The moths in the desert were small, pale, fluttering things that flocked inside the Burkemobil and clung to the mesh insect screens like something out of a Stephen King movie. Besides after nine days of intense heat we’d had enough. An hour into our journey west, the sky darkened, thunder rolled, and as forked lightening split the sky, a howling wind swept a sand storm across the landscape. We’d seen the mini, dusty, cyclones sweeping across the dry, parched land but now whirring alongside us was huge sand cyclone and it seemed we’d left the desert just in time. Our next campsite was on the other side of the river but torrential rain had flooded the bridge making it impassable and causing traffic jam along the main road. Local people were digging channels to divert the rain from their mud brick homes and with no choice we turned around. Luckily we were welcomed at a run down Auberge and for the equivalent of £4.00 were saved from a horrific journey back to the nearest campsite.
The next morning it was as if the storm had never happened. And with the sun shining and the bridge now passable we headed through the dramatic, Central Atlas Mountains into the Dades Gorge, where stunning mountains of rust red and mauve, tower above you and orchards of fig, almond and olive trees flourish in the valleys below. The road twists like a ribbon of steel, through Berber villages, around crumbling, biblical, Kasbahs and in to the Todra Gorge, were Nomads who herd goats above pink and grey boulder strewn valleys, live in the troglodyte caves visible from the road.
Arriving at our next campsite we bumped into a Frenchman, who we’d met briefly and telling us about the desert storm in his own unique way, he flailed his arms about like windscreen wipers. Blown by the strong, desert winds the sand had filled his nostrils and his throat, ‘tres mal, tres mal’, (very bad, very bad), he said clutching his throat, as if still choking on the sand. And then dramatically expanding his waist band he showed us how the sand had filled his shorts, it seems like our experience was a mere storm in a teacup after all.
The Boumalne du Dades is known as the Vallee des Oiseaux, (Valley of the Birds) but after driving through the lush green hills, we re-christened it the Valley of no Birds. Simply because after peering through binoculars for hours not only didn’t we see a single bird, except the odd sparrow, we didn’t hear a twitter or a tweet either. The bumpy, piste road, (unmade road) went on through hills for a bone rattling 35 miles, shaking every nut and bolt of the Burkemobil loose. However, it also unearthed a knob from the toilet door which had been missing for over a year since Malaga.
Skoura is a gentle place with mud brick Kasbahs and palm groves watered by an ingenious centuries old khettara system of locks, levers and canals, now protected by Unesco. After a two month journey across the Sahara, Blue robed Tuareg, desert traders, off loaded cargo from their caravans in Skoura, which was then packed onto mules and taken to Fez by Middle Atlas mountaineers. The Skoura campsite hadn’t received good reviews so we were pleasantly surprised to find a swimming pool and very good home cooked food. And just behind was the beautiful Kasbah Amridil famous for appearing on Morocco’s 50 dirham note. The next day ignoring the usual barrage from locals trying to engage us in conversation, which meant parting with money, we cycled over the pebbly landscape to explore.
‘The river’s coming you must go’ said the guide slamming the Kasbah door in our face.
‘What river’ we asked looking around. ‘Can’t you hear it’ he said alarmed, at which point we realised what the locals had been trying to tell us all along. Rain water was rushing down the hills into the pebbly channel (the river bed) which we’d cycled over and was hurtling towards us like something out of Indiana Jones. ‘Quick my friends, you will be stranded’ the guide said shoving us into the path of the perilously close, rushing, water. ‘Vite’ ‘vite’ ‘quick’, ‘quick’, the locals egged us on as we legged it pushing our bikes, only just climbing the bank before the muddy water gushed over our path. And scrambling ungracefully to the top we took a bow as the locals clapped and cheered. We watched the cars and school kids crossing the river, on foot and bicycles and although used to it the flooding still caused a lot of excitement. The experienced hopped over stones effortlessly and steered cars expertly through the safest part, while the less experienced wobbled and fell in. Some afraid of getting wet had to be carried, and others in true Moroccan style charged ten dirham to help you cross. .
Helen Burke and husband Richard's campervan adventures in Morocco.