Surfing Sheep and High Times in Morocco

It was warm, the skies were clear, the stars were out, and I wouldn’t ne spending the night in the mud hovel. I was on the northern fringe of the Sahara Desert against the walls of the High Atlas. It was 2 am and I was wondering what to do.

Two days earlier the rains pounded the roof of the mud hut and the winds were so strong that the powerlines to the village were regularly failing. With temperatures in the 40’s and water showering from the roof, it was clear that I under packed for cold weather. I huddled in my sleeping bag moving occasionally to avoid new streams of water coming through the roof. Tommorow, I decided, I am going to the mediterranean come hell or high water. Enough with life in the hovel.

I told Andrew I was leaving but he had another idea. He heard that the weather further south wasn’t too bad, so we planned a climbing trip to Todra Gorge. We packed our gear and started pedalling the 40 km to town.

The next day we jumped on a bus to Fez and then one to Tenerir. The bus finally left the Taza after baking in the hot sun. Buses in Morocco are older coaches from european countries with a twist. Anything considered an accessory no longer works. That means something important but not necessary (i.e. air conditioning) won’t work. That wouldn’t be terrible accept that the buses are designed to run with air conditioning, so the windows are sealed. Even when the bus is moving there is little relief from the heat. The killer is that while I am losing my mind from being far too hot, the Moroccans are wearing sweaters and jackets. Now I know that people adapt to their environment, but not even they can be so cold as to need a jacket over a sweater and long sleeve shirt in that heat.

Things begin to slowly cool from the bus clipping along at a moderate speed of 60 km/hr and I settle in for the ride to Fes. Finally, I tell myself, this is now just a matter of patience. This would be a great time to practice meditation. One ‘om mani padme hum’ passes through my head and the bus begins to slow. Within seconds we are pulled over onto the shoulder of the road. For the love of god, I mutter under my breath, what is it now.

We are 20 km from the bus station where we started and the bus is completely out of gas. I begin to wonder what was going through the mind of the bus driver when we past the three or four gas stations leaving town, but I stop myself. I’ve come to a new plane of understanding, and that is that I don’t understand and I won’t understand some of the things that I see on a daily basis here. So much for the calming effects of meditation.

Because of my bout of dysentary over the past 5 days, I was on a starvation diet for the 13 hour bus ride to Tenerir. As hungry and thirsty as I was, it worked and we arrived at 2 am to that desolate and barren outpost on the northern fringe of the Sahara. Now, I thought, would be a great time to have a reservation or at the least a clue of where to go for lodging. Luckily for us there were lots of aggressive drunks milling about the town which, by the way, looked like it had been the scene of at least one bombing.

The first group, sitting on broken rubble that was once a side walk in a different era, asked us if we weren’t scared to be out here at night. ‘No, no’ we said bluffing our way through the conversation. I nervously fingered the knife in my pocket, planning the sequence of events that would surely cost our lives, either in blood or in prison if I had to follow through. Of course that was just the begining. Walking aimlessly through the town at night looking for a ‘pension’ allowed us the pleasure to meet two more drunken mobs that showed keen interest in us. We desperately needed to find something fast, given that we were being followed though the sinuous alleys of the medina. We found an open door which just happened to be a hotel, but the big surprise was that the followers stayed outside the door. That was a text book example of deus machina, though I’m unclear of who was responsible.

We arrived the next day at Todra Gorge after an unerventful taxi ride from Tenerir, which looked totally different in the day. We found a nice terrace for $3.50 a night with an awesome view of the gorge walls. We grabbed our gear and started walking.

It didn’t take us long to find a climb and before long we finisheed a nice four pitch climb. Gooing up was straight forwarrd but coming down was not. None of the anchors had rappel chains so I set out to find a descent route, which I eventually found. I throw the rope into the abyss and begin to abseil. I’m glowing over my new long 60 m rope that my brother gave to me as a gift before I left when it abruptly ends with nothing but open space below. “Oh hell’ I say to myself, this is not good. ‘Houston, we have a problem’.

As we were to find out, we were short about 10 m on the first rappel and a solid 30 m on the second. We did some reverse lead climbing to get out of the jam after setting up some natural anchors in the gully of the rappel. This took some time which allowed me to watch people far below.

What I saw from high on the cliff where no one thought I was watching was frightening and disturbing. There in the spring where people filled their bottles of water was a man squating and wipping his butt. Two minutes later I helplessly watched as three people waded into the spring, washed their faces, and drank from the cool, ‘clean’ waters. I found myself drinking bottled water that night out of sympathy for those who weren’t.

Picking climbs was easy, it was a process of elimination. Down one side of the gorge, hanging about 20 cm from the wall and about 3 m up, was a high powerline. To climb that wall, you’d either have to climb over the line and let the rope drag over it or shimmy underneath it pushing it out behind you. I figured that climbing was dangerous enough without introducing 120,000 volts, so we stuck to the other side.

After three days of climbing on sharp limestone, our fingers were bloodied, our bodies tired, and our stomachs empty so we packed up for the long journey back to Admam. As we packed, I heard a car coming down the road so I peeked over the railing of the terrace. There on the roof of a mini bus were four sheep, standing up, legs straddled, tied down, doing their best to surf their way up to the canyon. With the metal roof as their wave, the roof rack as their surf boards, they leaned in unison to ride the curve into the canyon and out of sight.

Taxis are hard to come by in the gorge so we humped it a couple of kilometers in the blazing sun until we caught a ride in a van. I worked my way to the back trying to get the bench seat in the rear. As soon as I got close a mean growl echoed through the van coming from str ight in front of me. I steppedd back amd l looked around, no reactiom Thinking that I had surelyne and no dog. I stepped forward again only to hear the loud growl again. I looked for a seecond time and no dog. Confused, I took another seat, and asked Andrew what that was all about. He said ‘oh, that’s just a sheep under your seat’. I didn’t believe that a sheep would fit under my seat, but I looked and it did. It growled one more time for good measure.