I want to take the earliest opotunity to thank you all for your kind wishes and comments on the last post, it helps…a lot, thank you all.
Update: We have now driven almost 1000 km from Tisnit, via Aït Mansour (needed to collect Frankie the moped from the police station) and then up to Tanger Med port. Having crossed over, now in Spain, Angie has been seen by medical staff at St. Bernard’s Hospital in Gibraltar and is feeling much better. We’ve to stay put for a few days and return to the hospital for re-dressing and removal of stitches next week. X-rays have been taken, the staff seem to be happy with the surgery and medication. Angie is taking it easy now and feeling much better. Thank you. Back to the story…
The following post about Tafraout and Aït Mansour, was mostly written before Angie fell and broke her arm in the hills just south of Aït Mansour, more on that later:-
We made it at last, just clocked up 220km from Plage Blanche to Tafraout. The route starts through a very busy Guelmim, on to Bouizakarne, up into the Anti Atlas proper at Ifrane, then it’s one little town after another all the way into the Ameln valley. I remember this valley from our last trip and it’s landscape, it’s 26 towns are very distinctive. The hills smooth out and are slowly covered in short green bushes and Argan trees, then there’s the ‘twiggy’ black, leafless almond trees, some developing pink/white flowers at this time of year. The Almond festival, Tafarout’s biggest event, has been pushed back to early March this year due to the cold snap at the moment. The square, short pastel shades of the houses set on a hillside, then every now and then, an enormous place, completely out of character and totally wrong colors, obviously owned by a more wealthy Tafraouti.
With little real farming land available around here, there’s a culture among young Tafraouti’s to get out of town and earn some real cash. Many flee to Casablanca, Rabat and even Paris, most return home for at least one month per year, most also return to retire here, so on the face of things, the place is full of women, doing all the work and old men sitting in cafes, but then, that describes lots of Morocco and most of Greece come to think of it.
The Tafraout town itself is very industrious, loads of little hardware shops, stuff being made in the middle of shops, on little benches right in front of you. Fire pots, bellows, BBQ guards etc., but the thing this town’s known for mostly is ‘Tafraout Babouche’ or leather shoes. Hand made soft ‘kid-leather’ intricately decorated slip-ons and sandals, red for the women and yellow for the man (apparently). There must be more than 30 shoe shops within a square mile and any of the skilled cobblers are worthy of hand making you a pair of made-to-measure shoes or boots.
For the first couple of nights we’d pulled onto the huge expanse of land next to and owned by the adjacent school, a bloke on a bike comes around about 6pm to collect 15Dh from every vehicle. It’s a great spot and cheap, hawkers and touts constantly roam, flogging everything from paint jobs to hot soup.
But we moved to the campsite, just over the road once the toilet was full as we don’t agree with the locals method of cassette contents disposal (into the gully at one side), this should never be allowed. There is a other recognised method of cassette disposal which involves lifting the sewer lid just in front of the school building, but few seem to adopt it, so it’s off to the campsite after a couple of nights for us. There’s two other reasons too, the need to conserve gas, the temperatures at night drops to almost zero, burning up our LPG at this early stage isn’t a good idea and we’ve heard that the WiFi’s pretty good.
Camping Granite Rose, (100Dh pn, about £9) run by a very friendly ‘Omar’ who will warmly welcome you, then entice you with detailed pictures and favorable reviews, in all languages of his ‘World famous’ Tagines. He’s been here for years and it has to be acknowledged, with the amount of practice he’s had…he makes a mean Tagine! Delivered to your table, still sizzling, his masterpiece is reveled with the air and flamboyance of a French conjurer. Word’s out, even the guests on the campsite just up the road were coming here to eat! A Tagine for two contained so much, food there’s no way we could have eaten the whole thing in one day, so we’ll just have to do some chips with it tomorrow for another meal.
The weather’s been great over the past few days, but it’s all set to change. The long term forecast was for a sharp drop in temperatures and even a sprinkling of snow. So best make good use of the sunshine, it’s off to one of Tafraout’s famous landmarks and attractions, the painted rocks.
The painted rocks of Taffy: Back in 1984, Belgian artist Jean Verame together with a team of local Moroccan firemen, hosed 18 tons of paint over a bunch of boulders in the hills, just south of Tafraout. More than 30 years later, the color’s faded a bit, but it’s still one of those weird ‘must see’ places. You could also come along in your MoHo and stay the night close by, but we came up for a zoom about on the trusty steed, our Frankie.
It’s a good job we got ‘out-n-about’, because that evening the temperatures dropped, zero at night and only seven by day, the rain and sleet started in the night and we both woke up to a sprinkle of snow on the hills. This landscape looks stunning on any standard day, now with a sprinkling of snow…absolutely breathtaking. We will be able to appreciate all that snow a little closer, as we head south over towards Aït Mansour and see the 1850m high ‘Twin peaks’ a little closer.
The road south deteriorates into a single tarmac track with hard areas either side, just wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other, slowly. Overtaking is almost an impossible task unless you have the vehicle in front pull hard over. The road’s washed out every time the gorge river passes over it, at this time of year it happens frequently, but luckily it’s not too bad just yet. This road was closed earlier this morning due to excessive snow, but it opened about 3 hours ago, just in time for us to pass.
It’s a great road to drive, it begins climbing slowly, hugging the hill-sides, roads chopped into the rounded sides of mini-mountains as it climbs up and out of the Ameln valley. The sprinkle of snow we could see from the valley floor, now covering the road and surrounding hills, all the time getting deeper the higher we climb. There are communities up here, I’m not sure how they survive, there are sheep and goats but as far as we can see, little else.
Over the top, dropping down into the gorge the weather and landscape changes, just in a matter of a few miles. We drop five hundred meters and the snow is gone, the road narrows even more, then the palm trees start. This is the Aït Mansour Gorge, a 7 km long working palmery. The length of the gorge is dotted with small towns, mostly sustained by the fruits of the palm trees, small holdings, goats, sheep and chickens. It’s a quiet, simple life. Donkey’s are tethered to ploughing tools, a few women are bent over planting seed in tiny fields, all by hand. It’s hard work, but rewarding, as most ‘simple life’ is. There’s no Monday morning rush-hour, no stress, no ‘pressure to buy’, this/that or the other. No billboard advertising, no need for a gym…there’s enough exercise in the field. Most of the houses around here are not connected up to mains ‘anything’. Water has to be fetched from a well, or it’s taken from a channel which has been constructed all the way down the valley, taken from the source. Some have electricity (when it works,) very few houses in Morocco have piped-in gas, the whole country relies on gas canisters, butane in blue, propane in red, it’s sold everywhere and it’s cheap at about 120Dh (£9.50) initial purchase, 50Dh (£4.50) for a 30 litre canister trade-in.
There’s not too many places to park up down this road, but an entrepreneur restaurant owner managed to clear out a space for about 10 MoHo’s and charges 25Dh per night, no services, but what a spot!
Wasting no time, we deploy Frankie and have a zoom down the gorge. It’s like the and that time forgot. The old riverbed, snakes it’s way between almost vertical valley walls. Palm trees now cover the area that once would have been running water. Small groups of houses built on anything remotely level, just out of reach of any future risk of flooding and always…always, a Mosque.
Having found the very end of the gorge we decided to head up into the hills to get a good view of the surrounding area. The trees disappear, the sheep too, it’s just bare rock and scrub…and it’s cold up there. Good job we brought a nice hot drink.
It was at this point that it all goes wrong. As we get back on the bike, Angie takes a tumble backwards, lands heavily on her left arm and it’s obvious she’s done some lasting damage. We are miles from any kind of hospital or help. So I truss up Angie’s arm as best I can and we get back on Frankie. As we slowly creep down the hillside road, a Toyota van with 3 workers approach, we beckon them to stop, they do and bundle Angie into the front seat, they know where the nearest hospital is, it’s at a silver mine about 10km south of here, I follow close behind on Frankie. We will be forever grateful for the kindness of strangers. A little while later we’re at the gate, there’s all kinds of security questions and photocopying of passports, eventually the security staff ferry Angie to the hospital on site and x-ray here arm, they confirm it’s broken and call for an ambulance from Tisnit, over 2 hours away. It seemed like the longest two hours I’ve ever spent, but the ambulance/car arrived and we both get in. Another two hours later, over bumpy, windy roads and we were at Tisnit hospital. Charlie, our home on wheels, was still parked up at in the valley at Aït Mansour, Frankie at the silver mine, both more than 120 km away.
Tafraout, general camping, n29.72220 w8.98290. 15Dh pn. No services.
Camping Granite Rose, n29.71716 w8.98500 (100Dh pn) All services, washing m/c too (extra)
Aït Mansour Gorge, CP only. n29.54790 w8.87750. Quiet, safe 25Dh pn, collected.