We drove through miles and miles of dessert land which eventually opened up into parched mountain pleins featuring the odd camel herd being moved to pastures new. The scenery was still amazing but for miles it was like we were driving through a 70 mile wide Gorge that we were not sure would ever come to an end! Every so often you could see the end of the road hoping for a turn or a town or something to make us feel our journey was progressing. However, all you would see was the fuzz of the mirage of heat/light reflection on the road disappear and the road relay itself straight into the distance! This carried on for miles and hours before we would meet our only junction of our over 300 km journey for the day! Finally a left hand turn!
We were now on a once very famous 'route de kasbahs' stretching from destinations all over Africa to end in our destination of the night Skoura as well as further on to Marrakech. Camel drawn lavishly decorated caravans laden in gold carried spices and treasures across Africa and were exchanged hands in these towns to be then traded across Morocco and into Europe. Our very very short journeys over the past few days I couldn't even begin to imagine doing on foot or with Camels let alone doing this distance hundreds of times over without maps of places of comfort to sleep!
There was very little water on our route. In fact every river or stream was dried up and used as a piste for locals or just left a huge scar in the landscape indicating how dry this extreme landscape is! Imagine what it would have been like years ago when this was a trade route and water supply's were at their end or worse gone! Those camels and men must have been gasping and to think they knew they had to return home on the same route! I'll never complain about my long commutes again!
Along this route we finally reached the town of Boulmane the start of the Dandes Gourges. We drive up the back road that crisis crosses these beautiful gorges filled with green palm, olive and almond trees! There is a trickle of water in the bottom but come November when the Atlas mountains are blanketed in snow, waters return to these regions for a few months feeding generously all these water sources. If fact a lot of roads in Morocco become in passable from water or snow! It feels unbelievable when you look at this ancient landscape now.
Half way up through the gorges the rock turns into what looks like red wax melting into the river. I have some pictures but I'm not sure they show the rock formations as extreme as they are!
We carry on up the gorges until they narrow and we drive up some hair pin bends to the top of the rock and look back over land we just navigated.
We stop at this point for lunch at the top of the Gorges and tuck into a mixed salad of aubergine, tomato local olives and nuts followed by lamb tangine for main. We are completely full but the chef/waiter/owner/shopkeeper insists we try his famous desert. Not wanting to be rude we agree and try and find some space in our stomachs! Our host brings up another tangine and opens it up to reveal sliced banana and apple simmered in light honey seasoned with cinnamon and fig seeds. Before we knew it we had polished off the whole lot! I am definitely going to re-create this dish once I'm home!
We drive back down through the Gourges and turn back on the main road to Skoura.
We arrive late afternoon at our guest house - the Kasbah de Essalam, a beautifully restored Kasbah building reminiscent of the times when spice trading made this town so prosperous. It is situated about 1/2 mile out of the main village down a piste that climbs up into the mountains to remote small Berber villages. It's gardens are full with home grown veg and spices and there is a refreshing pool in the courtyards too which we cool down in.
The views from the Kasbah De Essalam look out to the famous palm groves and the sunset from their terrace is amazing! I would highly recommend this retreat.
In the evening we drive out further down the piste and see scooters, loaded donkeys, tired people on foot going across these cobwebs of track to places only they know. There are more hotels and guest houses out here and the track is bustling with children playing ball, people watching the world go by and small huts selling bottled water and local produce. We intend to explore further along this route and maybe use it as our way to Marrakech.