My first quest: to find a river-rafting outfit near Dades Gorge. Internet sites concerning Moroccan travel are rudimentary, but before I left the U.S., I found at least one assurance that rafting the rivers in the Atlas was unique to any rafting experience in Africa. I'd done the Zambezithrilling but highly commercialized. Dades Gorge was supposedly home to something decidedly atavistic, something made to bankrupt travel insurance companies.
To get to the gorge, I first had to cross the Atlas Mountains. What passes for a highway here is a well-paved road that's barely wide enough for two cars to pass without both drivers holding their breath. Slowly, the Atlas comes into view, the scrub and the seemingly endless shades of brown making it almost indistinguishable from Nevada. But every few hundred yards there are signs that this isn't Kansas: an old woman wearing traditional black robes carrying a load of sticks on her back, a makeshift table holding hundreds of crystals pulled from the local bedrock. Casbahs jut out of the cliffsidesabandoned, yet looking as intact and formidable as they must have a hundred years ago.
My Pugeot handles the deadman's curves well. Guardrails are rare, and when I dare to look over the edge I see burned out cars and buses that didn't make it. I pass the small High Atlas towns of Taddert and Terlouet at the peak (nearly 3,500 meters) and then coast down toward Boumane, near the gorge. I'm sure to meet up with someone who knows a thing or two about rafting.
My ears pop around Amerzgane, and a guy in a long brown tunic leaps into the road waving frantically. I move into oncoming traffic to avoid crushing him, but he pulls a lateral on me and I slam on the brakes, stopping less than a foot away. He waddles over to the passenger window speaking French. "My friend's car has broken," he says in broken English, pointing to a Citroen with an erect hood and a young man in similar garb, waiting. Within minutes, I'm rocketing down the mountain with my new passenger. His name is Abraham and he smiles and shakes his head when I tell him I want to raft the river. "We haven't had rain in three years," he chuckles.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication