|We arrived in the Todra Gorge around nightfall. Five of us and our gear packed into a little Fiat Uno. Much of the day had been spent driving through the Dadés Valley from Ouarzazate but we had also enjoyed a hike and lunch in the Dadés Gorge. Of the two gorges, the Todra was the more spectacular and it was here that we planned to spend the night.
We'd turned off the main road at Tinerhir stopping at a fine overlook from cliffs above the Tinerhir palmeraie (oasis). The view was made even more stunning by the warm rays of the setting sun. Men approached us offering their camels as subjects for our photos - asking money in return. Continuing north, we arrived at the gorge.
At its most dramatic point, the sheer walls of the gorge rise to 300 meters. Just at the entrance, we stopped at a small hotel, the Auberge Etoile des Gorges.
We'd hooked up with a guide and a car for this stretch. Ibrahim was our affable driver and we shared the arrangement with Yoann, a Breton, and Peter, from Switzerland. The plan was to spend a night in the gorge and then continue out into the desert - to the great dunes of Erg Chebbi - the following day.
After a walk in the gorge, dinner and a few rounds of 'jeu aux dames' (a local board game easily played with found objects) we settled in to sleep. We had chosen to sleep on the roof of an adjacent building, on cots set up under a "tente berbere". Evelyn and I took a couple of cots at the edge of the deck so we could gaze up from beneath the tent covering at the moon suspended above the wall of the gorge.
I was still enjoying this view when Evelyn pointed out something in the opposite direction that had drawn her attention. High atop the cliff rising behind the hotel was a small building - its window illuminated from within by the glow of a fire. Beautiful, I thought.
But then a man standing just next to the building started yelling - something in Arabic - it didn't sound good. The glow in the window turned into flames that licked the ceiling, grew quickly, and then leaped through the window reaching for the night sky.
No one down below seemed to be reacting. Evelyn yelled, "Ibrahim! Il y a un feu!!" Now there started to be some movement below accompanied by yelling. An irrigation canal ran by the side of the road. Buckets were filled with water and carried into the hotel.
The hotel is built right up against the cliff. The second floor hallway has no back wall - it simply ends at the exposed rock of the cliff. Going up a second flight of stairs leads out onto the roof. From there, a homemade wooden ladder takes one partially up the cliff. After that, to reach the fire was a steep scramble over loose rock.
It was dark except for the light of the moon and the intense glow of the blaze. Evelyn and I descended from our rooftop perch. By now there were more people (all men and boys) than buckets. Somehow, they were getting some water up to the fire but it was futile. The fire was raging out of control. The roof of the small building was now completely on fire. There was nothing else to burn.