Morocco. Monday 6 March 2006

Tue 7 Mar 2006 12:15
Monday 6 March.  Tamdaght to Marrakesh via the hard road to Telouet.
Breakfast in good time and away by 09.30 as the piste north to Telouet is fairly slow.  Our departure somewhat marred by the "suspicion" (not easy to prove) that someone had removed some cash from our bags. Certainly they had been opened and moved but as we did not keep a daily check of the level of cash, it was not clear how many notes had been extracted.  Our fault for not locking our door, but these places are so much like family homes that you drop your guard.
The tarmac ended just around the corner and the piste started in earnest.  I had not expected to be given another chance to indulge in 4x4ing, let alone to have the best held back for our last day on the road!  The track wound up the valley, passing several little villages all made from mud bricks made from the local earth.  As a result, they blend into the hillside and appear to be stacked one on another in a jumble of irregular cubes.  The locals were about their daily business, mending the buildings, planting the tiny fields or diverting the water channels to irrigate them.  The women were walking to the village baker with their trays of bread on their heads to have baked in the communal ovens, or were washing clothes in the small streams and drying them on bushes or the hot rocks.  We wound up to the head of the valley before the track started climbing steeply over the summit and into the next. Clinging to the side of the slope, it was just wide enough for the Landcruiser, particularly where the uphill rocks jutted out on corners.  We met several groups of 4x4s coming the other way - jeep safaris for tourists- so we had to keep squeezing past or backing up to a passing place. My passengers were very brave, but reversing was perhaps the low point for them. particularly when we had the outside edge!  The steepest part was another bedrock scramble with a nice hairpin bend in it followed by an overhanging rock that just cleared our roof.  The view from the top was magnificent and the track ahead rough but much easier. We reached partial tarmac again about 10km short of Telouet, and got there in time for a pleasant lunch under a Berber tent awning.  The main attraction is the old Glaoui HQ kasbah, their biggest and most luxurious, though by no means the most picturesque. There is an 18c, 19c and 20c kasbah, all running into one huge sprawl of a building.  Only the latest is still safe enough to visit, and parts of it are very beautifully decorated in Moroccan style with tilework and stucco decoration. The older parts are in a sad state of disrepair and will soon melt back int the earth.  We dodged the touts and were shown round by the nice caretaker.  From there the road continued on tarmac to join the main road to Marrakesh just by the Tizi-n-Tichka pass which we crossed at 2260m, before descending for ages down to the Marrakesh plain.  We stopped to buy genodes of doubtful geological purity, though a cobalt one is genuine, and to admire the stunning view. The north slopes of the Atlas are incredibly green at this time of year and the fresh fields make a superb contrast against the black rock and thick snow.  Strange to be back on wide tarmac with articulated lorries puffing up the pass, but the road to Marrakesh was an easy run.  We stopped to fill up a final tankful before returning the car to Budget. The tank's breather pipe must have become blocked as it took about 20mins to dribble 60lts down the spout!  B had excellent directions on how to find the Riad Noga by car, and we drove straight to their little carpark, rang them and the porter plus handcart arrived in minutes.  The Riad is every bit as lovely as we remembered it, and the Mr & Mrs S thought so too - which was quite a relief!  Unpacked, changed for dinner and had just started when Mr Budget came to collect the car.  Soon done, nice dinner in the cosy dining room, before taking the S's on an introductory tour of the souk and Jemaa el Fna. After the isolation the south and the mountain passes, we were all a bit overcome by the noise and the crowds, but it was a great "return" to Marrakesh for 3 of us.  Olaf was last here 45 years ago when the square was lit by flares and everyone was in Moroccan dress rather than dirgy jeans and tee shirts. Otherwise, all much the same atmosphere.
Back to bed and the start of four days relaxation.