April 01, 1998

Morocco: Restaurant Cafe Hotel des Roches, Todra Gorge

Sipping a Coke in the reception/alcohol-free bar room, which, like other rooms here, converts to a bedroom after hours. A grand old dilapidated place, all faded tile and crumbling paint, but with comfy patterned benches/beds and a truly breathtaking backdrop - the Todra Gorge looming above, a crescent moon hanging off the shoulder of a colossal mass of rock.

We've seen so many staggering landscapes in the last couple of days that I'm afraid I'm already starting to get jaded. An endless green lawn of grass and moss beneath a canopy of cedars, their monkey-highway trunks ("monsieur! monsieur! le sage dans l'arbre!") impossibly straight and slender, with a creek weaving slowly between the trees. Endless mountain slops strewn with rocks like God's own gravel, grass spilling out beneath the boulders, dotted by conical pits half-filled by water and sinuous glacier-carved lakes. An interminable plain of stones and dirt overseen by a snow-caped range of mountains. Raw jagged scrubland where only the hardiest and thorniest bushes and weeds survive the baking sun and the flash floods. Ribbed cliffs and sudden outgrowths of stone above a red near-desert pockmarked by tufts of grass, an almost Martian landscape.

Chronological: Second day at Diamant Vert was uneventful save for the fact that we cooked (acquitted ourselves OK) and the discovery of the disused amusement park - rides, slides, huge cafe - at other end.

Up into the mountains. Stopped to see a cedar so old it's allegedly biblical and continued up just a little to a pleasant forest campsite. Smoked up, wandered a little, ate, and was taken by surprise at the cold's rapid advance. Heat entirely dependent on sun at this height + latitude. OK night - 1st real test for sleeping bag - and up further and further, past mountainside farmland and picturesque valleys, to a somewhat jarring stop - not physically, but a big wide field in a high wind is not my idea of a great campsite. It worked out OK. Tents huddled close together like sheep. Heidi + I went for a walk to a hilltop while the others played football with the (intensely curious) locals and Angela nearly crippled a couple children. Dinners, some stoned stargazing, and to bed.

Today: a slow start and a long drive, with the usual hour's stop in a town and half-hour stop for lunch - it's amazing how quickly this all falls into routine. Wound through miles and miles of previously described mountains and foothills, the edge of the Sahara, with a brief pause when the main diesel tank ran dry (no, really). Missed the climactic entrance into the Gorge because of a nail-biting yet triumphant game of 500. OK, that's a little pathetic.

Hawkers and hustlers selling fossils and semi-precious stones and lacquered scorpions and their services as guides. And headscarves, which PK says we're going to need - cool. Baked mud and brick rough- carved into squat rectangular buildings in the mountain villages. Heat and dust, white stone and brown dirt, in town streets. Dark cafes and the moustached men who populate them. Pools in roadside pits like inverted grain silos. Brown sheep and black goats, flocking over the land. Hills of crumbling dirt that ripple out to the real Sahara.

I'm enjoying the journey more with every passing day.

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