Every bush has its resident beetle. Some have two or three. These are the Darkling Beetles of the Atlas, and they are living up to their reputation as ferocious little creatures. Sam spots one carrying off a Scarab Beetle - not a shy retiring insect in itself. Carol sees two of them cutting open her plastic garbage bag to get at the juicy morsels within. They are all over the place. We pack up and leave, and as usual, Sam rolls Elsa forward so I can pop out and make sure we've left nothing underneath. All we've left is the splattered remains of one unlucky beetle, looking much like a rather large fried egg. Sorry.
We carry on along this high desert plain. There are mountains all around, and we have fun trying to guess where the road is going to go next. At some point it has to start going down, and we should enter the Todra Gorge. We are also aware that if we get it wrong then we could end up in the wrong gorge, and come out miles away from where we want to be.
But the top of the gorge is unmistakable, with jagged rock peaks standing guard as the track drops off the high plain and begins its descent.
Elsa poses for photographs at the top, looking like the expedition-ready cat that she is.
The rock scenery in this part of the gorge is amazing, with yellow-brown walls and overhangs and cracks. Sam and I can't resist getting out and having a scramble.
By now we're getting some traffic coming up. As well as the usual big four-wheel drive Bedford trucks, driven by Berbers and overloaded with everything, there's now small cars trying to make it up the gorge. We're almost in day-tripper country.
We know we're reaching the end of the gorge because now we see people walking up. For a laugh, Sam and I say our hellos in a multitude of accents. The replies are in a multitude of languages.
We turn a corner and we're in the most photographed part of the Todra Gorge. This is the bit you see in all the guide books. And its spoilt by being full of cars, and music, and picnicking people, with rubbish everywhere and people hassling us for one reason or another. Some want to sell us things, one wants to buy the Land Rover.
Getting photographs of the scenery here is difficult. You need something to hide the crowds in the gorge and show off the scenery. Sam positions himself behind Elsa and gets this shot:
You can see me in the background of that picture taking this shot. There's some small rocks that I realise can obscure the mess if I get low enough:
Then I get Abbie and Carol and Mike to stand close together to shield the camera from the rabble:
Here we feel we are back in civilisation again. There's a hotel, a cafe, cars, people. There's several four-wheel drive vehicles that are obviously tourist transport, including a very large truck of some description kitted out with full desert gear and a coupled, powered trailer that interests Sam somewhat.
Eventually we hit the road for Ouarzazate. Now we're back on tarmac again. We stop for Mike to pick up some petrol, and some kids hassle us in Elsa. We teach them some rude english words for their troubles.
We're now driving in open desert dotted with palm tree groves along a fairly dry river,with high mountains all around. We stop for another rest and again a small child appears. He's not as annoying as the previous bunch, so we give him some of our empty bottles to recycle and collect a few dirhams deposit, and I show him some juggling. He waves as we drive off, clutching his prize bottles.
We arrive in Ouarzazate and find a campsite near the centre of town. Sitting in the corner is a red Land Rover 110 Defender with UK plates and full desert gear. We introduce ourselves, and meet Louis, who is travelling to Australia with four of his friends. Two of them are currently sorting out their personal differences in Marakesh, while Louis, Daniella, and Giles relax in the desert sunshine. Their vehicle is well kitted out for a long haul, and Sam admires the gear. They have a water filter complete with shower. Round the back they have a neat tent set-up, together with a laptop computer with DVD player. We're invited round to watch a movie later. They even have comfortable folding chairs.
We eat and drink and then Sam talks Land Rovers with Louis for hours. He's dead jealous, and wants to tag along with him to Australia. Sadly he knows he has to come back. Its nearly the half way point in the trip and Sam will soon have to start thinking about heading back.