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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 26 Apr 2016

Location: Fez, Morocco

MapBoumalne is a little town on the edge of a barren plateau in the middle of Morocco. Nothing much happens there, but it has some very decent 4 and 5 star hotels. When we stayed in one of them, there were several other tourists also doing so. In fact busloads of them. The reason why this place is so popular is two nearby gorges – Dades and Togra, and we did the loop to see them both. Those poor tourists would not have seen what we saw, because there’d be no way their immense buses could have negotiated the tight corners.

The Dades Gorge begins with a road running beside the small Dades River at the bottom of a narrow canyon. Soon we began to climb up the canyon wall, leaving the river far below. After a half-dozen zigs and the same number of zags, the hairpin bends leads us to the top of the canyon, where we stop at a strategically located café. Looking down makes you draw your breath, and you can’t help but hold it for a few seconds. Two wonders comes to mind – how on earth has Mother Nature created this, and how on earth have the Moroccans built that road that scales a sheer rock face?

Before moving on, there was a group consensus to recognise the date, and we all stood together while looking out over this magnificent scenery. I was quite relieved to be able to remember the Anzac Oath (“They shall not grow old, as those who are left grow old …”), meaning that I didn’t yet have Alzheimers, and someone finished with “Lest we forget” before we had a minute’s silence. So a bunch of Aussies and Kiwis stood as one and had their own little private Anzac Day service in the middle of Morocco. The moment could be best described as poignant.

Further up into the gorge, the roads turn to gravel and become quite rough, but we soldiered on, and didn’t regret it. Looking from above, huge hands of mountain stretched out its fingers to create hundreds of separate canyons of rock. We’d never seen anything like it, and again we tried to comprehend how many eons it took to form this terrain. We eventually reach the Todra Gorge, which created by the Todra River, and like the Dades, this river is surely too small to have created this gigantic and freakish canyon. Sheer rock walls on both sides are only some ten metres apart and tower 160 metres above us. It was understandable why these gorges attract so many people from around the world. They were both incredible.

With just a few days left for our Moroccan journey, we have continued to head north, and the countryside has changed from rocky barren plains to lush green fields, orchards and forests. We are still surrounded by mountains; they either flank us directly or appear on the horizon in the distance. We have made it to Fez, Morocco’s second-largest city after Casablanca, and we spent the afternoon exploring its medina. This is believed to be the largest city area free of any motor vehicles, and supposedly contains 11,000 laneways. We found it more interesting than the medinas of Marrakesh and Essaouira, remarkably clean, and vibrant with shops of every kind. It has the oldest university on the world (859AD). Its historical significance is recognised by UNESCO, listing the medina as a world heritage site, and there were many 13th Century buildings being renovated, funded by UNESCO. We saw, and smelled, the famous leather tanneries, as well as hand-made ceramic tile and carpet weaving factories. We learned that Australia helped Fez’s ailing carpet industry a few decades ago by donating some fine micron merino wool.