Water is fundamental to life in the arid Atlas. Berber villages are found near its source, with water siphoned off where it comes out of the ground for agriculture, village water and animal water using small channels of stone and concrete laid on the ground. The ground around the source is lush with plants, dragon flies, frogs and birds. The water then feeds into a tributary that cuts along a narrow gorge to the bottom of the valley where is joins the main river (more a large stream).
Leaving the coastal N1 road at Aourir/Tamraght (the two towns blend into eachother) we turned onto a small road that wound into the hills. The road had a pencil of tarmac with wide dirt tracks on either side. As we ascended higher into the Atlas, the road reduced in size, maneuvering against oncoming traffic was going to be a challenge. The hills around us are tall with rounded peaks. Their surface, toughened like old hide is covered in sharp pebbles, shades of ochre yellow, with manicured bushes, balls of green, the work of local goats. A river now runs alongside the road. In the mid day sun it looks inviting. We stop to dip our toes in the water, which runs down smoothened rock channels, slippery enough to slide down, into deep pools that have gentle shingle banks on the far side, before the waters spill down the next chute. Through a shoulder between two hills we drive down into an oasis valley, Tamzergourte, a canopy of dark green foliage, banana, date palm, pink rhododendrum. This contrasts beautifully against the dry hillsides. The oasis has a small community of farmers, cafes and beekeepers selling their famous black honey. Argan and olive growing in abundance.
We continued ascending the mountain to about 1000 meters when ahead of us we saw our friends from Sidi Kaouki; Frank in his enormous white Mercedes 1113, the French family in their green Mercedes 913 and the French couple in their 608. They had been to the waterfalls, another ten kilometers up the road, and found them dry. After a brief discussion we all agreed to continue up the hill to a lay-by for the night. What fun, driving in convoy, a terrific almighty procession of the old and unusual, farting exhausts, rumbling engines herald our arrival as the sun dips behind a mountain.
This stretch of the valley is crammed with live in vehicles, French, German, Dutch, English, Italian. Many are just paused waiting for the new years rave in a nearby town. The drumming sound of hard tec can be heard from distant camps, along with children’s voices and excited dogs. In the lay-by ahead of us is parked Claire and her family. What a surprise! Claire is an old friend that goes back to my very early days agitating in London, some twelve years ago. Her daughter is now one year old and a tough, determined child at that. Its funny how small the world can be that we can end up camping five minutes from eachother. Her partner and her, like us, are voluntarily exiled from the UK until the political climate improves. So they have been travelling around looking for land to buy in either the south of France or Andalucia, whilst wintering in Morocco. Their convoy includes some jolly New Zealanders, on the road for the last year, they have started an online cooking show for a New Zealand audience as a way to help fund their lifestyle.
Whilst camped up we did the walk down to the river for a swim in the pools. The walk is well signposted. It is a twenty minute descent through Argan groves. The trail passes over great slabs of rock like giant paving stones with prickly cactus protruding from the seams. Anika and I played the crocodile game – don’t touch the earth, but hop from boulder to boulder until we were down in the narrow gorge. With the overhead sun reflecting off the rock we were suitably hot by the time we reached the river. It winds through the narrow gorge, filling deep pools, creating water chutes, before feeding into the emerald oasis down stream. Springs feed the river a few meters above both banks, trickles of water that bubble out from beneath the great slabs of rock. Although the water was cold Anika and I both went for a dip. My swimming trunks were two sizes too large which caused me some consternation, not wishing to make an audience of the growing crowd of travelers, tour buses and picnicking Moroccan families.
Yesterday we left the little Sidi Kaouki beach just south of Essouira. We are heading for a place with the cringe making name of ‘Happy Valley’. It was once the domain of hippies in the 1970’s who lived in caves above the waterfalls of ‘imouzzer ida Ou Tanae’, no doubt confusing the locals that live in the lower valley. The waterfalls are legend around here. People say they are amongst the best in the north of Africa. It seems all travelers make the stop at these falls, so we are expecting to meet up with plenty of people. We left behind in Sidi Kaouki the French family, couple and Salt-man Frank but we are all going to meet up again at the falls (hopefully). Its good to be getting to know other travelers that we can coordinate meet-ups with. Ofcourse for Anika its fantastic as she will meet up with her French friend again.
Leaving Sidi Kaouki campsite I was stopped by the police. Again, there was no cause for alarm. The shock absorber had fallen off their car and they wanted me to fix it. Fortunately I had the correct sized bolt, washers and a split washer. They were very grateful and assured me that when in Sidi Kaouki I would never have any problems!
On route we have picked up two hitch hikers. A couple, the chap is Russian from Moscow and the lady is a Londoner also living in Russia. She abruptly left home a year ago for Spain, with 100 euros and a small rucsack. somehow she survived, travelling Spain, learning the language, before finding herself in Istanbul then Russia where she has settled down. An extraordinary person! They are going to move to France next year and open a language school – they were thinking of somewhere near Toulouse.