After waving goodbye to the children we drove west for several hours through landscapes of dusty shale, grazed by the occasional flock of sheep or goats. In the distance there were dark mountains surrounding the arid plain, some topped by snow.
In the midst of this barren landscape was stopped at a museum and art gallery called Sources Lalla Mimouna, Musee de L’eau, created by a Berber called Zaid Tinejdad. This charismatic man was a philosopher and was concerned about the ecology of his country and despaired of the ever increasing amount of rubbish covering the Moroccan countryside. Zaid had spent many years working in France as an artist, specialising in calligraphy. He had discovered a spring of water in the desert that had fallen into disuse, the water source choked with decades of rubbish. He had the vision to transform the area and had spent the last ten years clearing the spring of accumulated rubbish and building a beautiful garden with buildings, made of mud and straw, connected by walkways and pergolas displaying the many aspects of the ancient culture of the Berber. The spring had been transformed into four separate pools of cool, bubbling water, clean and clear. He financed his project by selling his art work to visitors to the museum. It was truly a beautiful and inspiring place.
Our journey took us on and up into the mountains. The road climbed higher and then became a single track heading towards the Todra Gorge, wide enough for vehicles to pass but only if each vehicle veered its nearside wheels onto the dusty shoulder. The journey through the gorge took over an hour. The scenery was dramatic, rocks the colour of terracotta towered above us as far as the eye could see, virtually blocking out all sunlight. It felt like we were driving through the centre of the earth.
We were quite relieved when we reached the other side and found our campsite. Some of us ate in the restaurant that evening – soup, a rice dish made with turkey meat, then sweetened yoghurt.
We woke to a cold morning, three degrees, and a clear blue sky; the day would be warm when the sun came up. A guide took us for a tour of the village of Tamtattouchte, 4000 feet up in the Atlas Mountains. The villagers were mainly smallholders, growing vegetables and animal feed on small fields the size of our allotments. They used donkeys and kept a few cows in walled pens, hobbled so they could not stray. There were satellite dishes on many of the roofs and the dwellings had electricity although the women did their washing in the river – smacks of a male dominated society!