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In Week 7 we crossed the High Atlas Mountains between Taroudant and Marrakech via the infamous R203 road over the Tizi N’Test pass. The scenery was simply outstanding and the scary moments with other traffic were frequent. Google Maps suggests this might take nearly five hours. In reality, allow twice that. Click to enlarge map.
As we climb the high passes of the High-Atlas mountains we experience new peaks of astonishment at the scenery around, then plunge to the deepest depths of despair and darkness at events half a world away in our home country of New Zealand.
We experience a roller coaster of emotions that have us loving Morocco and her people even
While the events at home cannot be changed and forever scar our memories, we gladly report that any concerns for our safety are unfounded and we continue to feel safe, appreciated and very welcome here in Morocco.
The week’s post is different from previous chapters in that (apart from this opening), it is light on words and heavy on photos.
Taroudant to Tizi N’Test Pass – Climbing Goats and High Alpine Passes
The R203 road is known for being a little difficult. Narrow and worn out, it winds sinuously up to 2,100 metres and guarantees the driver (and passenger) some interesting and hair-raising moments, especially when meeting
Don’t just take my word on the R203 being a little suspect. Here is a report from someone who is an expert on dangerous roads.
Soon after leaving Taroudant, we a privileged to see that ‘only in Morocco’ sight of a flock of goats grazing on foliage and nuts high up in the argan trees. We saw this briefly once before, but this time we are able to get up close and take some great photos. If you want to read about argan trees, why they are so important and what is so special about argan oil then click here.
We ascend an unexpectedly good road with spectacular views back towards Taroudant.
We spoke too soon about the good road and like the flick of a switch it deteriorates to a single lane of rough asphalt with some nasty
Climbing higher, the views are even better but the air in the distance grows hazy, which often seems to be the case in Morocco due to dust whipped up by the wind.
There are a couple of places along the road where you can fill up with crystal clear mountain water. It’s worth taking this road with empty water tanks just so you can fill at this mountain waterfall. The local sitting by the side of the road was selling herbs for tea.
Some more great photos can be snapped especially where the rocks overhang the road.
The R203 – How long will that rock stay up there?
At 2,100 metres we reach the top of the Tizi N’Test pass and find our sleeping place for the night at Mustapha’s Auberge (GPS 30.86839, -8.37922), for 80 dirhams. Mustapha apparently makes one of the best Berber omelettes in the business and after dinner, there are no arguments from us.
In the early morning, the air clears to allow some photographs down both sides of the Tizi N’Test Pass.
Tizi N’Test Pass to Asni
Our journey continues from the Tizi’N Test Pass on the R203 which is still very narrow at times and with some
As we continue, the evidence of long-ago geological events appear, We suddenly have a rainbow of colours showing in the rocks and strata of the mountains around us. It reminds me of the pink, white and chocolate ‘Neapolitan’ ice cream we used to buy in two litre tubs as kids back in New Zealand.
We wind down following a wide river valley, passing ruining buildings and seeing slashes of green terraced hillsides wherever the life-giving water has emerged for humans to exploit.
Bottoming out in a wide flood plain we look back up at the mountain range we just drove through.
The Tinmel Mosque is a short diversion off the R203 but this historically important structure. With roots dating back to the 11th century, it is lovingly restored and well worth a visit. (GPS 30.984639, -8.228157). A small donation to the guardian for the mosque is expected.
As we follow the river Oued N’Fis downstream it gradually swells from a mere trickle to something substantial, finally terminating in a large hydroelectric lake.
We haven’t wild camped (read our general guide to wild camping here) much in Morocco, but tonight looks like a good time to give it a try. We set our sights on a nice looking picnic spot from the App “Park4Night”. Parking up, we gaze into one of the most awe-inspiring valley views we have seen. (GPS 31.185601,-8.064748 ). However, sleeping here was not to be…..
Within 30 minutes, the local chief of police rolls up with an interpreter to explain that they cannot guarantee our safety and we can’t stay. This spot is only about 16km from the area where two Scandinavian girls were murdered a few months back and the local police are now very cautious.
Chez Momo II is a lovely private auberge with stunning views and decorated with original Berber artefacts. We find out the next day that ‘Chez Momo I’ was submerged nearly fifteen years ago, along with three villages under the nearby hydroelectric lake.
Tragedy Strikes at Home
Today we are in mourning for New Zealand, Australia and Muslims around the world.
An Australian living in New Zealand murders 50 Muslim men, women and children in two mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand. Totally senseless and horrific, this event is touched with irony for us. Yesterday we were being treated with the utmost respect by the local Muslims who were concerned about our safety. Today, in New Zealand, Muslims were being slaughtered. Disgusting. We are absolutely devastated to hear this news and spend the day in a state of shock.
Our reaction is one of shame, and also concern that there may be some in Morocco with extremist leanings feeling that a revenge killing of New Zealanders would be appropriate. We take measures to hide our identity by
We ask the manager whether it is okay for us to stay another night as we are too upset to drive. Once again, the gentle Moroccan hospitality shines through as he commiserates with us and allows us to stay.
(Not so) Magnificent Marrakech
The R203 continues onto Marrakech but without the stunning mountain and gorge
We are looking forward to seeing the fabled city of Marrakech but having heard mixed reviews from other travellers, we are determined to make up our own minds. We find some guarded parking (we wouldn’t recommend) not far from the Medina and take our cycles in for a look at the markets and souks. We have to try a sugar cane and lemon juice drink – it’s just one of those things you need to do once in Morocco. How cool is it when they run the sugar cane through the rollers and the juice comes out? As we drink, we know that the sugar content is off the charts but the lemon juice keeps the sweetness down.
Some of the backstreets are very picturesque and it’s worth waiting for everyone to clear off so you can take an unobstructed photo.
Once we hit the UNESCO World Heritage site of the main Jemaa-el-Fna Square, everything is rather chaotic. The square abounds with snake charmers, monkey handlers, fortune tellers, fruit juice sellers, people wandering around in their national costume and crowds of tourists. However, it doesn’t take long to realise that most of the people have just one thing in mind – to separate you from your money.
Over the two days we wandered the streets and markets of Marrakech, at times we really enjoy the atmosphere and sights. More often
We visit the El Badi Palace which is worth a look for the incredible painted woodwork, intricate masonry and extensive mosaics. Try to get there early to avoid the crowds if you want to takes some ‘people-free’ photos.
The local car park tried to overcharge us for parking our bikes. Then an elderly fruit seller first overcharged us,
Sorry that this hasn’t turned into a ’12 Best Things to Day in Marrakech” blog but you can find lots of those on the internet.
Food, both groceries and eating out expenses were higher than usual due to hanging out with friends. We managed to taste all sorts of things that we wouldn’t have otherwise, which was fabulous.
Our running average cost of living for a week in Morocco is about €220 (NZ$365 or £188).
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Tune in next week as we leave Marrakech and visit the impressive waterfalls and monkeys at Ouzoud, the lovely town and medina at Meknes, and the unexpected extensive Roman ruins at Volubilis.