Beautiful Views on "the Edge of Death"

Monday, October 6, 2008 | Oued Laou, Morocco (map)

After leaving Oued Laou, we headed east at dusk, hoping for better options further along the coast.
Returning from our hike in mid-afternoon on Thursday, Jacqueline and I quickly set off on the next stage of our trip—the drive to the coast.

From Chefchaouen, the road twisted downhill at absurdly tight angles. Mercedes taxis roared up around the curves, nearly tossing our flimsy Kia off the road several times. We cruised downward into a wide valley, where the road began to follow the Oued Laou (the Arabic word oued/واد means river, stream, creek, or creek bed) toward the coastal town of the same name, where we planned to spend the night.

Along its course to the sea, the river passes over several hydroelectric dams, and snakes its way along the floor of a red rock gorge.

In its brief description of Oued Laou, our Lonely Planet guidebook swoons about the town's
appealing "feel of an overgrown fishing village" and "charm of an undiscovered paradise." Jacqueline and I had high hopes when we pulled into the town, but soon found it to be the first of several disappointments to come during our Mediterranean coastal tour.

Oued Laou was indeed a fishing village—that much was clear from the boats pulled up on the trash-strewn beach. Contrary to the guidebook's description, however, the town's streets and cafés crawled with just the type of seedy, shifty-eyed characters I would have expected to encounter in a backwater Mediterranean fishing port.

Jacqueline and I sat down for a coffee in a grimy seaside café to weigh our options. At the table beside us, two men sipped coffees and took turns puffing a long, thin kif pipe. A few seedy fellows approached our table and made transparent efforts at conversation before getting hastily to the point and trying to push hashish on us. No thanks, we're out of here.

* * *

As the afternoon waned, we fled Oued Laou and followed the Mediterranean coast eastward, climbing along the spectacular seaside cliffs. The road was about one-and-a-half lanes wide, and the vertical dropoff left little room for error. Jacqueline dubbed it "the edge of death." But surrounded by such awesome scenery, our eyes inevitably drifted from the road, only to be wrenched back each time we passed another vehicle. Then, Jacqueline and the other driver executed a mutual swerve, often accompanied by copious honking and flashing of headlights as both worked to cling to the narrow road.

As dusk fell, we found a hotel in the sleepy port of As-Stiha. To recover from the harrowing drive, we sat on the balcony with a bottle of Moroccan red wine, watching night fall over the sea.

See a map of our route here.

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