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Marocco, Gorges du Todra
The crags 1 2 3
Morocco factsheet
by Nicolò Berzi

Morocco is a country of a thousand different and incredible faces. Palm groves extend to snow-capped mountains and infinite deserts lie seemingly immobile before transforming into long sandy beaches.

Cities lost in time, in which signs of Roman civilisation coexist with those belonging to the Arab invasion and a more recent French influence.

Nights at Marrakech. Air dense with smoke emitted from dozens of stands where meat and vegetables are grilled and tajine of all types are prepared. Groups of people, curious and enthusiastic, gathered around story tellers, magicians and fire eaters, each waiting for just the right moment to collect some dhiram while the rhythmic music deafens all.

The square is illuminated by rows of lamps hung high on poles next to the stand's name and number, while the national flag flies lazily in obscurity. On the northern side of the square stands sell freshly squeezed orange juice and dates of every shape and size. The atmosphere is magical and surreal, a step back in time to an imagined Orient of centuries ago. And after sunset Piazza Djemaa el Fna becomes a potent spectacle, and even the most reluctant westerners are taken in by this Moroccan magic.
A magic which is strengthened by travels. Where climbing becomes a pretext to visit a splendid country, close to Europe, so close in fact that it would like to join the European Union.

Leaving Marrakech one passes through the black and unwelcoming desert-like hammada as one drives to Ouarzazate. Pine forests, oleanders and acacias colonise the red clay earth on the way up to the Tiz in Tichka pass at almost 2300m; before and beyond this there is nothing but desert. A desert of stones, where the black earth stands out against the ochre and yellow Atlante mountain range, dominating snow-capped the distant horizon.

Along the road a solitary dromedary alternates with men on foot, arriving from and going to who knows where. The asphalt roads mark the only sign of man's passing for kilometers on end and, resembling magic tapes, invariably lead from one habitat to the next, where petrol and water can be bought.

And if climbing is really only a pretext for travelling, then one should not miss out on a trip to the sandy desert on the border with Algeria. Just a few hours south of Erfoud, this ever-changing motley coloured sea of dunes appears after 40km of hammada.

One doesn't have to drive all the way to Merzouga, where insistent merchants seek to offer their service. Instead, one can stop a few kilometers beforehand, park the car on the piste and begin walking, perhaps in search of the Grand Dune, the highest point in this small sandy desert. Small, because Erg Chebbi is only 35km long and 15km wide, but I assure you it suffices to breathe the potent air and rich energy of the desert.

I truly didn't believe a 'simple' expanse of sand could offer such an unforgettable sensation. The return to climbing is therefore a goodbye to the apparent immutable tranquillity of the desert, but the red rocks in the Gorge du Todra exert an irresistible call. When do we leave again?

If one has time one should not miss out on the Medina di Marrakech, the permenant market which sells literally everything and where one learns the art and pleasure of haggling, and where it is nigh on impossible not to buy something.

And the final hours spent sapouring the strong souk smells reinforce one's desire to return, despite the insistent merchants and their attempts at cheating the tourists.

Morocco, Gorges du Todra

The beautiful Pilier de Couchant

Morocco map

click to enlarge

Morocco, Marrakech

Djemaa el Fna at sunset

"Morocco. A magic which is strengthened by travels. Where climbing becomes a pretext to visit a splendid country, close to Europe... "

Morocco, Erg Chebbi

Walking towards the Grand Dune of Erg Chebbi.

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