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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Thijs_B, Oct 22, 2017.
Fantastic report. Thank- you for the effort. Cheers!!
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Day 13 - Into the Desert
View from hotel, looking back south to Foum Zguid. Nothing but Sahara between those two ridges!
Instead of a straight line I figured I’d go the long way round, so head back north a bit first. What I did not anticipate was the state of the roads, every few miles the tarmac was interrupted by longer and longer bits of gravel, making for slow progress. It wasn’t an exceptionally scenic route either, but that changed after hitting the R108 east which rose in elevation making for some good views.
After lunch in Agdz, the route went south again through a valley of palmtrees. Seriously, you could play ‘the floor is lava’ from here to Zagora by jumping from tree to tree. This bit is also known for the many kasbahs along the way, and as one of the main routes south it is very touristy as well (the other one being the route into Merzouga, but more about that later)
That's no grass, but many palmtrees...
Topped up both my petrol and my wallet at Zagora, while I was doing the latter at an ATM a guy on a moped stopped next to my bike. He told me about a garage he worked at, where they apparently knew all about big bikes and off road vehicles. Luckily I did not need repairs, but it’s good to stay friendly as I could need it later so I followed him and exchanged pleasantries.
Zagora is very touristy, and going south you pass many very fancy looking hotels. The further I got there was a real sense that I was going into some sort of frontier with wide open spaces and less and less buildings. Spectacular views all around, and very good road surfaces as well.
After passing through one more valley at Tagounite, the realization of where I was really hit me. Ahead was one final ridge, which would be the border to the great Sahara. I couldn’t believe it, I had actually ridden my bike into The Great Desert!
Last climb, the Sahara is beyond between those hills...
Me, bike and desert, and not a rock to balance the camera on
I followed the road as far as I could, well through M’Hamid. The address of the hotel was a bit vague, so I was looking for the name. As I reached the end of the road (literally THE end, nothing but sand from here) I stopped at one of the last hotels and asked if they knew. As everyone was trying to interpret what everyone else was saying someone in an old Range Rover stopped behind me. It turns out to be the contact at the hotel I was supposed to stay in. They had seen me pass, and I matched the description they’d been given so they had been chasing me! The actual hotel was a little back up the road, and of clear kasbah-inspired design.
Following the Range Rover through town, back to the hotel
The planning was to spend the next day off the bike being a tourist, and go on dromedary back into the desert...
Day 14 - Erg Chigaga
Luck here, the hotel owner said it sometimes wouldn’t rain for two years; yet overnight it started raining like nothing else. The bike had been parked in an unpaved courtyard, and because of the rain the centerstand to sunk into the sand, making the bike fall over… Luckily it hadn’t hit any of the cars parked next to it, but it probably spent a fair amount of time on its side.
The droms belonging to the hotel had their stable right next to the bike (reparked on a concrete slab to prevent further sinkage).
Also, only bike pic in this post...
Because of the rain the plan changed from riding dromedaries into the desert to taking the car to Erg Chigaga, and camp there overnight. A bit touristy (with a guide even!), but hey this adventure is also meant to be a holiday. So maybe this post shouldn't be on ADV rider...
The tincan for the day
The drive was long, but very nice. It was great to hear the Moroccan music and listen to the guide and driver chat. I wouldn’t have been able to traverse this terrain on the GS without massive effort, I may have to come back in an offroader…
Literally the end of the road, nothing but sand here on out.
Listen with sound for that music!
About midway another car came in the opposite direction and stopped, some words were exchanged between drivers and a small satchel was handed over. Some ‘tobacco’ to get them through the day.
Guide at an oasis
I work at Land Rover, so not sure if it's good to find an old Santana (Spanish build Defender) left in the middle of desert. Quality issues?
Arriving at the Ergs
I don’t smoke, but the driver and guide had been smoking while driving, so I was also a bit ‘happy’ from the ‘tobacco’ when we got to camp. These dunes are amazing, it was like arriving on Tatooine.
Exploring the desert
It looks barren, but beetles like these all over the place
When the sun started setting I was put on the back of a drom and we went up the main Erg to see the sunset. Quite something…
I walked the way back, dromedaries aren’t very comfortable and I felt too much like a rich tourist being driven around (which in this case I was of course)
Dinner back at camp
If you ever get the chance to walk sand dunes at night, do it. You’ll never forget, I know I won’t.
No pictures of the campfire unfortunately!
Day 15 - More Desert
The night in the camp was very comfortable, even though there was sand everywhere!
Droms basking in morning sun.
The drive back to the hotel at M’Hamid was shorter than the drive out as they took a more direct route, and after paying the hotel it wasn’t long before I was back on the bike again. Even though the parking was secure, the bike seems to attract the curiosity of people, and it is always wise to check all your levers and buttons… My lights had been switched off and it was in third gear.
Back on the bike again!
This was in no way the end of the trip, but this felt like a turning point as most of the route would take me back north. A bit like turning around at the Nordkapp after reaching it, and I looked over my shoulder as I climbed the hills back into Tamegroute. May be a while before I am in the proper desert again. Or not…
The route back to Zagora was familiar, and I stopped for petrol and coffee before continuing east along the N12. Touring here is relaxing, in a way like it is can be in Scandinavia where wilderness is interrupted by small pockets of civilization.
Chugging along... Miles and miles of dustroads like this.
At that point I had been hauling my camping gear around for over two weeks, and not been able to use it (other than the failed attempt near Foum Zguid). I was going to force it today, I will camp or I may as well leave the gear! It took me some time to find a good spot, but I followed a small track leaving the N12 not far from M'ssici and managed to get out of sight in the hills about 50m from the track.
In the evening a man used the track through the hills but I think he was too focussed on controlling his moped over the rocky terrain as he did not even look in my direction.
As it got dark stars came out, but the darkness was ‘ruined’ by moonlight. I didn’t need a torch to move around.
View from the tent. The long exposure drew in many colours in these images, but I toned them down again to the level of what my eyes saw.
Day 16 - more desert
The night was chilly but nevertheless very comfortable, it’s good to finally camp! So a good rest later, an early morning coffee was enjoyed overlooking the valley from one of the nearby ridges. These are the joys of wildcamping.
This guy came cruising down the N12, heading west. I can honestly say this bike was the loudest thing to come by that morning, and that includes lorries as well. Maybe an inmate? It was 26 March 2016, around 8:30 near M'ssici.
Space to think
Goal for the day was to reach the famous Merzouga, and see what all the fuss was about. First stop though is Gara Medouar, one of the few POIs I had saved in my GPS. I had seen the film Spectre just before the trip, and obviously my interest had been piqued by the scenes taking place in Morocco so had been doing some googling for locations. This acted as the baddy hideout, which in the film is a meteor crater but in real life is an ‘erosianal crater’.
The approach + climb
I got greeted on top by some eager fossil salesmen. This area of Morocco is apparantly known for its many fossils, they could be seen in the rocks all around. They were not that pushy (the salesmen, not the fossils), and politely left me as I made it clear I had no interest in buying.
Back down again, my camera only supports a 10sec timer and no remote trigger… So I had to run for this one!
After that it was on to Merzouga. I think I am spoiled by Erg Chigaga at M’Hamid as the whole experience was a bit underwhelming.
I had very little interest in taking the heavy GS into the sand, so I had some food and turned back. I was turned off a bit by the tourists (looking like they had a part in Mad Max) thundering by in smelly and noisy buggies, so I did not feel much like sticking around. I did take some detours to get back to the road, and gave the suspension a proper workout…
Street views of Rissani, (I think)
Going back north, I stopped in Erfoud for a late lunch, decided I liked the feel of the place and found a room in the Chez Gaby hotel. This is definitely on the tourist axis; the room was like being in a random western hotel, a first for me in all the overnight stays so far.
Good ride report and great photos! Seems a bit dangerous in places with some than don't like Westerners/Europeans. Stay safe!
Day 17 - Back north, dodging tourists
So the overall direction was north from now on. Fact was, I was ahead of schedule so I wanted to try and not rush it. I left the N13 tourist axis before Errachidia to take the N10 east and get to Er Rich the long way round.
The skies are amazing
This detour would mean that I would miss the Ziz Gorge, so to still get to see it I turned south at Kerrandou and after a quick lunch (expensive - try not to eat along the tourist axis) I went down the N13 before turning back. Some good riding here, also many bikers around.
I turned around at this view.
The N13 is a tourist road, and it shows. People and children everywhere trying to get you to pay for nicely folded palmleaves. It is heartbreaking, but after the umpteenth time it starts to get annoying when you can’t even stop for pictures without someone appearing from behind a boulder to try and sell you stuff (or just beg for money).
After Er-Rich I headed west, and got away from the tourists and back into the mountains. The road was good, the riding still nice and the weather was great. I just had to camp tonight.
It took quite a while to find a suitable place to camp, the road follows a river with steep hills on either side. Everywhere where it opened up there were houses or villages and I really wanted a night camping under the stars…
Eventually I found a nice spot, had to cross a shallow river to get to it. Always nice to camp near water!
Looking up through the trees at night
Day 18 - D’oh!
Screenshot of a video. Very adventurous through about 50mm of water.
The road would take my back right up to the road that I took south from Imilchin, a week or so earlier. The plan was however to turn around towards Midelt so I wouldn’t double back (too much).
I decided to head to Imilchil for lunch, as I liked the place when I first passed through it and figured I’d probably try and camp again that night. At the restaurant I met a Belgian couple, they were at the start of a four month cycling tour from Agadir on the Atlantic coast, back to Belgium through Spain and France - with their 4 year old daughter! You always meet people who outdo you in scale… And again, I can’t get away from my native language.
I love this shot, so much going on! The couple is also there (to the left, blue + orange jackets), as well as the trailer behind their pushbike for the little one.
In the restaurant people asked me for plans, I told them I was heading east. Everyone seemed to agree the road ‘wasn’t the best’ but they were positive I could do it on ‘that motorbike’. Which threw me off a bit, because I think a fully laden GS looks more capable than it actually is (in my hands at least), and it was also worrying that they said any car would struggle. But hey it’s an adventure after all!
Scooping up snow on the way down
Epic views here, epic riding, this is what it’s all about.
The villages got more and more rural as I went along, and many hands were shaken and waved along the way. Morocco really is a great and heartwarming country to travel through!
The road also got more and more difficult. It was next to a river which it crossed every now and again. Some boot-wetting moments, unfortunately my %&@$£ helmet cam doesn’t save the recording 10% of the time... So I don’t have footage of one particular epic crossing, Long Way Round - Road of Bones style.
I started noticing chunks of the road being washed away here and there, and with the river increasing in size and power (as I was following it downstream) the damage got worse by the mile… It was like a videogame: pass one level and the next is just a little bit harder.
In all seriousness this was getting more and more challenging, and indeed in a car I would have had to turn back earlier because of the narrowness of useable surface at times.
Eventually the road was just gone, except for a narrow donkey trail. I scouted ahead and figured I could probably manage with the bike if I really wanted. However if a pannier would touch the rocky wall right next to the trail and I lost balance I would end up in the river 5ft below... Another way was to cross the river itself and climb the soft muddy bank on the other side… I thought about it for a bit but figured I should learn from my experience in Ireland last year; and this is not the place for shenanigans. I may have tried the river-route if I wasn’t on my own, but even then chances are that the conditions are even worse further downstream and I’d have to go back going through the same thing in reverse.
“That’s a show stopper right there!”
A bike without panniers (and a second pair of hands) would potentially be OK, but still no foothold on either side.
Annoyingly there is no other way but back (80km!) and cross the Atlas at Imilchil (the way I came south 10 days before, and where I had lunch). On the bright side it was good to experience this amazing road twice, and also exactly why I had left a certain margin in my planning.
Once back it did not take long to find a nice hotel at Imilchil. It got very cold in the evening, but luckily this was a proper hotel and not a noisy room like in Iherm...
"e 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…"
Nice photos and great report. Really got me interested to do a ride there. Thanks.
WOW! Thanks for posting! This trip is now on my bucket list.
Day 19 - Crossing the Atlas and just a bit more desert
After a good night's rest in Imilchil it was back over the pass towards the north. I was curious what the Belgian couple I met the day before had done. When I left them they were considering going the same route as I did (east) but I did not run into them when I doubled back.
Turns out they had taken the road north, and I caught up with them about an hour or so into the ride.
I did not want to pass the Atlas the same way twice, and I wasn’t about to duplicate the route all the way to Tangier. I decided to go east a little to try and get back to my original plan and loop north that way. Aim was still to try and avoid the main Tangier-Merzouga tourist axis.
You can just breathe the atmosphere from the video alone. Morocco is amazing.
After some further meandering through the countryside I did end up on a main-ish road, and stopped for lunch in the town of Zaida. From here the plan was to head back north, but over lunch I decided I was not quite ready yet so I went the other way towards Midelt. I still wanted to achieve the dream of a ‘desert camp with the bike’; almost three weeks in and I had only wildcamped twice, once in the mountains and once next to a river. I still needed to tick the ‘desert under the stars’ box…
The surroundings turned more and more desertlike and I got very hopeful, and it wasn’t far after turning north near Missour that I found some tracks that looked very promising. A nice spot was found in a small dent in the landscape so I wouldn’t be visible from the road.
It was still quite warm at the end of the afternoon, so I waited an hour or so before setting up the tent. Only shade around was the bike...
Still enjoying it!
Another one in the category 'motorbike and tent in various settings'
In my normal day to day life I never really keep track of celestial movements, but on trips like this I always get more in tune with them; noticing waxing/waning of the moon, planets moving through the night sky etc. During most of the trip the moon ‘ruined’ most of the night sky, rising late in the afternoon and setting way past midnight. But over the course of a few weeks it had been rising later and later so a nice dark moment between sunset and moonrise now finally allowed for some stargazing.
What it is all about!
Day 20 - Reaching Fez
This was it, no more camping. I was still enjoying things, but it was time to return north. I had prebooked the ferry from Tangier before leaving home, and there would still be time to head further east.
However fatigue was setting in so the plan formed to book two nights in Fez and another two in Chefchaouen to have a nice fade-out to the trip, instead of logging more miles. To be honest it was a relief to know where I’d be sleeping the coming nights.
Last views of the Atlas mountains... this time!
I wanted to pass Azrou again on my way to Fez, and choose a squiggly route towards it through the area that Mouhamed (the guy I stayed with in Azrou) had pointed out as amazing. He wasn’t wrong, and as it was also an area with some tourist resorts (for skiing) the roads were well maintained. Also there were monkeys again!
Very diverse landscapes in this country, I woke up in the desert and in the early afternoon I find myself riding through pinewoods with snow all around.
Dad was hanging around the house as I came by, and seemed very happy to see me again. It wasn’t long before Mouhamed showed up and we went into Azrou for a tea and catch up.
I had booked a riad not too far from the edge of Fez, and asked around for directions. A little kid guided me there, but it turned out there was no way to actually get the bike to it and I didn’t feel comfortable parking it so far away (and lugging all my things back and forth). So instead the little guy led me to a riad next to a small street where I could park the bike in front for offloading my things, and within walking distance of a big guarded parking area. Great, and a tip well earned!
The owner even had an Ajax shirt, his cousin lives in the Netherlands. Connections everywhere...
That video is eerily similar to how it all happened
hey brother, nice report and great pics. glad you were able to camp in the desert under all of those stars. good call not risking that donkey trail alone, I know it was tempting.
looking forward to more from you.
An incredible report. Can't thank you enough for sharing so much detail.
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Your report and pics are spectacular, especially the night shots with the stars/moon/sky. For some of us that live over here in the US, it's only a dream to ride Morocco.
Was there last April, wish I'd been able to bring my moto. Saw quite a few riders, some on organized tours, some just banging around....
This was great, cause multiple flashbacks from when I lived in Rabat. Speaking of Rabat & Casablanca your trip didn't include either & that wasn't a miss.
Thank you for your great report! Inspiring as we are are heading there early April ( from Oregon)
Will be doing a combo of bicycle 1 week then renting tornados for 2 weeks.
Still planning our route!
Excellent report and photos. Thanks for posting. My wife and I did a bus tour that included 6 days in Morocco in 2009. I spent most of that trip wishing that I was on my bike. At the time I could only imagine how much different it would be travelling by motorbike as opposed to being on a tour bus. Reports like yours help my imagination to see the reality. Keep it up.
Day 21 - Fes
Not too shabby...
View from the hotel roof
The day in Fes was meant for exploring the city, trying to follow the main route as described in the Lonely Planet guide. I choose to leave the DSLR in the riad for the day, and take pictures with my phone instead. Mostly because I didn’t want to drag the thing around all the time but also because it seems attract street vendors and beggars like a magnet.
As these are all taken with my phone (Xperia Z3 compact) and unedited, so they're not up to my own imposed standards!
I much preferred Marrakech over Fes, the latter being more of a ‘mess’. In Marrakech you can circle back to the Jemaa el Fna square while exploring, so it’s easier to get air. I couldn’t find something similar in Fes (at least in the time that I was there), and the city overall felt more cramped. Some relief was found in the rooftop cafes everywhere so you can rise above the chaos of little streets.