We enjoyed our time staying next to Erg Chebbi, but the sand got the better of us and we decided it was time to head back towards the mountains (not before the obligatory shot of Cali in the dunes of course!). We stopped to refuel at the local patisserie to keep Leigh’s sugar levels up (sadly they had not yet finished baking the pain au chocolat, which we had sampled the day before: chocolate is obviously a rare commodity as each pain au chocolat has only 1 chip of chocolate in it, but they’re still good!!).
We took the scenic route, following the valley, lined by Kasbahs and palmeries, and eventually giving way to miles of hammada (the stony black desert, which Leigh remembered all too well from the Marathon des Sables). We are currently staying just on the edge of the Todra Gorge, cut out of from the valley into the high Atlas mountains. The Todra river is lined with a magnificent palmery, stretching all the way from the gorge itself for about 12 kms or so. We explored initially on foot, being shown a meandering route through the palmery, up to a ruined kasbah and across to a spring flowing into a pool where a shoal of sacred fish swim, a dip in which is said to cure infertility!
The next day we set off on the bikes through the gorge itself and on to the neighbouring village of Tamtatouche, where we stopped for coffee and chatted to the owner and his beautiful niece, Nadia. The berber people here are rosy cheeked and the little girls are all gorgeous. The gorge is a trench through the mountains, an, at times, extremely narrow cleft in gigantic walls, which seems to change colour as the sun moves. This was probably our most spectacular cycle ever in terms of scenery, through the amazing gorge and relatively car free – just the occasional goat and donkey to contend with.