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Sahara

Day 12: Marrakesh to Ouarzazate

Michael Palin - SaharaSome four hours after leaving Marrakesh the coach pulls in to the small, noisy town of Tademt, the last truck stop before the Tichka pass. The smoky aroma of fresh-grilled kebabs is irresistible, though obtaining one isn't quite so simple. Helpful locals point me to a roadside butcher, from whom I buy the meat, before taking it over to the fire, where I pay again to have it cooked. As I tuck into it, a truck, on its way down from the pass, air brakes hissing, comes to rest opposite me. It carries a load of cattle and one little old man, gripping the sides and peering impassively from a long line of bovine backsides.

After Tademt it isn't long before we run clear of the last agricultural terraces and climb slowly and steadily upwards between bare, fractured rock until we reach a plateau covered in short spongy grass and pools of standing water, where a few sheep graze. This is harsh inhospitable land, watershed country, whose melting snows feed rivers that will run either north to the plains of Marrakesh or south to die out in the desert.

We're at the pass (tizi in Arabic) moments later. A bristle of communications masts and a sign, around which some European boys are draped for a photograph, announce that we are at the top of the Tizi n'Tichka, at 7500 feet, the highest pass over the Atlas Mountains.

An hour or so later, I leave the coach near the town of Aït Benhaddou. We're still on the flanks of the Atlas Mountains, but for the first time on the edge of real desert. The landscape reminds me of Arizona, flat-topped mesas turning red, gold and purple as the sunlight moves over them. Yet this small town we've come to, some 15 miles off the main road, is one of the most familiar on the planet. Anyone who has seen Gladiator will have seen it. Anyone who has seen Lawrence of Arabia or Romancing the Stone or The Four Feathers will have seen it.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 12
  • Country/sea: Morocco
  • Place: Tademt
  • Book page no: 54

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