DAY EIGHTY-SEVEN We got up at around 8:00 and I had a hot shower to relieve the pain in my chest. I have started taking antibiotics to knock whatever infection it is on the head.

We breakfasted on bread, jam and coffee then paid the hotel bill with food kitty money¹ and took our gear over to the truck. We went for a walk up the gorge to a spot where some locals have a well-tended garden and run goats on the scree-slopes beneath the cliffs. It took a long time for the sun to reach into the depths of the gorge and by that time we were on our way.

The drive down the valley away from the gorge provided us with some spectacular views of oasis villages with their meticulously cultivated and irrigated fields nestling in the valleys with snow-capped mountains behind.

An oasis town in the uplands of Morocco.

We spent all morning winding our way across the hazy plains towards the foot of the Atlas Mountains and after lunch in a small town, we began following a river leading up into the mountains themselves. All along the banks of the river, plots of border-dyked² land grew crops of vegetables and olives. Trees wearing their autumn colours grew along the banks beside the rivers.

Oasis town in the highlands of Morocco.

It became colder as we drove higher and the road became more and more winding and steep. The hills were clad in scrub and mountain grasses and shepherds guided their flocks across the steep faces in the cold alpine air. There were patches of snow in the basins but most of the big fall that had occurred a few days before had melted. Sleepy villages nestled in little valleys with the late afternoon sun bathing the buildings, which were hung with bright red flags, in warm, golden light.

The High Atlas.

Higher and higher we climbed until we reached a saddle at 2,300 metres just as the setting sun was casting a pink glow on the tops of the peaks. About a mile down the other side we found a place to stay. A lovely little café called Café-d’Atlas stood alone in a high and windswept basin with only a few trees and patches of snow to keep it company. A little man in a gelabia³ ran the café and proudly welcomed us into the little 4-roomed building which was actually built in Western style, with a sloping roof and a verandah.

The owner of the Cafe d’Atlas.

He lit a fire for us in the stove in the room we would sleep in, and prepared us a meal of omelette and meat kebabs along with café-au-lait. He was obviously mad but he went out of his way to look after us as we sat drinking whiskey & Coke and wondering what the poor people were doing.⁴ 

We spent a very warm and comfortable night in that little shack at 2,260 metres, with the crystal clear stars shining on the peaks around us and the bitterly cold wind snarling around the eaves like dogs of war. 

¹The food kitty was, strictly-speaking, meant to be used to buy food for the whole expedition crew. But, as a number of ill-contented people had decided to go off on their own, we made the collective decision to splurge some of the kitty cash on our luxurious night in the Todra Gorge Hotel.

² Border-dyking is a form of flood irrigation widely used throughout the world. Water is allowed to run from a channel along the edge of a slightly sloping field which has raised “borders” at intervals across its width. The borders allow the water flow across the field. When one field has been irrigated, the outlet from the channel is closed and the outlet onto the next field is opened so the process repeats. 

³ The jalabiya (I miss-spelled the word) is a traditional Moroccan garment. It is a long robe knitted from heavy wool, with long sleeves and a hood. 

⁴Slang for feeling smug about one’s situation

FOOTNOTE: While we were at the Cafe d’Atlas I bought a pair of figurines carved by the little man who owned the cafe. To this day, they sit on a shelf in our house, one of the souvenirs of our adventures that I am most fond of.

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