Weds: The gorges (97km, 1600m of ascent)
The road climbs a little more beyond Tlata, but the Tarhaout gorge becomes visible ahead as a notch in the plateau and before long you descend to the village of Tarhaout itself, whose modern buildings are even worse than usual. Soon after the ruined kasbah of Old Tarhaout can be seen high above on a ridge.
The track bears right when the gorge makes a junction with a wider valley. There was some road-building going on here, we dont know to what end. The main village in this part of the valley is Temguilcht which has a small shop and a zaouia. The village itself is quite unspoilt. The zaouia is attractive and makes a strong impression in this remote barren mountainous place.
Beyond Temguilcht the valley opens out and its interest declines until it reaches Souk Had Issi in the Afella Ighir oasis. This is a largish place but a pack of dogs was determined not to let us rest. At 1000m it is the low point of the ride. There are some junctions here, and the possibility of following the main valley to Ukas, but to complete the circuit you keep right and follow a gorge through Aït Mansour.
The road winds through some dramatic cliffs and eventually reaches tarmac at the village we suppose to be Aït Mansour, where tourists stroll up and down and camper vans lurk in the shade. Not long afterwards the climbing begins. Were it not for tiredness wed have reckoned it an excellent climb: the views back are spectacular. At Tinzuit we bought a packet of biscuits and devoured them on the spot. Before long we were back at Tlata Tasrirte and soon after we were free-wheeling to Tafraoute wondering which of the Amandiers tajines would be the largest.
Notes: None of the guidebooks is satisfactory for this route, which would be infeasible or unenjoyable by the modes of transport they envisage. The Michelin map shows no route down the Aït Mansour gorge, and the map in the Cadogan guide, misled by Michelins omission, is a preposterous fabrication.
There seems to be nowhere serving food on the entire route, though if wed had more leisure at Souk Had Issi we might have found otherwise.
You could make the ride a little easier by persuading a grand taxi to take you from Tafraoute to Tlata Tasrirte. Or for a supported alternative you could travel with Exodus or Wildcat, who both include these gorges in one of their itineraries.