20-Feb-2004 -- After our re-visit of 30N 9W on the previous day, we had spent the night in a small hotel in Tafrawt. When we awoke, we found that it had rained during the night and that the sky was still heavily overcast, and the wind was quite chill here at more than 1000 m altitude. We waited for Egü to meet us at the tearoom across the road, but he had already gone for a ride with the jeep in the surrounding region, and he arrived a little later, the jeep splattered with mud.
I laid out my plans to my travel companions, which were to approach 29N 9W as far as possible today. For this purpose, we would have to reach the road P30 running in east-westerly direction about 60 km south of Tafrawt, and then find a minor road leading closer towards the Confluence with only a couple of kilometres remaining in the end, hopefully. Then we would have to decide how to go on depending on the terrain. But to get there, we would have to cross the main chain of the Anti-Atlas Mountains south of Tafrawt, and there were only a restricted number of possible passages. The best roads were too far to the West, and would mean that a significant amount of time would be necessary to get there, turn south, and back to the East again. But other, minor roads were not too far away, and having gained some confidence in our all-terrain vehicle, I opted for probably the most difficult, but also the most interesting way, being indicated on my map only as a dotted line...
We left Tafrawt in the late forenoon in southern direction, and soon began winding up the serpentines on the western flank of Adrar Mqqurn ("The Big Mountain", 2344 m high). The road was wet and the clouds hanging deep, but the views on the surrounding Anti-Atlas Mountains and down on Tafrawt were stunning. We soon reached Tasrirt at the highest point of the pass-road, and began to descend into a deep-cut ravine. Just when reaching the bottom of the ravine, the asphalt road became a dirt road. The road continued through a dense forest of date palms, running along a small creek, and sometimes crossing it to the other bank. We once stopped for a short picnic under palms, but again it started drizzling, and we soon drove on.
After quite a long while driving through this wonderful palm oasis, eventually we reached the market village of Aflla-Irhir. Just at this moment, one of our windscreen wipers fell off. We passed through the village, the road lead to the bank of a dry river, and continued across the riverbed to the other side. There, we saw a number of busses - I don't have the faintest idea where these busses did come from and which roads they did use, obviously my map is not accurate in every detail, as it doesn't show any roads approaching Aflla-Irhir from the eastern side.
From now on, we would have to follow the way indicated by a line of dots on my map, which was leading towards Imuzlag, the village close to the main road P30, still about 40 km to the SSW. We stopped and asked a man to show us the road, at first he was quite astonished that we wanted to go there, but when we insisted, he replied that there is no "road", the only way was a beaten track following the dry riverbed we had just crossed - and now we knew what the dotted line was standing for... The man pointed out that we should not miss a turn-off some km from the village, and from there on, we would only have to follow the riverbed until Imuzlag.
The riverbed was full of boulders and rhinestones of all sizes, but all the way a track was always clearly discernible where the boulders and stones had been levelled more or less and condensed by the vehicles having taken this route before - nevertheless, our jeep was shaking and bouncing quite a lot, and of course, we could only drive along at a very moderate pace. Soon after the mentioned turn-off, the riverbed transformed into the bottom of a giant canyon, being deeply cut between steep mountain walls on both sides, which were rising up nearly vertically for several 100 metres. When the track brought us around a bend in the canyon, we could see a new part of the canyon in front of us until the next bend ahead, and this scenery repeated itself again and again and again for hours. Time went by, and we could only guess how far we had already come and how many bends of the canyon lay still ahead. The weather was all the time getting worse, dark clouds pulled up from the Southwest. From time to time it started drizzling again, and stories of desert travellers drowning in suddenly inundated wādiys came to my mind.
And indeed, that's what nearly happened to us! Suddenly, the clouds burst into a really terrifying thunderstorm. The rain clashed on the bleak mountains around us and soon fell down over the canyon walls in impressively huge waterfalls. A really marvellous sight, but at the same time we could observe the waters running together in the riverbed and forming ever growing runnels and streams - and our marvel slowly turned into fright. We pushed along, but were partly blinded by the defective windscreen wiper, and the running waters made it more and more difficult to follow the right track. Once or twice we were forced to traverse some gurgling streams, knee-deep and already several metres wide. Only a little more water, and we would have been trapped between the streams, and I didn't dare to think what would happen if a really large flood caught up with us from behind.
Fortunately, the rain clouds quickly drew off, the rain around us stopped just in time and we succeeded in escaping the most-flooded area. Soon after, we eventually reached the end of the canyon. Extensive road construction activities here indicated that possibly a road through the canyon is going to be built, so perhaps we had just experienced one of the last opportunities to view this canyon in its natural state - an impressive adventure that may soon no longer be possible.
The path now climbed out of the riverbed and passed through the village of Imuzlag, the village's roads muddy all over from the rains, and soon after, we reached the junction with the main road P30, where we also found a little petrol station with hand-driven pumps. We continued west on the main road and looked out eagerly for a road branching off to the South, as my map clearly showed such a road approaching the confluence point further, which was still more than 15 km away. But there was no such road! When there was no longer hope to find any, we had to throw over all plans and make up new ones: We would have to try to approach the Confluence from the East or the South, starting from the village Foum al-Ḥiṣn closest to it. But it was now already late afternoon, so there was no sense in struggling on today. Instead, we continued to drive along west, and I quickly decided to continue until the city of Bu Izakarn, still about 60 km away, where I expected to find accommodation to stay over night, and then to return by the same way tomorrow. The road was in mostly good condition and we could roll along with high speed, but from time to time stretches with large potholes filled with water and thus only visible at closest approach, shook our jeep and us through heavily, and sometimes running water had inundated the lower passages of the road and required slowing down.
When we approached the village of Tarhjijt, it became already dark and even more rain clouds drew up again. Before entering the village, unexpectedly and to my surprise, I spotted the signboard of a hotel, and immediately decided to give it a try. The hotel was a rather large complex, assumedly built about 20 to 30 years ago, and already giving the impression of negligence and slight decay. It was still closed at this time of year, except for a bar serving the booze addicts of the village, but a man and a woman, the wardens, nevertheless invited us to stay and take rooms. So we had a whole hotel for us alone. Moreover, the wardens organized a diner for us, and so we could finish this day with a fine chicken tajine, while heavy rain showers poured down again outside.
21-Feb-2004 -- After a good night's sleep, we awoke and left the hotel without breakfast to save time, but not before having been ripped off a pretty notable sum of money - not for the rooms, whose prize was probably more or less fixed, but for the diner. This was the warden's opportunity to first serve us chicken, and then to fleece us like chicken. But we didn't mind a lot, and left in easterly direction after stopping in Tarhjijt at a small garage to fix the loose windscreen wiper.
We got along well and after a while passed the petrol station at the junction to Imuzlag again, and soon after, the main road crossed on a concrete ford the wide boulder-filled bed of the same river we had followed along yesterday through the canyon. About 15 km further, we approached a T-junction: one road running east towards Aqqa and Ṭaṭa, and one road running west to the small town of Foum al-Ḥiṣn only a couple of kilometres away, but my map didn't indicate any further continuation of this road beyond the village. But just before reaching the T-junction, a police post was installed beside the road and an officer stopped us. Just in time, I advised Jamila to quickly hide the GPS receiver away, or else we would possibly have to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions. It was not until now that I realized that we were only a short distance away from the border between Morocco and Algeria, not clearly defined in this section, and for sure a precarious region.
The officers did a lengthy check of our documents, asked about our intentions, and before waving us through, told us that there was a new road leading west until Goulimine. This was good news, because this new road would possibly give us also better access to the Confluence from the South, a possibility that I hadn't drawn into conclusion before. So we passed through Foum al-Ḥiṣn and once again over a ford through the same boulder-filled riverbed, the confluence hunting fever had now taken hold of us again, and we followed the new road, eagerly observing the GPS receiver and the decreasing distance to the Confluence. But soon the direction pointer turned aside, and we reached the closest approach with still 8.15 km remaining. It was now a quarter past 10 a.m., we were at 460 m altitude. In northwestern direction towards the Confluence, a plain stretched out before us, loosely covered with stones and small bushes, in the distance a chain of mountains was rising up, with the Confluence definitely somewhere beyond. We stopped to take some pictures and to discuss the possibilities, but we soon had to accept that we could not proceed here: If there wasn't the chain of mountains, an approach on foot would possibly be the best choice, one could even try to get along over the plain by car as far as possible, but this kind of approach would probably demand the rest of the day and we still had the intention to get to 29N 10W and to return to Agadir on this same day. Moreover, we could not even guess whether we would find a passage through the mountain chain, and what we would find beyond.
Last possibility was now to return to Foum al-Ḥiṣn and to search for another way passing along on the other, northern side of the mountain chain. This we did with little hopes left, but the people in the village could not show us such a way, and though we entered again the riverbed to follow it along northward for a little while, we could not find any passage in the desired direction and again could not get closer than 9.6 km to the point. At least, we used the charming environment of some date palms beside the riverbed for a little picnic, and thus concluded our efforts to reach 29N 9W.
Nevertheless, this was not all for nothing - we had seen wonderful landscapes, and we had done some reconnaissance on this Confluence, so perhaps till another try with more luck - and now on to 29N 10W!