As it turned out, we entirely missed the almond blossom festival; not from arriving too late, as we’d feared, but in fact because we were two weeks early. We enjoyed Tafraoute so much, however, that it didn’t seem to matter that we were going to be leaving before the festvities began. Staying for nearly a week meant that we could adventure out beyond our immediate surroundings, and make a couple of guide-book suggested visits.
Getting out to the painted rocks on our bikes was an opportunity for us to get out properly into the landscape. Having only biked between the van and the town, I think we were all eager to go on an expedition into the curious lumpy outcrops that characterise Tafroute’s surroundings. Rob and I canvassed opinion from fellow motorhomers and consulted various websites and guides on the exact distance to the rocks and the time it would take. As all parents know, cycling or walking with children is all fabulous fun until everyone gets tired and whiny and then something enjoyable becomes a tedious slog. We reckoned we had it pretty well figured out in the end and decided to drive to the small town nearest the trail that leads to the rocks and then cycle the couple of kilometres uphill to the site itself. We knew it wouldn’t be an easy ride but once there, we’d have our lunch and a clamber about, then it would be a blissful downhill all the way back to the van…
Even without the paint the scenery is impressive . Wobbly towers of sandstone are scattered about the place as if some giant child got interrupted while tidying up his blocks. Boulders balance precariously looking as though at the faintest breath of wind they’d come tumbling down onto the plains below. The painted rocks, when we reached them, were bright lumps of improbable pink, purple, blue and turquoise against the otherwise rusty hills. Excitingly for the boys, the whole place is accessible to the determined scrambler and the painted rocks are distributed randomly about the place without, it seems, a clear plan or artistic intention.
On parking the bikes the boys immediately spotted a cave on top of a hill and sprinted off to explore. It is absolutely perfect terrain for family explorations and a good few hours were spent climbing, creating dens and lizard spotting. But it was a hot day and the sun throbbed onto and from the porous rocks, eventually making our own heads throb a little with the heat. Rob and I, smugly thinking that we had it all covered, urged the boys onto their bikes for a cooling and easy ride downhill back to the van.
It started well, with all of us shouting gleefully to each other as we free-wheeled back down the trail. There were bits of the track that had become mostly sand so we went off piste to try and find firmer ground, each of us pedalling our own routes through the clouds of honey-scented broom, blossom and carpets of wild flowers. Just as we were feeling like a family from a holiday advert, I noticed that Monty’s back tyre had deflated and called out to Rob. Rob pumped it up to get Monty back down the hill but as he cycled off noticed that his tyre too had become decidedly flat. Moments later I was shouting that out that mine were flat too, front and back, and Eli’s bike soon also came to a halt with both tyres punctured.
So, there we were, a couple of kilometres from our van, hot, tired and grumpy with no water and four useless bikes. Our visions of a speedy return dashed, two incredibly bad-tempered children in tow, we made our miserable way slowly and sweatily back.
Rob spent the next two days in extreme heat trying to repair inner tubes that had become shredded into lace. Embedded in each tyre were a multitude of cactus spikes that evaded discovery. Just as we thought they’d all been removed and the tube patched, another would be discovered as the mended tyre deflated again. While he slaved and cursed away, a rotund French man parked next to us, while frying his steaks and quaffing his vino, laughed regularly at poor Rob – almost tearful and slowly baking in the midday sun.