I guess it was a kind of madness. Hiring a car in Morocco seemed brave enough - but selecting one without air-conditioning in 46-48 degree weather and then covering 1345kms over two days? Oh - and just to refresh us for the trip we spent the night before listening to scaffolding poles being dropped one at a time onto the road outside our hotel! However such is the beauty of Morocco, it was a brand of madness that would be repeatable...
We headed off from Marrakech and wound our way up through the High Atlas mountains and over the highest pass for vehicles(7000+ feet) in North Africa - maybe even Africa, I'm not sure. Being children of the Himalayas as we are, mountains like these are magnets for us.
Our descent took us to Ouarzazate, the place name I have found harder to pronounce than any other. I settled for Mollywood because it is home to Morocco's film industry with King Mohammed VI (an easy-to-remember name because every town and city has an 'Avenue Mohammad VI') actively courting Hollywood directors to come and make use of the scenery - with the nearby polished fort/kasbah of Ait-Benhaddou featuring in a dozen or two movies in the past decade or two (starting with Gladiator and going downhill from there). I wonder whether they are making up for the fact that that most famous movie of all - Casablanca - did not have a solitary scene filmed in Morocco!
Then it was about following the Draa Valley all the way to the Sahara. A green ribbon of date palm winding its way down to the desert. The presence of flowing water makes such a difference! Over the years I have urged students to recognise how much of the Old Testament comes alive when we realise how they longed for rain like we long for sunshine. When the Psalmist thirsts, believe you me he is really thirsting!
The Moroccan scenery is Central Otago times ten and minus the lakes.
Finally we reached Zagora, famous for its sign informing travellers that it is '52 days to Timbucktoo', identifying the crucial camel route through to Mali. It also has the sweetest dates on earth and the most intriguing array of skin colours as darker skinned sub-Saharan Africans mix with lighter skinned North Africans. Our goal was to go as far as the sand dunes of the Sahara but we found the Sahara came to us with some force in the form of a sandstorm. Our approach to our Desert Storm was somewhat different than George W. Bush to his. We completed a U-turn. And after a scary ten minutes of driving without a visible road we found our way to safety.
Our nerves were reassembled with the help of traditional mint tea before retracing our steps up the valley to a night under the stars in a kasbah/fort in little Agdz, a town whose consonants I am still not sure I have in the right order. I was pretty chuffed as I reckon that was one more night in a fort than Robin Hood ever had.
Up early for breakfast and off for what I'd had my eye on for months - the two Gorges at Todhra and Dades. Todhra was spectacular. One of life's scenic highlights for me. Imagine a winding kilometer of two (almost) Sky Tower-high rockfaces fencing-in a little river. I could have walked in the water and gazed upwards all day.
Then while Todhra has you walking/driving along the base, the Dades Gorge has you walking/driving along the top. You get nowhere near the water. The road winds up to the top of the cliff and you peer over the edge - as far as 'peering' is the right word for standing several feet from the edge and doing a half-hearted lean in the direction of the edge. It is possible to do a circular daytrip - with 4WD - that incorporates both Gorges. That will be the highlight of our return visit!
Once the Gorges were experienced it was foot-to-the-floor, back over the the High Atlas mountains with the sun now positioned differently enabling different perspectives. We had an 8:30pm deadline at the Marrakech airport. What followed was as close to the Amazing Race as I am ever likely to be. As the deadline approached so did the setting sun - right in my face in the drive westward. Complicating this was that the setting sun is the signal for the locals to spill out onto the streets in the 'cool' of the evening. So there am I, driving on the right/wrong side of the road, the sun in my eyes, the streets gorging themselves on people and bikes and cars, without a map and following my nose to the airport. Needless to say I had to humble myself and ask directions - but by then we had missed the deadline by 7 minutes. Thankfully a compassionate Avis man did not add the promised full additional day to the cost.
... and then there were the other seven days in Morocco - but for another time and place.