off-road on this trip! The plan was to go up the Gorges du Dades to the Col de la Tortue (just south of Msemrir), return to Boumalne, fuel up, and then take the piste across the Jbel Sarhro via Tizi-n Tazazert (a pass at 2313 m) to Nekob. If I ended up too early in Nekob, I would continue onwards to Zagora. As far as distances, it was just over 100 km of surfaced road on the Gorges, followed by nearly 90 km of piste. The option to Zagora would add another 105 km of tarred road to the total.
By 8:10 AM, after a traditional Moroccan breakfast, I was on the road to the Gorges. After a somewhat un-spectacular beginning, by km 15 the scenery started to become interesting. By km 30 I was in the middle of the main gorge itself. In this part you drive right next to the water (I imagine that, in the middle of the rainy season, you drive in the water!), thru an incredible canyon which at the bottom is no more than 5 or 6 m wide. Absolutely gorgeous! I continued onwards for another 20 km up to the Col de la Tortue. The pass itself stands at 2100 m, but the mountains around it peak at 3200 m and, as to be expected, were covered in snow. Gorgeous!
By 11:00 AM I was back in Boumalne, fueled up and ready for the piste. The basic story is straight forward: I went up, I reached the top, I came down on the other side! Whether on the top, or down below, whether surrounded by rocks, or in the middle of almond tree fields, or crossing palmeraies, the views were always phenomenal. The piste was rocky, bumpy and slow. In places, it was little more than a goat’s path. (As a matter of fact, and for the record, it took me 3h24 to do the last 50.8 km!) On my navigation, in the middle section of the piste, it is impossible (for me or anyone else) to have problems! In the beginning and the final sections, where quite a few pistes come together and separate, I did not do picture perfect! In the final section, I soon realized that I was going in the right direction, so I stopped worrying about my mistake (I ended up on the north end of town, rather than 4 or 5 km east of it, on the surfaced road to Mellal.) In the beginning, things were a bit more embarrassing: it turns out that the starting point of the piste has been moved by a few kilometers, and that the first 20 km are now asphalted! I still had old info, so I left the main road at the old starting point. Eventually I converged with the new surfaced section, but by then I already had been thru a couple of cycles on the washing machine! Oh well…!
On the negative side, coming down the mountain, I overtook an excursion of 4 Land Rovers packed with tourists. (Not that I was driving faster than them. Coming down, the only speed to drive at is very slow. They were just stopping for photos more often than I was.) Now I do not want to sound snobbish, but if there was one thing that could stop the magic and bring anyone back down to earth was a herd of tourist wagons loaded with excursionists! It was not that I found them. (As a matter of fact, I was finding out that if you want to stay away from excursions or RVs, Morocco is not your place.) The problem was more where I found them!
By 3:15 PM I was in Nekob. It was early but I was beaten up so I headed for the Kasbah Baha Baha. It turned out that they were fully booked, so I got back in the car and drove to Zagora. This drive proved to be quite a scenic one, along the green palmeraies of the Valley of the Draa. Adding to the scenery, the route is packed with old Kasbahs along the road. By 5:00 PM I was checked in at the Kasbah Asmaa – great place, built in the form of a traditional Kasbah, with great gardens and great service. Then it was the usual routine: unload the car, shower, change, work a bit on the log, have dinner, and go to bed!
The Gorges du Dades
The Gorges du Dades
The Gorges du Dades
At the top of the Col de la Tortue
Climbing to the top of the Jbel Sarhro
At the top of the Jbel Sarhro
Almond tree field near Nekob
Palmeraie just before Nekob
. . .
The Kasbah Asmaa
Day 9: In Zagora (Tue, Feb 20)
I decided to spend this day in town. For one thing, I had a bad attack of mal du tummy. I also had some back-office stuff to do. And last but not least, I had a few doubts about the way forward that I wanted to clarify.
About the two first issues, there is very little else to say. On the way forward, there are 3 pistes to go from Zagora to Foum Zguid, the next stopover on my plan: a southern most piste, via Mhamid and the dried up LakeIriki; a middle one via Tagounite and the same lake; and a northern one, directly from Zagora, that stays north of the Jbel Bani. The two first pistes (together with the one from Merzouga to Tagounite and perhaps one or two others) belong to the group of grand classics of southern Morocco. The issues, in a summarized manner, were: southern most option – significant section of sandy stuff right after Mhamid (and I was alone and had no sand plates); middle option – much less sand, but still some sand (and I was alone and had no sand plates); northern option – no sand but very rocky, and it lacked the appeal of being one of the grand pistes of southern Morocco. So I tried to find out a bit more about these options, but without much success: the professional guides would not say much more than “hire me”; the guys like me, either they were not staying in town, or I was looking for them in the wrong places!
By the end of the day I decided that I would go all the way south to Mhamid just to take a peak at this Mecca for overlanders. I would then rethread my steps back to Tagounite to get on the middle piste to Foum Zguid. I new were the sandy section was. If I started running into problems as I approached this area, I would return to Zagora to start on the northern most piste. Having decided this issue, I went to bed!