Exciting to Witness
Snow in the African desert might sound like a story straight out of a fairy tale or a freak weather occurrence. In fact it does happen that every now and then white fluffy flakes float from the sky and land on the desert ground, but it was certainly not something we would ever have dreamed of happening on our trip to Morocco. Admittedly it did not fall onto the sandy Sahara desert, but the plateaux of the stone desert and although it was an exciting event to witness, it also caused us a lot of grief and unplanned diversions for our return to Marrakesh and the airport for our return flight to London.
Crossing Tizi N’ Tichka Pass in the Snow
Our host Juan at Lodge Hara Oasis had told us the previous evening that snow had caused major road closures in the Atlas Mountains, including the main artery between Marrakesh and the Southern Oasis, across Tizi N’ Tichka Pass. Having driven the scenic route through the mountains ten days before in hot sun it was almost hard to imagine that only a few days later snow could close the winding road for all vehicles. I had been hopeful that Tizi N’ Tichka Pass would be reopened by the time we had enjoyed our last breakfast at the serene hotel. Chris on the other hand had been on edge all night and already looked at alternative routes to Marrakesh urging the family to get up early just in case.
Check Before You Drive
One of the waiters had offered his help and called the gendarmerie station at Col du Tichka (0524 89 06 15), the only way to find out if the road across to Marrakesh is accessible. Sadly he returned to our breakfast table with bad news, the pass was still closed and there was no foreseen opening over the next few hours due to persistent and steady snow fall in the Atlas Mountains. The road, although having received recent upgrade from one of the most dangerous roads in the world to a standard mountain pass like any of those that may be found in the Alps or on other European summits still lacks the equipment for heavy snowfalls, this is not really a surprise, given there are only a few occasions in Winter when it does actually snow and cover the roads. It is also important to keep in mind that almost none of the cars and other vehicles in Morocco are equipped with high grip special Winter tyres meaning in any cold snap accidents are likely.
Prepare for the Worst!
Chris had been right after all and my optimism had failed! Thankfully we had been prepared for the worst and set our alarm earlier than originally planned. The only alternative route that seemed viable for us from Agdz to Marrakesh would be to drive all the way to the coast near to Agadir, via Tazenakht and Taroudant, where we would join the motorway to Marrakesh. This route would take us through more of the stone desert across some lower mountains, before reaching the lush oasis along the Asif Tifnout.
Leaving the Draa Valley
All packed we said goodbye to our lovely hosts and drove through Agdz towards Tazenakt. The sun was still low, its golden rays had only just peeked over the mountains and palm tops of the Draa Valley. Barely any soul in sight or on the road we were half excited and half dreading the long drive back to Marrakesh. At least we would be able to glance unknown (to us) parts of Morocco, on the other hand it added 3-4 hours of extra driving time to the journey, leaving little time to spare before the flight.
Driving in Morocco
The sky was a deep blue and the stone desert glowed in its varied shades in the morning light. Jerome was still half asleep on the back seat, Chris enjoyed the passing scenery and provided me with guidance for the route. Driving in Morocco had been easier than I had ever imagined. The main roads in Morocco were in surprisingly good conditions and the lack of private cars, still an unachievable luxury for most, meant the streets less busy than most countries on the planet.
The petrol station in Agdz had still been closed and we knew we needed to fill up fairly soon otherwise we were worried that we might not find one until much later. Thankfully, in the next larger town along, Tazenakht, we were able to fill the car. Nearby a food market spilled over a large square and onto the wide roads, busy with locals purchasing anything from fresh fruit and vegetables to meat and even life chicken.
Snow in the Desert
Driving onwards towards Agadir, we noticed the snow covered Atlas Mountains in the distance and grey clouds loomed over the range of hills in front of us. Upon our approach of the hillside we noticed a white, thin dusting of snow across the stones either side of the road. We all got rather excited, especially me. Driving up the low incline, we reached a village and the mud brick houses and the display of clay vases and pots, looked peculiar under the cover of snow. It was an unusual and otherworldly sight that only few visitors to Morocco ever experience. We were not the only ones excited about the snow in the desert, some locals stood outside their houses taking selfies and there were even some kids attempting to build snowmen and have snowball fights with the thin dusting of powder.
I would have loved to stop and get put to take some photos. Instead Jerome had grabbed my camera and took pictures from the car windows of the mesmerising landscape outside. Tome was short and we needed to keep moving. Once we left the village behind we found ourselves on a high plateau, the road ahead a straight line but shockingly it was completely covered in snow.
The Snowy Countryside
I could feel Chris next to me getting edgy on the seat next to me unsure of the progress we would be making driving through the snowy countryside. It was an unknown that somewhat scared us, unsure if further hill climbs lay up ahead and on top of the already precarious situation, the wind kept blowing the snow across the road like feathery ghosts and a wall of thick clouds was visible ahead.
Driving Through the Snowy Desert
Having grown up with snowy Winters in Germany came in handy, I had experience in driving through similar treacherous driving conditions even without winter tyres. Keeping the car in a high gear stopped the car from slipping and thankfully there were barely any other cars on the road. This slowed us down considerably and I could feel Chris getting edgy on the seat next to us, he worried that we might not make our flight on time and was constantly checking progress.
Our Worries Came Alive!
Shortly after crossing the high plain our worries came alive… orange, blinking lights, faintly glowed in the mist ahead and made us painfully aware of a queue of cars looming out of the misty cloud and light snow fall. Chris got out into the blistery winter conditions to assess the situation. On his return he informed us, a truck was stuck on a descending slope and a metal snake of vehicles had formed either side of the obstacle frightened to pass it. We chatted to a couple in the car behind, they were in the same situation as they also had to reach Marrakesh and the airport in time for their flight that afternoon.
Passing the Queue
We watched as some 4x4s drove past without any trouble, and time was ticking away… Chris then decided for us to give it a go! I slowly drove past the queue ignoring the looks from the other cars, some local drivers standing outside and talking to each other, the others sat blank faced and lost behind the wheel in the warmth. Once we reached the slope, we could see a large truck with trailer half way across the road and the line of vehicles straight behind. In front of us was a mini bus, which had slid slightly off the road and was now half blocking our way, having attempted to overtake the queue.
Giving a Helping Hand
Chris got out of the car and with their bare hands a group of man tried to push the mini bus back onto the road, throwing earth and small rocks under the turning wheels in order to get grip. Luckily after a few minutes of some hard pushing and some fruitless attempts the bus was back on the road enough for us to pass. Our path was now free and after carefully passing the buss and the rest of the queue, from there on I drove slowly down the bendy road.
The Snow Disappeared
Further on a police car had stopped the traffic from driving any further up towards the stuck truck, they obviously had taken a while to be made aware of the problem. I briefly stopped and explained the situation to them and they waved us on. Descending from the ridge after the police car the snow started to disappear, and with it the beauty of the white, snowy hillside that had accompanied us on the last stretch. The road widened again and smoothed into the wide oasis with palms stretching towards the coast in the far distance.
We Made it in the End!
In case you wonder, we did make it back to Marrakesh in time for our flight, despite the snow in the stone desert! The rest of the drive was less eventful. The countryside kept changing, although we sadly did not have much passion to savour it as much as we would have liked. The motorway from Agadir to Marrakesh was just like any other highway in Europe and at some point, to match our gloomy mood, rain started to fall but no more snow!
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