Morocco 2016 on my trusty R1150GS

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Thijs_B, Oct 22, 2017.

  1. Thijs_B

    Thijs_B Keeps on dreaming

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2011
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Warwickshire, UK
    It took me a while(!) before I got around to posting this as life has been very busy, but I finished most of the text within the first few weeks of getting home so I think it can still pass as fresh. Recent work was mostly getting through the mountain of photo’s and sorting the recorded GPX tracks.

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    In 2016 I spent 4 weeks from mid-March traveling to Morocco and back, ending up with 7200km under the belt. Quite a good one this was!

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    So, over the last few years my bike has taken me to all kinds of places; mountains, forests, fjords, and everything in between. But the general direction has mostly been north, so I figured it’s time to go south for a (hopefully) warmer ride for a change. Also I’ve never been to a desert, on- or off the bike. Morocco has been on the list of 'big ones' ever since I started riding in 2011, it’s about time get to it!

    I don’t really remember how I got to ‘taking a month’, other than it just seemed like a good enough space of time to see a country with a realistic and comfortable distance per day. So I took 4 weeks off work (+1 day), with a general planning for the country divided in 3 loose segments:

    -Get into the country, aim south-east (target Agadir)
    -Go east (target Merzouga), hopefully involving some “allroading” riding on the famous pistes.
    -Go north, back to the coast

    This creates a triangle on the map that seemed to cover a nice swath of the country, so let’s go with that. Never did I plan a trip that bad, and I ended up deviating quite a bit as the track above shows.

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    Yeah, good luck

    It’s honestly a shit plan: completely going around the Atlas mountains, and there’s not really anything to justify Agadir to be that pivotal so I already knew I wasn’t actually going there. But it would give me an idea of the total mileage and a general line to follow and improvise around.

    With that and about 20 points of interest added to my GPS I set off. Spoiler-alert - I did make it back...

    Oh, and some pics as an introduction :deal

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    #1
    durtwurm, VTbeemer and cmcteir like this.
  2. Thijs_B

    Thijs_B Keeps on dreaming

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2011
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Warwickshire, UK
    Days 1, 2, 3 & 4

    First order of business is getting to the ferry in Tarifa in the south of Spain. I choose to get the ferry there because of the town's size, it didn’t seem as hectic compared to Algericas for example, and it’s where the fastest crossing is. Also it is the southernmost point of Spain and I like the idea of leaving Europe from an extremity.

    But before all that there was the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander, so I wouldn’t have to spend time / energy / money riding through France. So the trip started with a leisurely 2 hour ride down to Portsmouth on a sunny Friday afternoon, and a 24 hour sit-back-and-relax crossing to Spain.

    My day job is very demanding and taking 4 weeks off doesn’t particularly lower that pressure. Combine this with the build up anticipation I was exhausted, I think I spent about 16 of the 24 hours crossing in various states of consciousness in my cabin. Best thing was that it provided a nice break, being forced to do nothing but reading and relaxing. The ferry was a good reminder why I wanted to go out ofr Europe for a change as it was more of the same; the same cabins, same little shops and expensive restaurants I've found on all previous rides.

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    Bye bye to the UK for now

    I have been bouncing between excitement and nervousness in the weeks leading up to this, the two emotions seemed to grow further apart in their respective directions the closer I got. (but the frequency only increased). Morocco is an Islamic country, and growing up in a post-9/11 world I found my own unconsciousness well indoctrinated by western media, ie. ‘Islamic’ State making headlines almost daily. But consciously, based on other RRs and travel reports, I knew people in general are often almost too friendly and most cultures in the world are warm and inviting. It was just a matter of forcing myself through it.

    The above was represented in responses I got when I told people I was going to Morocco on my own on a bike. There seemed to be only two rough categories; “Really? Oh you’re going to have such a good time!” (with a big smile) or “Really? Is that safe?” (with a hesitant frown).

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    Hello Spain!

    Arrival in Santander was in the early evening, and I still had about 2 hours to get to the booked hotel in Palencia. I don’t like riding late in the day in the dark but decided to do this to spread the mileage to Tarifa, especially since I had 24 hours of rest behind me. I blame the bare bones prep for not accounting for the mountains and temperature of the north (isn't Spain supposed to be warm!).
    As the sun went down it got COLD, I was desperately doing bunny hops at a petrol station, the heated grips just weren't enough. To save on luggage space I did not bring winter lining for my suit. “I’m going to the desert, I’ll just man up if it gets cold during the first few days” said past-me (that guy is an idiot).

    The hotel in Palencia had a bath, so the cold was soon of no concern anymore. The town has a Rio style Cristo statue over the town, which you pass by if you enter from the north. Proved to be a good morning walk.

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    Even though the sun was out, it was still quite cold. It was about two hours before the motorway passed the Sierra de Béjar, after which the temperature suddenly started to climb into more comfortable ranges.


    (Click for video) Motorway entertainment

    I choose the Ibis in Sevilla mainly for the underground parking and price. The hotel is quite far away from anything, and I arrived too late and was too tired to get to see the city centre. First palm trees of the trip though!

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    The sentence “I’ve ridden my bike to a place where there are [...]” will be in this RR a few times, in this case ‘palm trees’!

    Next up was the big day, the crossing into Africa. I was well into the ‘warm zone’ of Spain, so after the morning chilliness (and surviving Monday morning traffic around the city) it was an enjoyable ride to the coast down to the coast.

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    Spotted an abandoned Jag XJ at one of the stops, what a beauty...

    I arrived well on time, got my tickets from the FRS office, stickers for my panniers and off to the ferry.

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    This side is Europe, the mountains on the other side is Africa

    The temperature had gotten nice and comfortable, I was really enjoying it especially after the cold start in the north. Now just a matter of getting on that ferry...
    #2
  3. Thijs_B

    Thijs_B Keeps on dreaming

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Warwickshire, UK
    Day 4 - Arrival in Morocco

    I brought along Chris Scott’s Morocco Overland, which tries to offer preparations for the border procedures. The book was a great support by lifting the haze of the unknown, but it’s structure is slightly messy. Lots of text but no sense of overview, which may do the job for some but I personally need it in a list that I can check off. So while riding I made one in my head, but will include it below in the 'spoiler' so it may help others.

    Documentation you need on any ride abroad, but bold is what you’ll need to consider for Morocco:

    Yourself:
    -Drivers licence
    -Passport (get it stamped on the ferry)
    -(Travel) Insurance (covering Morocco)
    -Temporary immigration form (white and yellow). You’ll get both at the ticket office or ferry port. They’re basic napkin sized information sheets. Fill them in while waiting (it’s all fairly straightforward but leave out the ID number, you’ll get one when they stamp your passport), and hand the white one over at the passport control on the ferry. Keep the yellow one.

    Bike:
    -Ownership docs (‘Kentekenbewijs’ for my Dutch bike)
    -Insurance (green card), covering Morocco. Check your green card, Morocco was already on mine so I didn’t need to do more. If you are not so lucky you can get it in Morocco, ‘Assurance’ offices all over the place.
    -Temporary import form, (D16). Can be printed beforehand or filled in at the border. The printed one is an A4 with three slips on it. One for entering, one for leaving, and one for yourself to keep.

    That’s it really, not much more to it. The only thing that you may not be explicitly directed to is the passport control on the ferry. I’ve seen reports of people spending two hours in line on other ferries, but for me there were two people in front of me. It may have helped that I went to the desk straight after getting on the ferry, while most people were still embarking.

    The ferry arrived at Tangier-Ville, smaller than the maybe more known Tangier Med port. The border itself was a bit confusing, but not nearly as bad as I imagined (or feared?). It was a gated area, so no crowds of people to add to the chaos. Below in quotes is somewhat detailed, long, and skippable, but again it may help someone out if they’re first timers like myself and feel nervous about it.

    I rode off the ferry and was stopped by an official who gave me a form for the bike. I showed him the printed D16, he mumbled ‘same’ and took it from me. After checking my passport he told me I had to go upstairs to ‘the police’ with it.

    He directed me out of the safety of the gates, where I was happily greeted by two or three of the (in)famous touts (but not the feared crowds). They were quick to help; one of them said ‘police, passport?’, I answered ‘Yeah, up there?’, and he walked with me up the stairs and pointed where to go.

    Inside was an airport style terminal, and after queueing in the wrong line I was directed to a man in a shabby office who took my passport, told me to sit down, and then spent about 10 minutes working away on an old CRT monitor. I was well out of my comfort zone, sitting with all my riding gear on in that empty airport style terminal wondering what I got myself into…

    Then the guy waved me over and told me all was OK and that I needed to go back down. I checked my passport but no stamps or anything added, I guess he just entered my details into Morocco’s immigration system? The tout was waiting outside for me and showed me back into the gates. He was laid back and not pushy at all, and helped a nervous me out, so I think he had earned the tip even before he started telling me about how he had to take care of a family.

    I got back to the bike, the border official still had my D16 but I noticed he had signed and stamped it, he checked my passport again (not sure why, nothing had changed) and told me to sit down. Again a few minutes of wondering what I had gotten myself into and what was going on, while the official was checking other vehicles (no obvious reason for making me wait, maybe to look important?). Then he waved me over and gave me the signed D16. ‘Only Maroc, no other country?’ he asked, ‘No just Maroc mate’ I replied. ‘OK you can go’ he said.

    ...and I was off, the gates opened for me.

    It was surreal riding through those gates, from the apparent safety of a gated port area. I had expected Tangier as a city to still have a small blend of European, with it being so close to Spain and all, but it was all so… African (for lack of a better word).


    I had booked a hotel in Chefchaouen, about two hours away, to have a destination to put in the GPS for the first night. This was also somewhat convenient for the border procedure itself, as I had an actual destination to put on the immigration forms instead of the often suggested ‘Hotel Fez in Fez’.

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    First stop would be a bank for some Dirhams. While walking back to the bike I met a Dutch man who had spotted my Dutch license plate, he had been living in Tangier for the past 12 years so we had a quick chat. Can’t seem to get away from my own language at times as I seem to run into the bloody Dutch everywhere I go!

    During the ride to Chefchaouen everything was just a bit off, as always after entering a new country. I crossed over the northern hills of the Rift in the direction of Tetouan, and from there on it was the N2 south to Chef’. Some rural villages along the way.

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    Contrary to warnings in some (maybe older) reports, my GPS was keeping up nicely with the road. The TomTom map is as detailed as I was used to back home, even down south later on, but as always you do have to keep your eyes open. As I arrived in Chef’ it sent me straight into a busy shopping street, and I was too late to realise it.


    Long and unedited...

    It wasn’t long though before I arrived at the hotel, and received the trademark Moroccan welcome with my first mint tea. I had only booked one night, but decided to book another one. The past few days and many kilometers had been in the ‘getting there’ spirit, so I thought it’d be nice to end that first chunk with a full day off the bike in Chefchaouen.

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    Chef' skyline from the hotel

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    That night I went into town and somehow managed to find the central square by the kasbah without too much difficulty. Got my first tagine (a never disappointing type of stew; veg, potato and some meat), and really started getting into the trip and enjoying the alienness of it all.

    This was going to be a good one.
    #3
  4. Thijs_B

    Thijs_B Keeps on dreaming

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2011
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
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    Day 5 - Chefchaouen

    So my first day not on the bike, time to stretch the legs. No plan other than explore and enjoy vacation time.

    I started off hiking up to the old Spanish Mosque up the hill overlooking the town, figured I probably wouldn’t bother if it got warmer later on.

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    While enjoying the view up there got talking to a local who lived in Chef’ his whole life. It was all good and relaxed, and in the best English he could manage he told me about the town and surrounding area. I was half expecting he would ask me for money or try to sell me something, but he wished me a good trip and left me alone to enjoy the view. Maybe I can lower the defences a bit?

    It’s slightly different in town though. Being a blue eyed, tall white boy I had no illusions of being able to blend in, but add this with me being on my own I think works as a magnet on the dealers of ‘recreational substances’. The Rift mountains are supposedly the Columbia of Africa, and you’d have little trouble finding drugs here. I lost count of the amount of times I got offered ‘a smoke’, some ‘good stuff’ or simply shown a bag of it. Strategy (if you don’t want obviously) is to tell them no and just walk on, but some are really persistent; one kept walking with me for several streets mumbling away about how good his product was and that he had a family to provide for.

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    Other than the odd substance dealer at the edge of town I really liked Chefchaouen, it is touristy but not in a bad way. It is a good place to start in as I wasn’t the only white boy around (like I would be later on), and the atmosphere is very relaxed and easy. The day was spent wandering between restaurants for hour+ long tea/coffee breaks, abusing my e-reader. Taking ‘rest’ day quite literally here.

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    #4
  5. Thijs_B

    Thijs_B Keeps on dreaming

    Joined:
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    132
    Location:
    Warwickshire, UK
    Day 6 - Volubilis and Azrou.

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    So it was finally starting, ready to get on with the ‘going south’ chunk of the trip. The sky looked a bit threatening in the morning, and there was rain incoming from the opposite side of the valley from Chef’. Fok this, I didn’t come to Morocco for the rain so I hurried to get the bike loaded and set off. It helped that I was also eager to get going after a day of rest. I managed to squeeze through two clouds and caught some drizzle on my visor, but that would be the last rain for the next few weeks!

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    Uneditied, passing through one of the bigger towns.

    I was enjoying the ride, and let myself be amazed by the surroundings. I’m careful here not to jump to conclusions and call it poverty, but people using horses and donkeys to work field and carry goods along the roads are sights of a very different world indeed.

    First stop was Volubilis, a very well preserved Roman city, at the very edge of their ancient empire. At the entrance there were a handful of guides enthusiastically offering their services, but I preferred to explore on my own. The city contains many well preserved mosaics, but to me the overall layout was maybe even more impressive with rooms in houses and all streets clearly visible. Like one of those CG documentary shots it was easy to imagine them rising up from the ruins and filling with life. It is also still being excavated, and there were various crews digging around at the edges of the site.

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    Another example (and start of a trend) after I got back, one of the guides asked me where I was from. After saying Holland, he went ‘Ah Holland, alles goed?’ (Dutch for ‘how are you doing?’) and we chatted for a bit. There is a massive Moroccan community in the Netherlands, and it looks like many people in Morocco have a friend or relative there. But what impressed me over the next few weeks was how many of them actually spoke a few words of Dutch despite even the faintest connection.

    Then to think that Moroccans in the Netherlands are often the Favourite Minority To Bitch And Moan About… I asked the Dutch guy I met in Tangier if he had picked up some Arab (in the 12 years he had lived there) but he never bothered ‘because his French was good enough’.

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    The holy town of Moulay Idriss

    You’re guaranteed a warm welcome in Morocco anyway, but it seems a license plate with ‘NL’ on it does not hurt. While passing through Meknes a group of kids (selling all kinds of stuff at traffic lights) got very excited when they saw my plate, I heard one yelling ‘Holland Holland!’ behind me and I got surrounded in mid traffic and had to shake hands with every one of them. One of those moments I wish I had my helmet cam running.

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    Just outside Azrou I was following some rickety signs to a hotel, but for one of them wasn’t really clear if it pointed down a road or to a building right next to it. There was a man just outside a small gate next to the sign who was just about to leave on his moped, so I asked him for the hotel.

    He gave me the biggest smile, and before I knew it I was standing in his house and he was showing me around. He spoke some sort of French, and I could only understand a few keywords, but it was clear I was being invited to stay over. A few minutes later I was riding behind his small moped into town to get groceries for dinner (it’s interesting to shop in those local markets, away from the shiny tourist places).

    Not long after we got back his youngest son Mouhamed arrived, and more efficient communication was possible as he spoke English. He is only a few years younger than me and he originally wanted to be an artist, but he’s now studying Hotel management because there’s more of a future in it. As many young Moroccans he is hoping to go abroad to work, and is aiming for New York!

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    While his mother and sister were preparing their family recipe Tagine, me and Mouhamed got a taxi (one of those classic Mercs) into town and he showed me around. Being in the back of one of those, with four other guys and a football match being broadcasted over the radio in Arabic is something I won’t forget soon…

    We slept in the living area, the women spent the night in the kitchen where it was slightly warmer as it got surprisingly cold at night!

    All in all a great first day on the bike!
    #5
  6. Will Rogers

    Will Rogers Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2017
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    141
    Location:
    Sussex, England
    Looking forward to seeing more
    #6
  7. Thijs_B

    Thijs_B Keeps on dreaming

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2011
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    Location:
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    Day 7 - Into the mighty Atlas

    Sleeping is rough on those hard benches, but the copious amounts of blankets did help (I understand the Moroccan obsession with blankets and carpets a bit better now, also with these cold nights). Their hospitality is truly warm and wonderful, and after breakfast I was asked to stay for lunch as well. But after a full day in Chef’ I was still eager to get on with it, and figured I would have to learn to say no on this trip or I’d never get anywhere.

    I was shown around the school as kids were arriving for classes.

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    Several teachers and also the headmaster arrived. They all easily switched to English so some chats were had before leaving.

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    Mouhammed suggested I take the back roads going south towards Khenifra and he was quite right, this area is amazing! Woods give way to valleys, with some wildlife around (MONKEYS!) and the occasional herd of sheep. It was surprisingly cold, with the occasional snow next to the roads. Should’ve packed a sweater after all?


    Some lovely riding

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    Lighting is crap, but some monkeys can be seen fleeing the road… I’ve ridden my bike to a place where there are monkeys!

    After a long morning I reached Khenifra, very wild west feel here but it could still be me adjusting to not being in Europe.

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    View over Khenifra during a break after going through town.

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    After a long road through some hills I finally climbed up into the Atlas mountain range, and crossed what seemed to be the main divide north of Imilchil. Also for the first time I can call the roads ‘bad’ as whole chunks were simply not there, and it was proper hard work to get the GS over the pass while dodging foot-deep potholes and acc/decelerating all the time on these steep slopes.



    Just before the very top, I stopped to give the lorry in the distance a head start. No way I can overtake here…

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    I decided to look for a hotel in Imilchil, and passed a funky looking Kasbah on the way in but it was closed. I stopped for fuel at the nearby petrol station and asked one the attendants if there were any hotels around. He turned out to be the owner of the Kasbah, and was happy to open it up for me before racing back to town to get supplies for food. There even was a locked shed for the bike!

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    So I had this all to myself for the night!

    It was a bit creepy being in such a building alone, but the owner soon came back with food and prepared a great tagine over which we chatted as far as language allowed. It was proper cold at night with no heating in the room but lots of blankets, I’m just happy I didn’t choose to camp...

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    Dinner, mouthwatering...

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    Day 8 - A small taste of the desert.

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    From Imilchil you’ve got two options to go south down from the mountains; either the Todra Gorge or the Dades Gorge. After comparing the descriptions in both Morocco Overland and the Lonely Planet I figured to ride the full Todra Gorge down, and go up the first 40km or so of the Dades (since the norther stretch is apparently less interesting).

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    Getting really arid up in here, good riding though.

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    South of Agudal a stunning landscape opened up, this is EPIC and the pictures do not do it justice…

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    Why you shouldn’t practise knee downs in Morocco, even though the road seems to ask for it at first glance...

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    Several villages down the road the Gorge finally seemed to dig into the landscape, and I stopped for a photo when I heard some heavy engines down from between the cliffs. Out came a group of bikers, on the first big bikes I’ve seen after coming in the country! They stopped for a sec and I shook hands with the first and we shouted some well wishes over several running engines, then they were off… I find I’m drawing stares from locals riding alone through these towns, I can only imagine the impression these guys make when they come thundering through.

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    One of them was riding a brand spanking new Africa Twin, I thought it wasn’t on sale yet at the time (March’16)? Or is this group doing a press preview? They had Spanish plates, is all I know.

    The Todra is Gorgeous to ride through, but you enter tourist country about midway where the cliffs either side are the steepest. Further down palm trees start to pop up next to the roads, and after a few more villages there’s Tinghir.

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    There it is in the distance… the desert!

    The N10 is not called the ‘desert highway’ (that’s the N12 further south, more later…) but in this case it would be a fitting name. Speeds are high, road surface is very good and sand in all directions. Just mind the dromedaries... Wait dromedaries?!

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    Another first, I’ve ridden my bike to a place where there are droms!

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    At Boumaine I turned back north into the Dades Gorge, and spent most of the distance wondering where the truly good stuff was. I think the Todra and Dades gorges are very similar, but the latter seems more touristy with hotels / campings and restaurants everywhere.

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    There was a hotel just above the famous Dades Gorge road, but I went in a bit further and checked into one at the end of another gorge.

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    Obligatory shot

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    My hotel for the night

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    #7
  8. Thijs_B

    Thijs_B Keeps on dreaming

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2011
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Warwickshire, UK
    Day 9 - Loooong day on the bike

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    So the plan was to go back down the Dades Gorge, and head west towards Ouarzazate. I was aiming for Ait Benhaddou, and was hopeful to camp somewhere north of there where the roads supposedly get worse. I’ve been dragging around my camping gear and was really looking forward to actually using it to camp in the desert.

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    Down the famous Dades Gorge zigzag.

    So first stint to Ourzazate was more desert road. I was thoroughly enjoying the exoticness of it all.

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    The world's largest solar power station was being build Near Ouarzazate, and the first part of it was opened only a few month before (Noor 1). I read about it in the news and figured I may as well see if I could have a look at it while I’m in the area. It all looked high security though. I know a big no-no in Morocco is looking like you’re snooping around (military) installations so I kept my distance. Not much to see anyway, no raised viewpoints around!

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    Couldn’t help myself and took a cheeky picture.

    After that I passed through Ouarzazate and stopped for lunch and a coffee (can’t get enough of Moroccan salad), but then straight on to Ait Benhaddou in the north. Known for many many films, but for me it’s where Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven happened. By coincidence I had been watching a bit of the latter on television in Chefchaouen, just a few days before! The site is as touristy as it can get, and the Kasbah is not representative of the original because of all the modifications made for these various movies.

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    It was HOT, for the first time on the trip. Assassin’s Creed also comes to mind walking through these streets.

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    The town was the furthest north most people get on this road, and after leaving town it was almost immediately back into rural Morocco with scattered small towns and bad(ish) roads. Soon the tarmac stopped completely and it was dirt roads for a few miles. Bike felt at home though.

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    I was looking around for spots to camp. My approach to wildcamping in Morocco was that I needed a very good spot to justify it, otherwise you’re better off staying in a cheap hotel and supporting the local economy.


    On the other hand there was also Marrakech to consider. It was only about two hours away at this point, and I wanted a full day in the city with a fresh start (as opposed to arriving late in the morning). As I reached the N9 without finding a suitable camping spot the decision was made, I would push for Marrakech.

    Looking back not the best decision, as it was a loooong way to go still. The N9 (Tizi N’Tichka) over the Atlas was under heavy reconstruction and I’ve never ridden through so much dust! Traffic was backed up for miles and miles, but luckily on the bike I could blast my way through many of the queues.

    It’ll be a magnificent road in a few years, competing with any of the famous European passes, but for now (March 2016) I’d suggest to try and avoid it. The dust alone would probably cost you some years of your life (poor working conditions as well for the workers).

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    Looking down, not too bad here but you can see the traffic already queueing up.

    North of the main pass, and away from the construction zone the road actually got quite good and enjoyable.


    Even further the views got staggering, and at this point I wished I had stopped at Ait Benhaddou, and experience this area after a good night's sleep. As it was though, I was very tired and didn’t bother to stop for pictures. By the time I got to the plains of Marrakech it had gotten dark, and a bit iffy with my smoked visor and mopeds without lights everywhere. Just before the city in the dark I hit a deep pothole at 60kph (one of those ankle breakers) and I could feel the rim of my front tyre hitting the edge… Short inspection with a flashlight didn’t show any apparent damage, but it was a sure sign I was pushing my luck.

    I did not have any hotel in mind when I entered the city, so I just went for it relying on my luck to find something nice. Ended in the middle of the medina with the bike! One of the regrets of the trip was not filming while I was working my way through streets filled with people. There was barely enough space for the bike with panniers at times, trying to struggle through the crowds and not hitting anyone. Added to the stress was the thought that my tire may be deflating after the pothole earlier (had this with my car a few weeks before the trip), and I didn’t want to deal with that in these crowded streets...

    I just kept going straight to prevent circling, and at one point though I came behind another BMW (car), and followed him to a main(ish) road after which my GPS became useful again.

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    Right through the middle…

    I passed the hotel Majorelle, and noticed a nice garage door to the side of the main entrance. Turns out they’ve got underground parking and the price was surprisingly low for a hotel in the city so I booked two nights… Was totally knackered, can’t believe I set of riding from the Dades Gorge this same morning. I didn’t take four weeks off work to be going at this pace…

    But on the bright side I would have all of the next day to explore the city!
    #8
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  9. onthetrail

    onthetrail Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2016
    Oddometer:
    121
    Location:
    Northeast United States
    #9
  10. Thijs_B

    Thijs_B Keeps on dreaming

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2011
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Warwickshire, UK
    Day 10 - Marrakech

    So a second day off the bike on this trip, this time to explore Marrakech. The hotel was a 15 minute walk from the old city walls, and armed with a generic route from the Lonely Planet I dove in.

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    View from the hotel

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    Magic streets

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    Coffee breaks

    Being the wide eyed tourist I walked in a classic trap of following up an offer to have a look at the tanneries. It is basically the only way you get to see them, so I figured I’d just follow along. The guide gave me a mint leaf as ‘natural gas mask’ for the odours and told me all about the age old process of tanning leather from the three different main ethnic groups; Berber, Bedouin and Arab.

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    Viewpoint, with my guide

    At the end of the tour the guide left me in a small shop where the owner demonstrated what they produced with the leather (pouches, carpets), and it wasn’t long before I found myself haggling for a carpet I didn’t even want (“I can’t carry it on the bike!”, after which he just folded it into an even smaller package). After insisting I wasn’t interested I put in scandalously low offers, about a fifth of the original, but after some theatre of outrage he met mine and we suddenly had a deal. I realised he probably still made a good profit, and I was the one walking out with a carpet I didn’t even want to begin with! Maybe I shouldn’t feel bad about it as I didn’t stand a chance against people who spent millennia perfecting their trade of selling stuff to foreigners… It made me feel a bit used nonetheless. And from a practical point of view I could see myself two weeks in the future getting very irritated by that package being in the way all the time while (un)packing the bike.

    So I decided to get rid of it by giving it away. There’s a few beggars around the city, and I gave it to a very old woman with milky white eyes. She seemed very happy with it, so I hope I helped her out somehow.

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    Overall Marrakech is a very crowded city with many narrow streets, and I was expecting to find it very asphyxiating. It wasn’t as bad as expected though, there were many nice and quiet (rooftop) cafes everywhere to get air and I found the main El Fna square to be a sigh of relieve. It is very large and more or less in the middle of the city, so I kept circling back to it every time it started to feel cramped.

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    Visiting the Bahia Palace

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    At the end of the afternoon I had enough, the trip so far has been a lot to take in and I was TIRED, so I just passed out in the hotel.

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    #10
  11. Thijs_B

    Thijs_B Keeps on dreaming

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2011
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Warwickshire, UK
    Day 11 - Into the Anti Atlas

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    I was eager to get out of the city, and from the hotel it was quite easy to follow the main road out. (I recommend Hotel Majorelle to bikers for parking and accessibility!). The city is located in the plains below the Atlas, and getting to the mountains does not take long at all. It was not long before it started to get cold, but the ride was very good.

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    Like being in Scotland.

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    Keep on climbing...

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    Up on the Tizi N’Test pass there was snow as well, and it got freezing cold. Don’t want to fall here!


    Picture above got taken about 2mins in...


    The ride down had epic views, but the roads up high were treacherous so little time to look around.

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    A bit lower down the surface improved greatly, and I would even say you could unleash a sportsbike here! Could see big investments taking place into Moroccan infrastructure.

    But looking down the valley I was expecting blue skies, just as I had coming down the Todra Gorge approaching the desert. Not here, the sky was red/brownish and I realised a dust storm was moving east... Going along the N10 I followed the dust for a while, but kept just clear of it.

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    Some dust still settling…

    Going further south the region got more mountainous, where I was hoping it would be more desertlike. Turns out the Anti Atlas started further north than I thought, good job on the planning there! Very good views though.

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    This region was unlike anything else I had seen before, and it felt v. There were some very remote. In some valleys it was clear that some people lived in the caves next to the roads (shepherds I guess):

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    The villages I passed through however did not seem friendly, and people either completely ignored me or looked me dead in the eyes with an angry face (I rode through them with open visor). At one point, when I stopped above a village to take a picture of the views (image below) one of a group of women down below made a ‘move on’ wave with the back of their hand (at least that’s how I interpreted it).

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    I set out in the morning trying to camp, but that idea become more unlikely the further into the mountains I got. It got colder and colder as well, and I did not feel being chased off with pitchforks if I got spotted so I pushed on to Irherm in search of a hotel. This all meant another very long day. I wasn’t enjoying the self-inflicted daily mileage, getting caught out doing another push at the end of every day…

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    Luckily there was a small hotel sign in Irherm, but it turned out to be more of a noisy bar. There were rooms above it but at least it was a roof over my head, not sure if the bed was really clean though. I could park the bike into the ground floor entry hall, so that was off the street. But doors got slammed throughout the night, and every slam sounded to me like a bike falling over so that didn’t help with sleeping...

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    Had a good think that night, looking at the schedule and maps. I like mountains to ride through but to be fair we have those in Europe, and I had to admit that seeing the desert was a big part of what brought me here in the first place. Irherm is on a junction of roads, from here I could spent another few days in these cold mountains and zigzag my way south and then back east, or take a shorter route south towards Tata (and the warmth).

    Throughout the night it got very cold, and I slept (for a few hours only) in my full suit being very miserable. That did it; screw these mountains, let’s go to the desert!
    #11
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  12. Ginger Beard

    Ginger Beard The Scramblin' man

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    10,081
    Location:
    Sunny Northern Cuba (aka: South Florida)
    Great ride report thus far. Keep it coming man! :lurk
    #12
    durtwurm, Thijs_B and Spanner Bonobo like this.
  13. thirsty 1

    thirsty 1 Rider

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    2,205
    Location:
    Top Hat - Seattle Wa.
    :thumb

    :lurk
    #13
    Thijs_B likes this.
  14. Johnnydarock

    Johnnydarock Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 6, 2009
    Oddometer:
    488
    Location:
    Redondo Beach CA
    good report so far. keep it coming.
    #14
    Thijs_B likes this.
  15. Espsanto

    Espsanto n00b

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2017
    Oddometer:
    3
    Very good report of one adventurous voyage ☺

    Enviado do meu SM-T230 através de Tapatalk
    #15
    Thijs_B likes this.
  16. VitorF

    VitorF Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2017
    Oddometer:
    22
    Location:
    Ponta Delgada, Azores
    Marocco is great to visit and ride this kind of motorcycles. Just love it.

    Please...continue :-)
    #16
    Thijs_B likes this.
  17. Thijs_B

    Thijs_B Keeps on dreaming

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2011
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Warwickshire, UK
    Day 12 - Finally some warmth

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    The night had been miserable.

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    I somehow decided it was a good idea to take a selfie in the first few minutes after waking up. Face of happiness.

    The ride started off very cold, but that just solidified my resolve to get out of these mountains. Luckily it didn’t take long before the road started descending and the temperature increased. The scenery also improved.

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    Some epic landscapes, amazing how millions (or in this case billions) of years can shape rock. Look at the waves!

    With the rise in temperature and increasing sun my mood improved as well. I finally felt like I was riding into the long awaited desert!


    Desert cruising

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    Some droms next to the road, ugly creatures but nonetheless very majestic.

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    Tata was a turning point, it was like entering a different country. This was definitely desert-country. After filling up the petrol (and the stomach), it was off following the N12 ‘Desert Highway’ East.

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    Met a French couple here, traveling around in a campervan. Not many tourists here.

    It was time to attempt one of the pistes, and I was keen to see what would happen. I have limited offroad experience outside the occasional green lane back in Oxfordshire, but still wanted to see what it was like (while keeping in mind I was alone on a heavy loaded bike). I had been studying Morocco Overland, and figured the ‘MA9’ (as it’s called in the book) would be a good start.

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    It started off good, but the surface kept deteriorating. Taking it easy I felt I could deal with quite a lot.

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    Also epic landscapes!

    Cruising along...

    It gets difficult when you have to cross dry riverbeds where you have to keep some speed to make it up the other end…


    Struggling here…

    The moment in the video confirmed a creeping feeling though, what if something happens and I get injured and/or stuck under the bike in this sun? I hadn’t seen another person in a while, other than a lonely shepherd in the hills far away. In the very best case of something happening I would be able to send out a distress signal (since I had a Spot tracker), but even then it could be a long wait for help to arrive.

    Also I just wasn’t having that much fun, I had to be more focussed on the track in front than the epic surroundings. That’s how you make decisions; I found out piste-riding is just not what I wanted out of this trip. I’d have to come back in either a 4x4, a group or on a lighter unloaded bike to really enjoy this.

    So after about 20km of piste I gave in and headed back to the N12 for gentle cruising.

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    Not long before the end off my offroad experience. I lost a set of keys around where this picture is taken, reaffirming the notion to always carry backups.
    After an extended lunch in Tissint I really wanted to try and use the camping gear (nearly two weeks of dead weight!), so decided to try look for something between here and Foum Zguid. I made sure I looked to the left (north/west) of the road only, the other side is toward the border with Algeria and maps were a bit vague about how restricted it was to even access that land. Also, there’s a military barracks in Foum Zguid that acted as border security...

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    But about 10km before Foum Zguid I followed a small track for a while and ended up in a small ditch out of sight. Finally! A desert camp!

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    An hour or so after setting up a man on a moped came bopping along the track. Cover blown! We couldn’t communicate much beyond ‘salaam alaikum’, but I asked him if it was OK to camp here. He said something in the way of ‘No, many camping in Foum Zguid’, before leaving. I was in doubt for a while what to do (did he tell me off, or did he just want to inform me that there are proper camping facilities over there?), but I was initially inclined to stay put. After some pondering I changed my mind; even though I was REALLY eager to not be in a hotel tonight a local clearly used the word ‘No’ when asked if it was OK to camp. I figured I had to respect that even if there was some doubt about the intention behind it.

    It was annoying to pack everything up again, ffs. It was easier to wildcamp in Ireland! Even the mattress and sleeping bag had been rolled out at that point…

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    Chasing shadows...

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    I found a nice hotel just north of Foum Zguid (the town did not look very interesting itself), and received the much appreciated warm Moroccan welcome. I was the only guest, and walked in on a family having their evening meal but they were happy to prepare a room and more food.

    The son had a friend over in M’hamid so I ended up making some arrangements there for the days to come. Funny how things go, if I hadn’t failed camping I would’ve probably missed out on some amazing experience over the next few days...
    #17
  18. Thijs_B

    Thijs_B Keeps on dreaming

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2011
    Oddometer:
    132
    Location:
    Warwickshire, UK
    Thanks all! :clap

    Sorry for the intervals in posting.
    #18
    Spanner Bonobo likes this.
  19. Muscongus

    Muscongus Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2014
    Oddometer:
    18
    Location:
    Warren, Maine
    Fantastic so far.
    Thanks!
    #19
    Spanner Bonobo likes this.
  20. C5dad

    C5dad Man on the Run!

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2015
    Oddometer:
    94
    Location:
    Arizona, fer now
    Enjoying this report. Keep it coming please!
    #20
    Spanner Bonobo likes this.