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Stage 14 - Dadès Gorges

Blasted out of a light sleep just after 04:00 by an unusually loud but at least clear call to prayers. As several of the local roosters and one obnoxious donkey had already anticipated this event, it wasn’t a particular hardship. The birdsong would have roused me in any event. I did manage to doze for another 90 minutes, so it wasn’t any real hardship.

Once fully up and packed by the 6:15 breakfast call, loaded up with porridge, fruit, yoghurt and banana plus one of the latter for the road, and out of camp before 07:00. Clear skies overhead, but the closer-to-horizon air positively thick with dust. We’re barely into the dry season, so I think this region must always tend to be dusty. We needed to backtrack southward out of the Todra Gorge entrance, through Tingir again, before picking up our turn to the southwest after about 10 km. Then we follow the southern flank of the High Atlas for most of the day, headed generally southwest albeit with some inexplicable zig zags in the road. I catch up with Brad and Mark, and a following wind helps push us along at a most satisfying pace.

Something past 60 km, we’ve not identified a good coke stop. But after a turn northward and into the town of Boumaine Dadès, and on a fast downhill section, I see a tour bus disgorging it’s passengers, and above them, signs for a café and patisserie. Jackpot. We roll in, and discover that the morning’s production is just coming out of the oven. Café au lait or nous nous all ‘round, plus pan au chocolat x 2. We’re in no rush; less than 20 km to go on this, another short day.

Arrive at our hotel / campsite before 11:00. The last 16 km or so is a run up the Dadès River; striking red sandstones and conglomerates, houses perched on steep hillsides if not outright cliffs, the road winding up and down through community after community. Big views. Our camp choice tonight is either in the hotel’s interior courtyard, or outside in a windy gravel parking lot: Spartan rooms also available for an extra charge. I, as do at least half the group, choose the interior courtyard, protected under an overhang from the forecast rain.

Doug offers the services of the support vans to run us in groups up the gorge in lieu of cycling the ~20 km up a truly narrow and perilous (and steep) road. I choose the second run, laying back to hinder Micah in his systems checks of the bicycles [aside - Doug announced last night that he and Micah will check over all the riders’ bikes in the next few days to ensure all well, i.e., brakes, drive train, etc., in preparation for the big days ahead after Marrakesh.] Anyway, eventually pile into Mohammed’s van mid-afternoon and we head up the valley. The views are stunning - an amazing series of gorges or wadis, lots of cross-faults and new defiles being formed.The road is indeed narrow, with vehicles as large as 18-wheel transport trucks all in the mix. Countless small hotels, cafés along the way suggesting this route has to be a main tourist destination apart from the twin obstacles of COVID-19 and Ramadan.

photo courtesy Roger Palmer

Arriving back at the hotel, we find logs blazing in the fireplace, somewhat smoky air, and a warm cheery group inside the main room. It feels like an alpine lodge. Great smells coming out of the kitchen suggest good things for dinner. After what indeed is an excellent stew as the evening meal, the room only slowly empties as people hang about in animated conversations, no keen rush to turn in early as is the norm. Of course, we’re all inside tonight, not out in the chilly air at approx. 1650 m asl.

Pretty much dark outside by 7:30 and I call it a night. This blog won’t go out tonight and perhaps not until the night after tomorrow when we’ll be in Ait Ben Haddou, as there’s no cellular service here nor wifi in the hotel.

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