Leaving our desert adventure for a mountain one we took about three or four hours – driving here is not like back home – 80km could take an hour …or two and a half. It depends on how many villages one has to go through (pedestrians, donkeys, bikes all have right of way here) and how well tarred the roads are as well as how many gendarme stops there are. So far we’ve been stopped twice but as soon as they hear you are not local they send you on your way and have always been very polite.
The Todra gorge is impressive and our little hotel – Eco-auberge Le Festival is set into the mountain. It is cool here in the shadow of the gorge and we are pleased to discover our little cave room – literally carved into the mountain is as warm as the welcome we get from Jamal and Mohammed.
We are keen to go hiking in these beautiful rust coloured mountains and ask Jamal where we can get a guide since apparently it is easy to get lost at the top – he tells us there is another couple keen to do likewise and he’ll happily take the 4 of us tomorrow. And so we meet Randall and Sarah a lovely couple who are very much like us in their love for travel and the outdoors. Randall originally hails from Cost Rica and Sarah is from the States, (Cincinnati…If I recall) now both based in Geneva.
The hike is incredible and all the more pleasant for the company – we chat about culture, family, politics and travel – Jamal is a wonderful guide and at the top we come across a nomad woman with her two absolutely beautiful children – faces like cherubs, with unusually fair hair and huge eyes. We are of course invited for tea and make ourselves comfortable on a rug while the older child drags over stuffed hessian sacks for cushions – super cute, the ‘cushions’ are as large as he is. We enjoy a brief rest chatting over tea, fruit, raisins and nuts before setting off back down the mountain. The whole hike takes a leisurely 4 hours or so.
At the bottom Jamal took us through part of the village and to a house where Berber women now living in the village have formed a co-operative. We took off our shoes and followed a gentleman up the narrow stone stairs to the weaving room. Settled and with the obligatory tea, and anticipated charming sales pitch, although here in Morocco it is more like a sales story, delivered by a man with the most incredible amber eyes. Sarah and Randall held firm, Pierre and I succumbed to a stunning turquoise carpet. We promise to later with the cash.
Now the tea was beginning to challenge my bladder holding ability so we stopped off at a lovely restaurant for lunch and a toilet visit. Then onwards to the car. Along the way the four of us ask Jamal if it’s possible to get wine in the village. Yes it is is the answer. So again back at Auberge le Festival we grab our cash cards and head into town on a mission – draw cash, get wine, pick up carpet. Getting the wine was an adventure in itself – Jamal explained our mission to the shopkeeper and we’re led to the backroom. Here we grab a couple of bottles of red and some beer and these are then wrapped in newspaper and put in a bag for us – feeling illicit we get back into the car. Jamal runs into another shop to get some airtime and the four of us feel super guilty as a gendarme walks past the car swinging his whistle. That night we enjoy our wine over dinner to, we imagine, the envy of the other western guests.
The next morning we breakfast with Randall and Sarah, exchange details and bid them safe travels (they are on their way to Sara and Ali’s Desert Palace) Pierre and I take a run further up the road that winds up the gorge and then head back to pack and say reluctant farewells to Jamal and Mohammed and our little cave room before driving onto Aït Benhaddou.