Keen to leave what was a stunning, but scorching hot Merzouga, we got on the early bus out of town and towards Tinghir. The journey wasn’t too long and in each short moment that I woke up the bus became more and more busy. The scenery changed from empty expanses of rocky desert, into a lush valley bursting with life. Enormous palm trees and swathes of agricultural land filled the river valley, allowing for more towns to thrive and indicated our proximity to Tinghir.
We came to Tinghir so that we could visit the Todgha Gorge which is an impressive almost vertical-sided river cut canyon which can reach 400m in height. However, we weren’t prepared for how beautiful the town itself would be. Set on a hill, the earthen architecture rose imposingly from the surrounding oasis. We were impressed.
Despite the supposed magnificence of the gorge, we decided that we wanted to go there the next day then grab the bus in the afternoon. The reason for our laziness was our long day of travel, which included being dropped 2.5km outside of town (despite asking the driver to stop) and my bank cards ceasing to work.
Confident in our plan, we found the hostel (hike and chill) using maps.me, which never ceases to amaze me on its accuracy. We arrived at the hostel to find a heated argument occurring between the owner and some Swiss girls staying there. The owner was taking no prisoners. This didn’t really endear us to him but we did know to try and keep him onside to avoid the wrath of this small man. I did not fancy being silently smothered in my sleep for being too slow to decide things, which I’m sure was the fate of the girls. RIP.
A quick wander around town to try my bank card again led us to Supratours, where we enquired about the buses the next day. The only one was at 5:20am. That’s not a time that people should be awake. Neither Ollie or I are morning people so this did not sit well with us. The other problem to contend with was that, it was getting late and we needed to go and see Todgha gorge that day. To the taxi rank we went. But then in this inconspicuous square, a strange feeling washed over me. There was no harassment, shouting or general hostility that I usually expect from a taxi rank. No one even asked if we needed a taxi. A tranquil taxi rank was an oxymoron to me but now, it seems, I do believe in miracles. The problem was that we actually needed a taxi and no one would take us even after asking. Eventually a man begrudgingly got up and said he’d take us but only with a full car. As if by magic, some women turned up dressed in fancy attire, we had a full car.
The gorge was around 20 minutes outside of town, up into the mountain villages but still following the incredible oasis. Once we got out we realised that today was the festival we had first heard about in Fez, where a sheep or goat is killed (Eid al-Adha). The gorge was absolutely rammed (pardon the sheep related pun). Cars were chugging out fumes and people weaved in and out of the cars trying to find a good spot along the already overcrowded river. Music was playing and people seemed to be having fun, but Ollie and I were a little underwhelmed. The sides of the gorge were undoubtedly impressive but the crowds had put us off so we kept walking out of the narrowest part until there were no cars or people. It was beautiful, partly due to the lack of people and their associated noise, but also the landscape was stunning, so we went for a short walk.
With not too much of the day left we headed back. We were a little deflated that we couldn’t walk further due to the encroaching darkness and also began thinking how we were going to get back to town. No one was leaving. There were no taxis. Hitchhiking was the only option and within a minute we were picked up. Our rescuers were two French Moroccan guys.
The driver was a maniac and I was convinced that I would die on those mountainous Moroccan roads with him at the wheel. The only thing that kept my mind off my impending and violent death was the array of veritable bangers they were playing a full volume. Admittedly I had no idea what the French rap was saying, but the bass was heavy enough to interfere with my brainwaves and keep me from hurling myself from the car in a desperate plea for safety. Eventually we stopped at an extremely busy layby and it turned out to be an incredible viewpoint of the oasis and town as the sun was setting.
Back in Tinghir and now beginning to get a grasp on the importance of this festival we decided not to wander around aimlessly looking for food like we had for lunch, and instead we went back to the same place. This establishment was a hotel that seemed empty, but they set up a table for us on the roof where we ate a dinner comprised of copious amounts of meat and fries. After dinner, we came out into the streets that were packed with people drinking tea and chatting. It was a great atmosphere but we went back to the hostel and chilled on the roof terrace unwinding so we were ready for the next day.
Our arrival to Ourazazate was an early one and we decided to book our bus to Marrakech immediately after getting off. This of course made no difference and to our dismay only the early bus was available. Our hostel for the night was Cinema Riad in Tabounte which is just across the river from the main city of Ouarzazate. It was empty but accommodating, which was becoming the norm for us travelling in the off-season, and soon after settling in we decided to head off to Ait Ben Haddou.
Once our taxi had arrived and he’d decided to request a ridiculous price, we spent a long time arguing with him. After realising he was as stubborn and unreasonable as it was possible to be, we just got out, paid what we had decided on, and got on with our day, trying to ignore his tirade of vitriol in the background.
Ait Ben Haddou is a fortified village along a former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. It is undoubtedly the largest Earthern Clay village previously used in Game of Thrones that I have ever seen and we were keen to have an explore. However, our hunger for exploration could not satiate us. Food was on our minds. On this day, where there wasn’t a gust of wind and the heat was searing, we would have loved anything but a tagine but no. Tagine, tagine or tagine for lunch. Chicken tagine it was. It was actually very tasty which reinvigorated us for the struggle up ahead.
The struggle came in the form of avoiding the individual swarms of tourists. They ranged in numbers from 5 to over 30 and they were everywhere. We managed to duck and weave around them in the open areas but in the ancient narrow alleyways there was no escape. They were voracious tourists of all ages, who appeared at every turn, no alleyway was left untouched. It was a nightmare. The only solace we found was on top of the hill opposite the village where the view was pretty incredible.
After a mediocre lunch of pizza (because we wanted anything but tagine) we looked for a way back to Ouarzazate. No taxis in sight, so we asked around if we could get on a tourist shuttle but no room at the inn. Instead a guy offered us a lift which we ended up paying for, but we at least got a chat out of him and no arguments on the price.
Pizza number two was had that evening, the pizza was small but it was the only place selling food while Eid Al-Adha was taking place. It wasn’t enough for us and we missed the large cheap portions of Fes. Hungry and tired we stayed in the hostel that evening thinking of the foods of days gone by.
Tinghir was a gem and one of the surprises of the trip and while Ait Ben Haddou had the looks, it felt likes its personality and soul had been sucked dry by the hordes of tourists. Back at the hostel we were looking forward to getting back into a bustling city like Fes again. We hoped Marrakech could deliver.