Todra Gorge

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Todra Gorge isn't far from Dades Gorge, but it couldn't be any more different. Here, a giant fault has let a river carve a sheer ravine 400 metres deep through immaculate orange limestone walls. We're here the for the climbing, but so far we're more impressed with the sheer magnitude of the place. Not a single photo we could take could really do this place justice (which is a fact I find frustrating, and Dani quite likes). One section of the Gorge barely sees any sun as the walls seem to close in over the top. In the middle there is two oddly placed hotels which cater to the masses, so we opted to stay in a guest house only 700m from the Gorge entrance.

Todra Gorge, Morocco
Dani's silhouette in the foreground is dwarfed by the enormous walls of the Gorge. We were climbing at a sector behind me (as I took this photo) which must have been a couple hundred meters high.

We've concluded that if this Gorge was found in France or Spain, it would be crawling with climbers. There are hundreds of routes, but so far we've only found a handful of other climbers. There is a small community of Moroccan climbers, few of which can afford the equipment, so most just free climb. They claim they have had plenty of practice before they climb on the rock, as they need to climb the palm trees to retrieve dates.

Todra Gorge, Morocco
The narrow part of the gorge where walls shoot up vertically for 400m.

Climbers in the gorge seem to be well respected and get a lot of attention. Vendors selling things in the gorge will see us with our rope and helmets and ask "Escalade?". Everyone seems to want to chat to us. We've been offered mint tea and tajine many times now, and even a musical jam session. Generally they want to offer hospitality and then show you some element of their business, but everything runs a bit slower, and is a lot friendlier this side of the Atlas Mountains.

Todra Gorge, Morocco
I received plenty of funny looks and comments from locals. I must have looked like a silly white boy standing in the middle of the river with my tripod and my pants rolled up. Being in the middle of the river didn't stop some kid trying to sell me something though!

We've managed to get a few routes in now and its been great to get back on the rock. The rock has super friction and cool features. There's not much overhanging stuff, so grades are around 5b(16) to 6c(22), which is perfect. Theres no shortage of rock, so routes are generally a half rope length, or in our case, slightly longer. Just about every route we've done has been over 30 meters (in New Zealand, finding routes this long in grades like this is very uncommon). The bolting is good (proper expansion bolts with hangers) and placed well for cruxes but there are frequent run-outs on easier terrain. I think climbing in Spain de-sensitized us a bit, as it's not bothering us too much!

There were three of these little fellas and a pregnant cat just roaming around in the guesthouse we stayed at.

There is also some spectacular multi-pitch climbing, with routes well over 300m in length. We were hoping to climb a five pitch monster, but we never quite got to it.

Our time in Todra slowly became tainted by a few events. Absence of hot showers, incredibly slow and reluctant service, having to make more and more excuses to avoid seeing someone's gallery, showroom, shop or riad. The night before we left, the owner of the riad, clearly stoned, was trying to offer me transport to Merzouga. After talking through the possibilities, I declined and suggested that we would make our own way there via a collective grand taxi (one we would share with others). He seemed to acknowledge this and we went to bed. In the morning, we packed up, and when it came time to leave, he told us our taxi would be here at 9am

- What taxi? We didn't order a taxi. How much is it?
- 900dirham (the equivalent of 90 euro, more than our entire days budget)
- What?! No, we are taking taxi collective to Tinehir, then taxi collective to Merzouga... we cannot take that taxi.
- No, last night you ask me to make you taxi to Merzouga
- No no no, really I didn't
- Yes, you said you would take taxi
- Now you must take this taxi, coz I have ordered him. He come from Tinehir to collect you, you pay him or I must pay him.
- I'm sorry we did not ask you to order us a taxi, and especially not at that price.

The conversation continued like this for a while, getting more and more heated, so we just payed him for the room and walked out. Not before him trying to charge us for four nights instead of three.

Out on the street we waited for a taxi we could flag down. Mr Riad-owner comes out to the street and mutters something in bad english then asks us to pay for the coca-cola we had with dinner, which are always included in the price. I suggest that he had smoked too much Kif. At this stage its clear he is just trying it on, so Dani tells him firmly "Leave us alone". He threatens to call the police, I suggest he should.

Fortunately not long after a grand taxi arrives, and we make the entire trip to Merzouga for under 300 dirham.

First bad experience with Moroccan hospitality, hopefully the last.


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