Arrival back into Marrakech was something of an anti-climax after the truly fantastic riding of the last 8 days or so, since my last update in fact… I arrived back into the madness of the Djemaa el Fna, chugged a couple of glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice from one of the carts that characterise the square and then rode off into the medina in search of my digs… game over. 36 degs C doesn’t even feel particularly hot any more… Looking back it has been a really fantastic ride, every single day has been deeply satisfying. The riding has been hard going at times and as such extremely rewarding, with of course the added pleasure that comes from the warmth and hospitality of the Berber people. I’m getting ahead of myself however…
I really was feeling rather buggered in Boumalne when I last wrote (also the last occasion I had a connection to the outside world), a combination of recovering from the chest bug that hit me in N’kob, some hard riding across the Jebel Sahro and less than ideal diet… but with no desire to hang around in the town a short day was in order.. something to spin the legs and ease any restlessness. So I trundled north of town, climbing slowly into the Dades Gorge.. to the head of the gorge some 33km from Boumalne where I camped in what passes for the garden of one of the very many guesthouses that litter the place. The gorge is very much tour group land, I didn’t feel at home at all, although it was a nice ride up and I did find it quite amusing to be stared at by a bunch of french tourists off a bus at a cafe I stopped for coffee :-)
the road to the Dades Gorge
very much tour group territory….
with all sorts of stuff available for sale…
…with associated facilities..
nice old Bedford truck though.
From there subsequent days took on a flavour of just navigating village to village in the High Atlas, making use of the network of dirt tracks and trails that link the villages.. some 460km of dirt in the end, and relying on local knowledge for finding my way on trails that appear to be largely unmapped. I imagine local trekking maps will show many of them but the ones I’ve seen cover too small an area to be of use on a bike journey. Luckily though folk in the villages are only too willing to help with directions and ideas for interesting ways to get to the next place, and the gites that can be found in some villages to serve the trekking market are very handy for information. At times it feels like a leap of faith heading off onto the next stretch but the reality is that if there is a track then it only exists to serve the purpose of getting from somewhere to somewhere else.. and if the somewhere else isn’t exactly where you wanted to be there will be another track… my compass did come in handy on a couple of occasions when faced with a multitude of tracks heading off, and I did go wrong on a couple of occasions but not very wrong and it was no big deal to get back on track by asking in the villages. The only other thing to be aware of is that whatever distance you are quoted it’s pretty certain it’ll be at least half as much again… and sometimes double :-) I don’t carry a GPS… not a lot of use without a good map and to be honest I rather enjoy the interaction with local folk and discovering trails that way than blindly following a bunch of waypoints…it is very satisfying. I’m also not particularly keen on a reliance on a tech. Just old fashioned I think, have done it this way for years and perhaps too much of a duffer to change ;-)
From the village of Ait Youl in the Dades Gorge I picked up a rather nice trail heading west…
… the surface a little tricky in spots but all rideable…
it soon opened out into a mix of rock and hardpack..
…and then hard clay through a fantastically eroded landscape… this stretch would be really sticky in the wet.
I hadn’t been able to get any supplies, everything shut, so arriving in the village of Bou-Thrarar I was pretty hungry… handily there is a gite, I stuffed myself with fries and then failed to leave until the next morning… it was a beautiful spot
The high mountain trails really are brilliant… lots of challenging climbing on loose rocks, some faster hard-packed sections, technical descending and breathtakingly beautiful. They are also extremely quiet.. the only traffic I encountered for much of the riding being a few folk on horseback. I did on one occasion meet a bunch of European mountain bikers with a support 4×4… I barely got an acknowledgement to my cheery wave beyond a stare so wondered if perhaps they were feeling silly in their body armour on long travel suspension bikes ;-) Water is hard to come by in places so I was typically starting each day with around 8 litres on board… I might not use all of it but it is also something of a ‘security blanket’ in case something goes wrong..broken bike, broken body etc etc.
Rather than bore you with a load more words, and to save myself from being here all day, I’ll just throw a bunch pictures at you by way of giving you a flavour of the journey and then, out of consideration for my fellow passengers on the flight tomorrow, I can go and do some laundry… it has been a while, my shorts are stiff enough with dirt to stand up by themselves and as for my socks… well, ‘toxic’ is the word that springs to mind :-) Apologies for any typos, I’m using a tiny bluetooth keyboard and it suffers from a degree of keybounce now, abused as it has been…
from Bou-Thrarar about 20km of asphalt with some steep climbing before the asphalt abruptly ends in a lovely rural setting. Snow capped Irhil M’Goun at 4071m in the distance. It is an ‘easy’ trekking peak and perhaps worth tackling on two wheels…
Nothing but foot trafffic as the track climbed steadily into the high mountains.
At the top of one long, long climb on a rocky track I stopped for a breather in a tiny village, no more than 3 or 4 huts…. No sooner had I sat on a rock than this family almost dragged me inside, brought tea and a simple lunch of bread and olive oil while the lady of the house cracked a bowl of fresh almonds. Al Jazeera was on the telly… Wonderful people.
From there the track became a little more intimate as it wound it’s way through the mountains…
.. then up a dry river bed for a few km
before…. contemplating a vertical drop of some 800ft or so, a loose path switchbacking steeply down the cliff face… I took it ‘carefully’…
Incredible colours in the rock
Great trails… this was a fantastic day..
I had planned a camp but as the shadows grew longer all of a sudden I popped out onto a stretch of asphalt and a mellow 20km or so of cruising through villages in a dry river valley…
I started meeting a number of ‘Berber Taxis’… minibuses stacked out with people on the roof..
so figured there must have been a market going on somewhere…
.. and there was, in the village of Toumdoute… I threaded my way through the chaos..
.. and stumbled across a lovely little ‘gite familial’.. essentially just a family home with an extra room or two with some mattresses on the floor. As a solo traveller and the only foreigner in town I was often invited to eat with the family in such places. Lovely homecooked grub.
Wandering in the hills above Toumdoute
Toumdoute has some lovely old Kasbahs along the river
leaving Toumdoute… what happiness looks like
happy, happy, happy…
sometimes there are signposts…. but more often not..
remote football field…
My directions said ‘get to the village of Tamsoult..’
‘… ride down into the village…’
‘..then take the path that goes downriver past the kasbah…’
‘… and then when you get to the village of Imi-n-Ouassif go to the end of the village and take the track on the right that goes across the river…’
‘..and then take the track that goes west and stay on it until you reach the asphalt road that goes from Skoura to Demnate.’
It was a good ride in a big landscape.
The Skoura-Demnate road is a challenging one with a great deal of steep climbing, with some significant ‘switchbackage’ to over 2200m. It is also a very broken road, significant sections being frequently destroyed by rockslides and flash floods. As such it is a very quiet road, this grand taxi the only vehicle I saw on the stretch.. he stopped to make sure I was OK :-)
..despite the difficulty it was a good ride, beautiful.
Moving further northwest the Atlas Mountains become wetter and greener. I was quite knackered when I arrived at the village of Toufrine, tucked away in a pretty river valley…
..but being welcomed into the village with the ubiquitous pot of tea mitigated the fatigue :-)
The area is packed with tiny villages that appear to grow out of the mountainsides, their colours of course matching the local stone and mud.
This is Magdiz..
some fine interior painting in Magdiz, an old guy wanted to show me his house… as I followed him up the tight, dirt staircase in almost pitch dark I could not help noticing the Nike logo on his socks beneath his stained old djellaba..
Another groovy old truck near Ait Hamlil
my final day in the mountains was a good one… another leap of faith finding my way on a series of tracks that do not appear on any map I’ve seen, including the trekking map I saw in Toufrine..
40km I was told… the reality was 84km, the usual mix of fast hard pack, long, sometimes tricky climbs and technical descending on rocky, rutted paths..
The villages through which I passed grew slightly in significance as the mountains came to a close..
but still nothing but horse and mule back traffic. One has to be considerate, the beasts really are not used to cyclists at all and in some cases passing was quite difficult…
I would like garage doors like this… colourful
terrific and abrupt colour changes along the way.
Finally after one last, leg busting climb.. wrestling my bike upwards for almost an hour over rocks and around steep hairpins, the mountains not letting me go easily… they suddenly ran out… just foothills ahead.
.. and aa long descent on a soft track. The mountains eventually spat me out for good in a small village by a reservoir just 84km from Marrakech.
..where a chap with a food stall cooked me an omelette on a little gas burner at the back of his shop.
I rode back up the hill a little to hide my tent in a dry pine forest. Happily I managed to avoid the attentions of streams of kids walking home from school to their villages scattered around the counttryside. The kids are fine but they will not leave you alone…even when riding along they are liable to jump into your path… but it is all good natured and a high speed ‘high five’ is all they need to be happy. It is fun and happily the instances of ‘un dirham’ or ‘un stylo’ followed by an attempt to shove a stick in your spokes seem to have dwindled almost to nothing from previous experience.
Brew on! Plenty of stuff for the Pocket Stove to burn for a change :-) Precautions were taken to avoid setting the whole hillside on fire… it is a tinderbox after all.
Nearly over… it was a good ride on a quiet asphalt road back to Marrakech. Pretty much pancake flat and with not a breath of wind I plugged into some good tunes and covered the 84km in a little over 3hrs. Fun was had along the way racing local young folk on their bikes as I passed through the villages… though it was never much of a race, they didn’t really stand a chance, ha… but they did start it so I wasn’t going to hold back ;-)
So there you have it. I only managed to ride about 1200km in the three weeks… but almost half of that was on dirt.. at times very rough dirt, and just about all of it was steep, hot, and completely wonderful :-)