Todra Gorge, Morocco, October 4, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Friday, October 5, 2007

Todra Gorge is supposedly the most impressive of several spectacular clefts into the High Atlas Range in Central Morocco, most than 1,000 feet deep and some small fraction of that in width at its narrowest point.  Todra is part of a broader canyon system in the region somewhat reminiscent of but on a smaller scale than that in Utah.  Perhaps a geologist would tell me that they were formed differently or are made up of different rocks and bear no geologic resemblance to each other, but to my untrained eye the area looks a lot like the Zion Canyon in Utah.  While the narrowest and deepest part of the gorge was filled with hordes of the usual day-tripping motor coach tourists and the aggressive trinket salesmen that feed off of them, a short walk up the canyon or into the hills just beyond were a solitarily beautiful treat. 
Our campsite for two nights was in the parking lot of a small hotel with a couple stone buildings situated part way up one side wall at a bend in the canyon about two miles up from the heavily touristed part of the gorge.  The pleasant place was named Auberge L'Festival, which I called "Aubergine Festival" or remembered just as "The Eggplant House". 
In an earlier era Morocco was firmly on the so-called "Hippie Trail", the set of cheap, mellow destinations the flower children of the '60s and '70s trekked to in search of inner peace and self actualization (and marijuana).  Remnants of this past are something you still see today in Morocco in the form of numerous well-equipped campgrounds and some of the characters who visit.  One such personality I encountered at the Eggplant House was a very stereotypical middle-aged American hippie from Lake Tahoe named Barry.  With thinning but out-of-control hair, horn-rimmed glasses, stubbly beard, soul patch, and a vocabulary that consisted largely of the words cool, rad, awesome, and dude, Barry was the physical incarnation of Mister Garrison, the teacher on South Park. Particularly unique was Barry's continual use of the word "ungkai", which I think meant "Okay", both in punctuating his own sentences and when bobbing his head all around while listening to me, sort of like this:
"Dude, I think that's like really cool that you're all goin' to Dakar.  You s'pose maybe I could hitch a ride with ya, ungkai?"
"Well, you'd have to check that out with the driver."
"Ungkai. If you have space, ungkai!"
"I'm doubtful he'd be agreeable.  Insurance issues."
"Ungkai.  Dude, I can pay, ungkai?.  Ya see, ungkai, I really want to get down to Gabon before December, so I can get back to Tahoe for the holidays and the ski season.  Ungkai?"
"I'll introduce you and you two can talk."
Our camp nights in the canyon were beneath a spectacular starry sky, but the silence was broken by the occasional braying of donkeys and the haunting sounds of goats.  The sounds goats make during the night are absolutely amazing.  They're not the comforting baaa-baaa bleats of sheep that help you fall asleep as you're lying in your tent but rather the shrill amusement park funhouse shrieks of ghouls and banshees and screams of terrified young girls.  The noises combined with the echoes off the canyon walls would lead you to think there was a biblical slaughter of the innocents taking place just up the hill.
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