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Weds: The gorges (97km, 1600m of ascent)
An excellent ride. Follow the Izerbi road from Tafraoute through Agard Oudad (getting striking views of the so-called chapeau de Napoléon) until a fork after about 6km. Signposts indicate the painted rocks off the road to the right, the main route to Izerbi carrying straight on, and the smaller road to Aït Mansour forking off to the left.
road now climbs insistently to a plateau at around 1600m. It can be bleak up here, but there are good views of Adrar Mkorn. Carry straight on, ignoring a closed military road to the right, until you come to a junction some 19 or 20km from Tafraoute. This is Tlata Tasrirte. A white concrete block is painted with direction signs in Arabic script, and some metal signs add some destinations in the Latin alphabet, but only for one of the two directions. The choice is between carrying straight on on some rather battered tarmac, or following the main road round to the right on shiny new stuff. The first option takes you to Tarhaout and a clockwise circuit of the gorges, the second to Aït Mansour and an anticlockwise circuit. We had chosen to go clockwise, but either way will be equally enjoyable.
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.
road continues down the gorge: a narrow ribbon of dilapidated tarmac carrying almost no traffic. There is little habitation down here.
a while we reached Tizerkine, a so-so village where the tarmac runs out. The piste beyond is not good, and where it crosses the stream bed it is very bad. The stream was dry when we were there, but the Exodus notes imply that in wet conditions one of the gorges may be impassable.
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.
The girls and young women of the area were celebrating a festival whose rite consisted of dowsing bypassers with water. They stood in wait by the roadside, small pails at the ready. It was good-humoured, and Tracey can attest that their aim was good.
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.
piste remains poor but it threads past a sequence of traditional villages. The houses are huddled on top of each other in a way which suggests that this area has never been rich.
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.
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