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Thread: Six weeks in May/June 2012

  1. #1
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    Six weeks in May/June 2012

    My overall plan was to leave the UK mid May, ferry from Portsmouth to Santander, ride through Spain, take the ferry from Almeria to Melilla (Spanish enclave), then into Morocco proper. After that, meander around Morocco for a few weeks until Alfie, my son-in-law, flies in and rents a bike, then we head off together for a week. Then I eventually head north, leave my bike in southern Spain with MotoAdventours and then fly home.

    I duly arrived at Portsmouth ferry terminal to find I was in the queue directly behind Paul, features editor for Adventure Bike Rider magazine riding a R1200GSA who was on a tarmac-only dash to Morocco with a couple of mates. As usual, there many other bikers as well and having been crammed into the hold off we went.

    I'd paid a bit more for a outside cabin and later that evening looked out of my cabin porthole and saw rocks! Thoughts of the Costa Concordia went through my mind. We were actually sailing through the Passage du Fromveur between the Ile d'Ouessant and the collection of rocks to the west of Ile Molene. Stick N48 26.601 W5 01.838 into Google Earth for a satellite image.


    Probably 400m away

    I'd forgotten how high the prices are on the Brittany Ferries (especially soft drinks and water) and it's definitely a good idea to visit Marks and Spencer or similar to stock up before the journey.

    The ferry landed at Santander midday and I proceeded south east towards Zaragoza. I mixed it up with national roads, some side roads and a bit of autovia (free motorways). I was heading for Navara, specifically the campsite near Bardenas Reales national park to do some offroading. But as night fell so did rain, then hail, so I ended up ignominiously spending the night in the campsite's domitory.


    Why is it whenever I visit a so-called desert area there's either rain, hail or snow?

    My entertainment that evening was watching the Spanish version of the TV show 'Wheel of Fortune' and whilst my Spanish has faded over the years I was pleased when I managed to get one of the phrases before the numpty contestants. The next morning I did a big circle of Bardenas on tracks almost all the way, including the obligatory photo of Cabezo Castildetierra but dark clouds were forming and it started to rain. WTF, I've had enough bad weather in England recently to last a lifetime. I caught a weather forecast in a coffee shop and decided to head south, foregoing the chance to ride the local 'Dinosaur Trail'.

    I was amazed by the amount of infrastructure development going on in Spain, especially railways and motorways and dual carriageways. It seems in Britain that we've stood still on road building for the last 20 years with so-called improvements being limited to safety and slow-down measures. It's nice of the EU to fund all this Spanish development. Do I sound grumpy?

    And then on to the subject of Spanish drivers! The dangerous part of biking in Morocco is getting through Spain in one piece. They move out late to overtake, overtake with two wheels in your lane, cut in close right in front of you, and if you are in the middle of an overtake they tailgate you. In England any one of these manoeuvres would be enough to earn them a careless or dangerous driving ticket but in Spain it's par for the course.

    Rant over... back to the story. It was halfway through the day already, so I just kept going south through the vineyards of Rioja and beyond until 10pm and then found a truckers' hostel by the side of the road. Being Spain, the restaurant and bar were in full swing and life soon felt much better.


    Cabezo Castildetierra (something like head of the castle of earth)

    The next day I continued south and arrived in the Cabo de Gata area, another national park. This has nice isolated beaches, and was where the camel charge from Lawrence of Arabia (the attack on Aqaba) was filmed.


    Start of the Cabo de Gato area


    Gorgeous scenery

    It was very windy the next day but I found a secluded beach protected by cliffs and spent the morning sunbathing. Then dark clouds rolled in, the sun disappeared and the wind increased to storm strength. I packed up and headed south through the national park but the wind was so strong that when I parked up at a particularly exposed point to take a photo a massive gust topped the bike over onto the new Metal Mule panniers. They hadn't remained pristine for long!

    After a couple of beers and several tapas in Almeria watching the bull fighting on TV, I headed off to the ferry terminal in time to catch the 11:30pm sailing to Melilla. Just as I was filtering through the queue of car drivers for the ferry, three British bikes pulled out, one KTM 990 (Gary) and two XT660Z Teneres (Callum and Shaun).

    More of which later.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  2. #2
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    By the time I settled on a ferry crossing date the chance to book a sole-use cabin had disappeared, so I was in a shared cabin with three Spanish guys, two of whom snored. It's for this eventuality that I carry spare ear plugs in my toilet bag. I did this night crossing a few years ago and kipped on a sleeping roll on the floor, which maybe I should have also done this time.

    When we loaded the bikes on the ferry I wasn't impressed by the guys who were supposed to be securing the bikes and made some adjustments using rubber wheel chocks to protect my (now gouged) pannier from contact with the ship. Don't leave any soft luggage on the bike as it might go walkabout. If you don't have a cabin there is a secure luggage area where you can place bags and this remains locked throughout the voyage.

    Callum, Shaun and Gary were quite organised in some ways, but were having some difficulties. Their route for the morning was offroad across the Rekkam Plateau, a fairly featureless wasteland used by the Dakar Rally. Their only paper map appeared to have a resolution of something like 1:4m in which Morocco and Western Sahara were about as big as an A4 sheet of paper. And whilst they had installed Olaf's GPS maps on their SatNav receivers they couldn't seem to get them to work. I had a go at fixing the problem but my Windows notebook wouldn't recognise their small format SatNav devices. So I shall be very interested in learning how they got on. Hopefully they managed to buy a larger format map. They were planning something like 12 days in Morocco so are probably still here.

    I was intending to sightsee the Spanish city of Melilla then tackle the land border with Morocco at Beni Enzar when the queues of all the passengers from the ferry died down, but for some reason I volunteered to see the three guys through the border first thing. Big mistake, it took forever. Next time: go and have a coffee for a few hours first.

    After negotiating the border near Nador, I headed east along the coast to visit Saidia, a holiday resort I visited on my last 'eastern' trip. This is part of the Plan Azur, an ambitious plan launched in 2005 to develop six focused resorts around Morocco. I've now visited all six of these sites, five on the Atlantic, Saidia on the Med. It was intended the resorts be finished by 2009.

    Unfortunately, with the tortoise-like progress by builders, slow infrastructure development, lack of flights in Oujda, collapse of the Spanish holiday home market and the continued closure of the Algerian border, the resort hasn't developed as fast as the original plans.


    Shopping village entrance

    On the positive side, there's now a small Marjane supermarket selling, amongst other things, beer and wine. So that's good. And there's a shopping mall and about a dozen fairly upmarket restaurants. But all of these were empty, many closed. I also didn't see anyone on the golf course. My guess is that some of the villas have been bought by Moroccans who will visit only in July/August, some have been bought by Europeans who again will visit only in high summer. What's missing is the year-round holiday maker and in the two hours I was there I only saw about six non-Moroccans. Not good for anyone who was hoping to offset the purchase price with holiday rentals.


    Last time there was only one small boat in the marina, so this is progress

    I was going to carry on to Oujda but changed my mind. I did a quick zoom down the Algerian border, then headed west on the new motorway to Taourirt.


    The car in the background is in Algeria


    The Algerian border at Ahfir

    After getting off the motorway I headed north looking for the ruins of the French Legion fort of Camp Bertaux. The waypoint I had was totally wrong but I managed to locate it by thinking like a tactician. Where would I put a fort to control communications? Somewhere up high, multiple valleys...

    And... Bingo!


    Entrance to the fort


    Central watch tower

    From there I left what had been French Morocco and headed north west into what had been the Spanish Protectorate to visit the scene of the Battle of Annual in which the local Rifian tribes killed 13,000 Spanish troops.


    The memorial garden


    The memorial

    I took another photograph of the Arabic text of the memorial, which my friend Zineb (wife of Peter from Bikershome) translated. The text starts, "Children of the Rif you can hold your heads up high." There's no crowing about the victory, no disparaging comments about the Spanish, rather a cold statement that Moroccans will always fight for the freedom of their country.

    After this I kept heading north and ended up for the night close to Nador.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  3. #3
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    Rather than follow the coastal corniche from Nador to Al Hoceima I decided to take a route through the mountains. Descending the final stage I had a wonderful view of the bay to the east of Al Hoceima.


    You can just about make out the Spanish island of Peñón de Alhucemas and to the left, Isla de Mar and Isla de Tierra


    Looking somewhat like Alcatraz, the Peñón de Alhucemas is manned by Spanish troops


    But not the two smaller islands. Despite keep off signs the local kids were swimming out and jumping off them

    Not having eaten since the night before (I'm not a breakfast person) my mouth watered at the smell of grilled fish.


    18dh (less than £1.50) for 24 big sardines grilled with coriander leaves and onions

    I normally travel with Rough Guide but before this trip I bought the latest editions of both that and the Lonely Planet guidebooks. LP seemed to have undergone a decent rewrite and I decided to give it a go for this trip.

    Their top accommodation recommendation for Al Hoceima was the Hotel Villa Florido. This art deco styled building from the 1930s is on an island in what is now one of the grand taxi parks.


    And the town liquor store is the building to the extreme right of the photo


    Bit dated, but decent ensuite room with two balconies and wifi for 258dh single occupancy

    The LP guide has good words to say about Al Hoceima and I concur. I found it an amazing place. The locals are sooo friendly, without a single instance of hassle. And loads of good scenery.


    View from Place Mohammed VI down to the harbour and beach


    Gardens on the way to the beach

    Anyway, so there was me, congratulating myself on visiting somewhere new that not many bikers get to when I heard, "Hello Tim."

    I turned around to find Milo and Del who I had met a few years earlier on a HUMM (Horizons Unlimited Mountain Madness) meet. They were on a quick four day tour of northern Morocco entering and exiting through Melilla.


    (l to r) Tim with Milo and Del at their upmarket Hotel Basilic

    We ended up teaming together for the next couple of days which was great fun.

    Milo speaks fluent Modern Standard Arabic (Fus'ha), and I speak basic Moroccan Arabic (Darija) so it was interesting to compare the two. Milo could speak to someone and they would understand (because Fus'ha is the language of the soap operas beamed in from Eqypt). I would speak to someone in Darija and they would also understand, but Milo had difficulty understanding some of my Darija, and I couldn't understand much of his Fus'ha.

    Del and Milo were on Suzuki DRZ400s (I think) and travelling with Bob who was riding a Royal Enfield Woodsman. The Hotel Basilic was fairly good value (600dh for a twin room) and the food was excellent. I had the fish soup three nights running!


    This was ketfa tagine with prunes, egg and sesame seeds. Anything with coriander on top earns brownie points from me


    And this was 'pudding' with nus-nus coffees. The gateau was, I think, 10-12dh (80-95p)

    What we missed doing was eating the freshly caught fish in the port. I have to save something for another visit
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  4. #4
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    I spent two days with Bob, Del and Milo, but for the sake of showing tracks will play the photos out of order. Returning from offroading on the first day I was negotiating a roundabout on the outskirts of Al Hoceima when I felt my front end step out. And just in front of me Milo went down big time. He said the time I took to park my bike, turn off his bike's kill switch and lift his bike felt forever and when we took off his boot Milo's lower leg was already swelling. He was feeling nauseous and we were worried his ankle was broken.

    The local guys were ever so helpful, one asking if we wanted an ambulance called, another rushed over the road to get some ice. We were only 7km from Al Hoceima and after a while Milo felt good enough to resume. When we got to the hotel it was RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) with NSAID drugs (Ibuprofen tablets, Ibuprufen cream, plus some co-codamol for later that night. I carry a cohesive support bandage in my first aid kit and we strapped Milo's ankle with that.

    Anyway... back to the trails.

    We headed west out of Al Hoceima. I had some rough idea where we should go, and ended up taking the first piste we saw. This was a real mix of surfaces and for some reason I didn't take any photos for quite a while. Then we got lost in a stream bed and couldn't decide which way to go. Fortunately some guy on a mule shouted at us when we headed off in the wrong direction


    Tim and Del in the stream bed

    After an hour or two we came across an engineered piste that ended up taking us all the way to our goal for the day, the Penon de Velez.


    Can't really call this offroading


    At the end of the canyon, the Penon de Velez came into view

    Apparently the Penon was an island until 1934 when a storm washed up shingle to join it to the mainland. We weren't sure how close we could get to the Spanish peninsula but Milo chatted up the guards and we were soon best of friends. We later repaired the tyre of the head honcho's scooter, just to show we appreciated things


    The world's narrowest international land border, just 85m


    Don't cross the blue rope--that's the border!

    Milo pointed out a beach volleyball net on the Spanish side of the border and suggested another could be installed across the blue rope so the bored troops on each side of the border could engage in International matches. But I couldn't see this going down too well with the military authorities!


    What we should have brought is our swimming trunks and a BBQ


    A short-cut on the way back proved abortive (I am renowned for my shortcuts)


    After regaining tarmac the next stop of interest is Torres with, as the name suggests, its towers


    Followed by beautiful Cala Iris where we feasted on sardines (the second time in two days for me)

    These sardines were much smaller, though our helping was about 32 of them each. The previous batch I felt obliged to discard the head and fillet out the backbone, but these smaller ones could be eaten whole, so it was quite a feast. Maybe Del has a photo.


    The port of Cala Iris was constructed with a charitable foundation from Japan


    Then it was back on piste heading west from Cala Iris climbing high (700m) on the cliffs


    Some real problem with weed in this area

    After regaining tarmac near El Jabha I headed south, then took to a piste through the hills, through yet more cannabis fields. The piste was really quite tough in places, climbing more than 1000m.


    Looking back over the piste I've just climbed (from the river bed). And yes, that's more weed in the foreground


    And the piste goes on. And on. And on


    Until finally I caught sight on tarmac below me

    Eventually this new tarmac road brought me out onto the main N2 road and I headed for Chefchaouen. My first night in Chefchaouen was spent in the Hotel Rif, of which I can find nothing positive to say.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  5. #5

    Hello my friend the Explorer!

    Hello my friend the Explorer!
    Indeed a very interesting set of photos and lots of new experiences. With so much detail... "13000 troops were killed here" how do you find out all this? And the photo of the Algerian border post... who goes there???? You!
    You really are a great guy when goes about thorough investigation.
    And the Spanish island.... i've never been there, did'nt even know of it's excistence.
    Are you sure you had enough on those 24 sardines... haha... it looks enough for a whole family.
    The chocolat cakes.... where was that exactly? I have a sweet tooth as you know...
    What a difference with here... the maintenace of those gardens/the park near the coast. Well done Morocco.
    Don't cross the blue rope... that's the border. Amazing.

    Very happy to see you and your family. We might go a few days to Agadir to visit Kamal, the brother of Zineb. Please send me a sms 2 or 3 days before arriving in Ouarzazate.

    Greetings and a warm welcome from us,
    Peter Zineb Selma.

  6. #6
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    After much searching I finally found Dar Baraka which I had been looking for the previous night. It's inside the Chefchaouen medina. Getting to it with the bike was another matter. I had to climb to Bab Souq which is the highest of the medina gates, go through the Bab into the narrow alleys and immediately turn right and come downhill for a couple of hundred metres, avoiding pedestrians.


    Parking for two bikes at a squeeze

    When you renovate a dar (old house) in the medina you have two basic choices. In places such as Fes the traditionalist Europeans hunt out the artists with the old skills of zelige (tile) cutting and complex woodworking, and turn the house into an upmarket museum version of what it might originally have looked like several hundred years ago.

    The other choice, which Joe (the owner) and his small team followed with Dar Baraka, is to instead implement a contemporary interior with Moroccan/African tones. I like very much what they have done; the house has an airy feel and with vibrant yet also subtle colours. There's quite a lot of tadelakt (polished plasterwork) which again would annoy the traditionalists, yet which I love. The house is filled with great bold paintings many of which were done by Mohammed, one of the staff members.

    From what I could see of the other rooms, most if not all of the doubles are ensuite, my single room wasn't but there were shared facilities on the next floor. Joe and his team work very hard to keep the place spinning and this is reflected in the prices which are extremely good value.


    Roof terrace has excellent views in all directions. Hotel Atlas on the left

    I spent the first day chilling out which is what everyone should do when they visit Chefchaouen. Also found the town's bar and watched some footie on TV.


    Blue rinse walls are supposed to feel cooler


    Inside the kasbah (palace) is a different world

    The next day I was off riding again, without my panniers for the first time, though I didn't feel much difference. I rode uphill above Hotel Atlas, then kept going up a rough track that leads between the 'horns' of the mountains. Chefchaouen means 'look at the horns'.


    Looking down on Chefchaouen


    Clear view of the first objective


    Chefchaouen is more than 1000m below, now out of sight


    Over the top and onto a new piste that was being 'improved'

    One of the advantages in travelling alone is that I always seem to get invited into things. The universal sign in Morocco for 'come and share a cup of tea' is a thumbs up sign which is then reversed into a stabbing thumbs down. If you get that sign, I encourage you to stop.

    The road workers insisted I had a couple of glasses of tea and showed me which herbs to stick in to flavour it. I'm not sure what the herb was, I can recognise rosemary, sage, thyme, verveine, and of course mint, and it wasn't one of those. And no, it wasn't mind altering, either.

    The roadworker on the left in the photo below is from Imilchil in the High Atlas, the middle guy from Er Rachidia, the final one from Tinerhir. It's a hard life for these guys, a long time without seeing family, often sleeping in tents close to the road works. Yet note how comparatively clean and groomed they look.


    Tea and bread

    Shortly after this I was on a long downhill section when my back brake gave up the ghost. I couldn't see anything wrong, and was probably 30km from the nearest road. I carried on as slowly as I could, trying to rely on engine braking as much as possible. Then, after ten minutes, the brake started working again. I later ascertained it was probably due to old brake fluid (thanks to my servicing dealer!) and had it replaced.


    If you are thinking this looks loose and chalky, you're right

    I had come so far north now by piste that I could see the Mediterranean in the distance. Then a group of ten guys lying relaxing under some trees called me over for more tea. They had six dogs with them and I quickly realised this was a hunting party (despite the signs saying hunting rights were reserved). Guns were piled under the tree and many of the guys were dressed in camo. They were reluctant to have a photo taken.


    Fast flowing

    After 60km offroad I finally came out near Oued Laou and cursing the fact I didn't have my swimming costume with me, carried on back to Chefchaouen by road, then off to the bar for some well-earned amber nectar.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  7. #7
    Hi, Tim.

    It was good to meet up with you in Al Hoceima and we were grateful of your help and knowledge both on the pistes and after Milo's tumble. Hope you like the following few photos.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip in that amazing country.

    Del

    Hi Del, many thanks for the photos, I've taken the liberty of reproducing them full size below. Tim

    Parked up on the river bed whilst we work out where to go


    Tim surveys the wonderful view down to Cala Iris


    Sardines to be eaten whole except for the last bit of the tail


    Nursie Tim applies a cohesive support bandage to patient Milo

    UPDATE: Heard from Milo some time later. After riding his bike to Almeriá he then drove the van through Spain to Santander and on his return to the UK went to A&E (accident and emergency dept at hospital) only to find his ankle was broken in two places. It will be in plaster for a month!
    Attached Images Attached Images

  8. #8
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    The next day I decided to move on from Chefchaouen to Taza. The obvious way is along the N2 Rif crest highway going through Isaguen. Many maps wrongly attribute the name Ketama to Isaguen, but that's the name for the region. It can be a challenging ride to the uninitiated as many people will attempt to stop you to encourage you to buy some kif (grass) or hashish (resin).

    So I girded my loins and made ready for battle, only to find it was a walk in the park. The N2 road through the Rif crests was lovely. I stopped for coffee in Isaguen expecting it to be vaguely unfriendly but no problems. I then turned south on what's known as the road of unity, the first new road built in Moroccan after independence that joined the Spanish protectorate area around Ketama with the French areas to the south.


    Just to the south of Isaguen on the R509 'road of unity'


    I then headed east on a loop around the R510. This was a mistake, the road was very slow





    Not sure where this was, but there's no shortage of water in Morocco

    The temperate was in the 30s, and having stopped in a small village for some homemade ice cream (bit gooey like Turkish ice cream) I headed into Taza on the much faster R505. Twice before I've headed for the Hotel Friouato in Taza, only to find the swimming pool empty so have headed on by. This time the pool was full and there's a bar, so I stayed but I find it difficult to recommend the Friouato. Despite being a business type hotel the place needs serious maintenance and cleaning.

    The next morning I headed up into the medina of Taza, built on the top of a hill. Taza is situated in the only viable gap between the Rif and Middle Atlas mountains and has been used for invading armies from the east including the Romans and the Arabs.


    Looking south over to the Middle Atlas from the 'gate of the wind'


    The centre of the old part of Taza


    I had left things quite late and the day was hotting up so I jumped on the new autoroute between Taza and Fez


    My base in Fez was the Pension Batha, situated 200m from Bab Boujloud (the main entrance to the upper medina). No need for overnight bike guardians, the wall to the right is the Royal Palace and immediately behind is the police station.


    I lived in Fez for eight weeks, so know the city quite well. Bab Boujloud (above) leads to Talaa Kebira and Telaa Sghrira (big slope and small slope) alleys which are key to navigating the medina


    My first stop was Cafe Clock, named for the now non-funtional water clock (above) on Telaa Kebira


    I was worried about my water intake, so I ordered an Almond milkshake. This was absolutely delicious and although 20dh was probably about 500ml. So I ordered another. And then a third one.


    Gurgling noises came from my stomach as I exited, no longer in immediate danger of dehydration
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  9. #9
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    The next day I headed off from Fez on side roads, planning to approach holy town of Moulay Idriss from the east, and then to carry on to the Roman ruins of Volubilis



    I'd come across this aquaduct to the east of Moulay Idriss accidentally a few years earlier. The bricks are of a typical Roman style, flat and quite thin, and it's headed in the direction of Volubilis, so I reckon it must be Roman in origin.



    Now used to support modern metal water pipe. Some terrapin were swimming in the pools of the otherwise dried river bed



    I only popped into Volubilis because I was in the area (10dh) and as it was hot I spent little time there.



    Young storks getting ready to leave the nest


    I returned to Fez but it remained a melting pot, so the next day I headed for Azrou in the Middle Atlas which at 1300m would be a bit cooler, going via Sefrou, the lakes and Ifrane.



    The medina walls of Sefrou, an interesting place to visit with a watercourse running through


    Dayat Aoua, one of several seasonal lakes to the north east of Ifrane


    The Source Vitel water meadows at Ifrane are a popular picnic spot

    On previous trips to the Middle Atlas I had read about a place called Zouia Ifrane and assumed it was the zouia near Ifrane (zouia is a meeting place for a religious fraternity and Ifrane is the plural in Berber for cave). When I visited before it seemed really uninteresting. What had I missed? So after Ifrane I visited the zouia one more time and again it was a really uninteresting place. Well, it seems it was the wrong zouia, so I found out some more about the right one and made plans to visit real soon.

    Going back to Azrou is like putting on an old pair of slippers, before I'd been in the town an hour I'd been greated by half a dozen locals, including one bristly cheek to cheek air kiss. And then an English voice asked, "Are you Tim?". It was someone I'd sent some trekking maps to on Lonely Planet forum. I spent the afternoon hanging out in the cafes, nursing a nus nus and watching the world go by.

    I was so involved I forgot to take any photos, so the one below is from a previous trip.


    Hotel Cedres, Azrou is just 75dh for a room with shared facilities

    I only spent one night in Azrou as I will undoubtedly revisit on my way back north again.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  10. #10
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    Studying some older maps later in the trip in Marrakech I found that the zouia near Ifrane was marked there as Zouia d'Ifrane hence my confusion, when in reality it should have been marked Zouia Sidi Adbsellam. I decided to visit the other zouia which was south of Ain Leuh. No roads were shown in the area on either the Olaf or Garmin GPS maps, but the paper ones showed an approach from the west. Seeing as I was to the north east I decided to look for a road or piste from the Ain Leuh direction and set off accordingly.

    I worked out roughly where Zouia Oued Ifrane should be by triangulation using paper maps and the tourist info as a guide and set a waypoint to point me in roughly the right direction. Coming out of Ain Leuh I found an easy piste heading in the right direction and whenever I came to a junction of pistes made a guess as to which to follow.


    Offroad between Ain Leuh and Zouia Ifrane


    The Middle Atlas ties with the Anti Atlas for me as my favourite area of Morocco


    Lovely smooth beaten earth surface (when dry)


    Approaching Zouia Ifrane, the waterfalls come into view


    This area is practically unknown for walking yet there are two gites in the village


    Traces of limestone in the water produce the hanging cornice effect

    I took a piste leading out of the village that began to ascend the plateau from where the water was coming. This quickly turned into a mule track but I kept going and eventually got level with it. It seems there's a huge potential here for walking and someone in the Moroccan Tourist Board needs to wake up to this. Despite it being the end of May I didn't see any visitors at all.

    I then headed west on the tarmac road and regained the main Fez to Marrakech road near M'rirt. Where to go next? I quickly decided to head for the High Atlas, so through Khenifra and then the route near El Kebab towards Imilchil


    Limestone scenery again with dry valleys


    The final stage leading to Tizi n'Bab n'Ouayad just before Imilchil


    I was impressed with Imilchil's latest addition, a tourist information office. Less impressed by it being closed in high season!

    The day was still young so I decided not to stay in Imilchil or Agoudal, but carried on down the Todra to Auberge le Festival where I had a great evening chatting with Addi, the owner, and listening to the sound of five sets of drums echoing off the walls of the gorge.


    I've stayed three times previously at Auberge le Festival which has grown over the years to include the 'castle rooms' above and also some cave rooms


    Handy bike parking.


    Inside the 'castle room'

    Not many visitors see beyond the narrow section of the gorge so the videos below are intended to show what they are missing.


    Starting from the north at the beginning of the descent into the gorge


    Heading south from Auberge le Festival towards the narrow section of the gorge


    The narrow section of the gorge
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  11. #11
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    At the bottom of the Todra at Tinerhir I had another go at recreating the scene that Winston Churchill painted some seventy years ago in his 'View of Tinerhir' work. It took some setting up as the local washerwomen were at first opposed to me taking the photo so I got out my laptop, showed them the photo of the original painting and tried to explain in Darija and French that I was recreating a painting by a famous artist. I'm not sure how much they understood but eventually they were OK (they probably wrote me off as some nut).


    As painted by Churchill


    My take on the scene. The mountains of the painting are hidden behind the trees

    It was after leaving the Todra that things started to go wrong a bit. I was way ahead of what I had intended and had several days to kill before meeting my wife, daughter and son-in-law who were flying into Marrakech. So where to go now? It was unseasonably hot with a strong sun, and not at all ideal bike riding weather. I decided to head for Alnif and to then cut across to Zagora for a couple of days to check out some of the pistes that I know are being worked on.


    Footloose camels but with nowhere to go


    I then came across some fairly modern khettaras (underground water channels). I stopped and checked and they had water running through them. Although these look like they are surrounded by tarmac, it's the shale of the excavated rock.

    The heat was oppressive which is why I took so few photos. I stopped early at Hotel Perle du Draa just south of Zagora which I knew had a swimming pool and I thought had a bar. "Yes," said the receptionist, "we have a bar." What I should have asked is "and does it have beer," for the answer would have been "no." So I only stayed one night. It's not so much that I'm a great beer drinker (at over 5% alcohol the Moroccan beer is a bit stronger than I care for) but there's a limit to how much water, coke and mint tea one can consume.

    The next morning I set off real early to beat the heat, only to find the heat had beaten me to it, and it was already 28C. I headed south intending to visit Erg Tinfou next to the Sahara Sky observatory and then on to the Koranic library at Tamagroute. Well I made Tinfou but the heat was so intense I gave up on Tamagroute.


    Erg Tinfou from it's best angle. It's not much to see


    Sahara Sky Hotel with its three telescopes on the room showing signs of 'ensablement'


    There's plenty of tamarisk shrubs in Morocco; these tamarisk trees are in the Draa valley

    Heading north I was riding along minding my own business when suddenly I had an intense pain in my neck and it was clear I'd been stung. Despite still doing 60kph I took off my jacket to make sure the insect wasn't about to deliver another punch then headed for the shade of a tree to stop.

    Problem: I could feel that the sting was clearly still in my neck but couldn't see it in my bike mirrors, so needed someone else to remove it. I got out the long surgical tweezers from my first aid kit and headed over to a Berber woman who had watched my erratic arrival. With much mime I explained what had happened and what I needed whereupon she grasped the sting with her fingers and removed it with hoots of laughter from her and her friend.

    By now it was 41C and I doused my jacket and trousers with water to cool me when riding and I set off for Bikershome at Ouarzazate.


    Heading over the pass between Agdz and Ouarzazate, the strata reminds me of Scottish horn jewellery


    This is one place I would love to see when the river is in flood


    Yet another to add to my portfolio of Moroccan road disasters. Anyone for water melons?

    I had hoped Ouarzazate woule be cooler than Zagora and it was, but only by one or two degrees and it was 39C as I rode in. I made for the fruit smoothie area as I really needed some sustenance.


    One of the specialities of Ouarzazate, fruit smoothies

    I stayed with Peter and Zineb at Bikershome for two nights whilst I tried to cope with the heat and make some plans for the coming week.

    These two nights demonstrated the difference between traditional and modern architecture. Peter and Zineb live in the original house on the ground floor which is constructed of thick clay (pisé) walls and this part of the house remains warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The second and third floors built on top are of modern materials and the walls and floors/ceiling heat up in the sun, so come night time it's like sleeping next to a storage heater. Although I had a fan playing, I woke several times the first night covered in sweat and used my pocket atomiser (small perfume spray filled with water) to cool things a bit. The second night I did what I should have done the night before and took the bedding up to the roof, something the families in all the surrounding houses were also doing.

    I really couldn't handle the heat so I finally decided that when the others arrived, Alfie and I would head for the mountains rather than the sand dunes of the south. Although the strength of the sun would be the same (actually slightly more in the mountains due to less UV protection), the altitude would mean the air temperature would be cooler and especially so at night time.

    Whilst I was in Ouarzazate I took the opportunity to met with Felicity Greenlaw-Weber who runs Desert Majesty tour company which is based in Ouarzazate's central square. We found we had a great deal in common in our interests of history and culture and my quick five minute visit turned into a couple of hours of chatting.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  12. #12
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    I still had a couple of days before the others arrived in Marrakech so I decided to spend these in Imlil, a smallish village in the High Atlas that acts as a trail head for trekking tours. So... over the Tizi n'Tichka pass, then I thought I would check out the recently excavated 1000-year-old hammam at Aghmat.

    I don't enjoy travelling on the main roads as they have far more traffic and are often slower than the side roads. Moroccan drivers are normally careful but when young drivers get behind the wheel of a tourist 4x4 they start to show off. So I switched on my auxilliary lights at the front to make sure oncoming traffic realised I wasn't a moped and started cautiously on my way.

    Whilst in Ouarzazate I bought a ice box for the bike to enable me to carry ice cubes and keep drinks cool, though the usefulness of this would be determined by how easily I could obtain ice!


    Hmm. Beginning to look like something out of Fred Karno's Army!

    Hanging over the handlebars is my 3-litre Krieger hydration backpack, whilst the ice box hold 6 litres of ice, water and cans cooling away. I also had another four 1.5-litre bottles of spring water in the panniers


    Hotel Mimi by the southern snow barriers on the Tichka pass offers cold beer


    One of the series of bends on the Tichka


    The calm of the northern side of the pass

    Rear-ended by 4x4
    Coming over the Tichka I encountered more than 20 4x4 Land Cruisers travelling in a convoy. They were held up by slower-moving trucks which they couldn't overtake, but I could, so I started to slowly work my way through the group, not helped by the fact that most of them were travelling nose to tail. Eventually I was through and into open roads and I could relax. Some time later I needed to make a left turn for Aghmat and was stopped in the middle of the road signalling left when I heard the screech of brakes and skidding of tyres behind me.

    One of the 4x4s had caught up and slammed right into the back of me. I was highsided over the top of the bike, landing on my side and elbow. The bike went down onto the previously undamaged Metal Mule pannier. I lay still for several seconds then switched off the bike electrics. The driver was apologetic and volunteered the fact he had been travelling too fast. The vehicles were left where they were and I started to take photographs which got the Moroccans worried; by now half a dozen other 4x4s had stopped.

    "Did I want to call the Police?". Getting the police involved would take hours and I wouldn't get me much further than a private deal so I asked for 400dh in compensation for the scratched pannier, broken indicator lens and my injuries. This was given to me with alacrity, so maybe I didn't ask for enough? In the meantime I had taken off my jacket and used a cohensive support bandage (second time this trip) to compress the swelling on my elbow, using some ice cubes in the final twists. Then I was on my way again.

    I've obviously dropped bikes when riding offroad, but this was the first road accident on a motorbike in almost 200,000 miles, something I put down to my IAM advanced car and bike training, the bike part of which was given over several months by the ever-patient Ken Foster, volunteer observer for East Sussex Advanced Motorcyclists.

    Joumâa Aghmat
    When I arrived at the excavations at Aghmat I was uncertain whether I would be able to actually visit, but the guardian was asleep and the gate unlocked so I crept quietly in...


    The hammam with its series of three tepid, hot and cold rooms


    Probably a relaxing area after taking the hammam







    I didn't spend as long as I would have liked there, it was far too hot, so I set off for Ansi and Imlil. There's lots of reasonably priced accommodation in Imlil and Armed (the next village on) but more than half involves a short trek uphill on a mule path, so I was looking for something closer to the road.


    Close to the road, but the most expensive accommodation in the area is Richard Branson's Kasbah Tamadot


    Whilst Auberge Zaratoustra was to be my humble abode over the next two nights,


    Another option if you don't mind bunk rooms is the CAF refuge


    I stayed in the refuges at Oukaimeden and Toubkal when trekking with mules

    The weather in Imlil was much lower during the day and continued to fall at nighttime. There was even some light rain, though it came to nothing.

    Two Portuguese riders die of heat exhaustion
    Although I wasn't aware at the time, 300km to the east on that day a tragedy was unfolding as three Portuguese lads on Honda Varadero motorbikes were hooning around the sand dunes near Erg Chebbi. It's not yet clear exactly what happened medically, but they got stuck in the sand, were unable to extract themselves, overexerted and became affected with heat exhaustion. One of the three was less affected and went for help but by the time he returned 40 minutes later the other two (brothers aged 39 and 35) had passed away.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  13. #13
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    I'll write the next section up as if I am explaining how to make the best of a day trip to Imlil and the surrounding area.

    If arriving by car, there's a car park next to the CAF refuge on the left. Agree a price for a couple of hours beforehand (I'd think 5-10dh should be enough). Carry on walking uphill and the road forks in two. There's an absolutely massive boulder next the the road on the left fork (pic below), you should instead take the right fork.



    If I lived here I'd want to know how often boulders this size come down the mountains. The castle-like structure at the top of the photo is Kasbah Toubkal.

    After 150m follow the road round to the left, then at the next curve take a footpath straight on signed 'Kasbah Toubkal'. The path climbs through the trees and streams and eventually you will see the kasbah on the left.


    A beautiful retreat run by an English chap, Mike McHugo, whose brother, Chris, I've met at meetings of the British Moroccan Society


    Head for the roof terrace and order yourself a well-earned pot of tea




    Then drink in the views as well as the tea

    If you are up to it, from here you can carry on uphill a bit more and you come to the village of Armed. This also goes by the name Aremdt and several other variations.

    If you are on an offroad motorbike an alternative to walking is to take the piste to Armed.


    The piste to Armed photographed from a neighbouring piste


    As before, take the right fork from the centre of Imlil, but this time keep following the piste uphill


    Now you can look down on Kasbah Toubkal


    Armed is the last village before Jebel Toubkal. The piste crossed the river bed ahead and then loops round to the left.


    This shows the return loop. Cross the stream to regain the piste back to Imlil

    Back in Imlil, recover the car for the second leg of this little adventure, head uphill and this time take the left fork passing by the big boulder and the welcome sign for the national park


    Don't make too much noise, keep a distance from wild animals, respect places of worship, avoid behaviour likely to shock locals, don't give to people--especially children--sweets, pens, drugs, so as not to encourage begging


    Video shot a few years back before the piste was made into a tarmac road


    The new tarmac road climbs steadily from about 1700m to the Tizi n'Tamatert at about 2300m


    Where there's a local tea house (atay arfak) and if you are lucky you find a French accordionist.


    And for those who are wondering what he was playing...


    The view into the next valley from the tizi

    The tarmac road carries on for several kilometres and there's plenty of places to stop and have a picnic. Eventually it comes to a halt in the village of Tachedirt (far right bit of green above) where there are plans to build a high level road over the Tizi n'Addi (centre of photo) to Oukaimdene. Having trekked that route I appreciate how difficult this will be.

    For the adventure biker, take the tarmac road into the valley and watch out for a piste to the left that crosses the valley floor, then returns along the other side of the valley (as seen in the photo above). This eventually comes out at Asni.

    If you are in a car, stop off at Kasbah Tamadot on the way back to Asni and have a third cuppa.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  14. #14
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    I really enjoyed the two nights in Imlil. The food at Auberge Zaratoustra was excellent, there was wifi, and beer/wine was available. Owned by a French guy and his wife they have a pet goat along with at least one cat and several dogs, which is quite unusual in Morocco. Muslims generally regard dogs as unclean, especially the saliva, and there's a saying "when a dog enters a Moroccan house the angels leave."

    The temperature were much lower and it even rained for a few minutes both days. The nights were really fresh and I enjoyed a great sleep.

    I took a devious route back to Marrakech. On leaving Asni I took the first road on the left signposted 'Moulay Brahim' which ascends steeply up the side of the valley until, by the time you reach the town, you are high above the gorge in which the main road runs. I've stopped overnight here a couple of times at the Hotel Star and the souq on the hillside is more interesting than most. From here the road turns west across the rolling slopes of the Kik Plateau with its corn fields. Navigating the rest of the route is easy--at the bottom of the bends coming down from the plateau turn right for Lac Lalla Takerkoust (Lady Takerkoust lake), and in Lalla Takerkoust itself fork right at the junction.


    Lac Lalla Takerkoust comes into view from the Kik Plateau


    More scenic close up


    The latest creations of 'Follies de Feu' in Lalla Takerkoust

    I arrived at Hotel Ali in Marrakech where we were all booked in for the following night and got one of the rooms a night early. I've been staying at Hotel Ali several times a year for the last ten years and it's like a pair of comfortable slippers. Lots of period features and with a gradual rolling bedroom refurbishment going on.

    However... I was rather disappointed that the dining room and kitchen renovation that had been intrusive in February had not only not been completed, but they had extended the devastation to the pizza area and the outside café. And they seem to have given up on the roof restaurant probably as the kitchens are out of order. The only common space left in the hotel is the dark breakfast area and I was sitting there using the hotel's wifi on my notebook PC when this space was invaded by locals using it as an impromptu mosque and I was clearly expected to leave. I had didn't have the time to organise alternative accommodation for our party and posted a testy review on TripAdvisor as feedback to the owners.

    The next day I decided to act the tourist until the others arrived and visited La Maison de la Photographie, a gallery displaying ancient photographs from all around Morocco, some from more than 100 years ago. I enjoyed this thoroughly and tried to recognise places without reading the captions.


    One of the side galleries at Maison de Photographie


    Caption competition: WHAT is he whispering in her ear?

    My only criticism is the high cost of buying reproductions of the photographs which are priced at 250dh for slightly smaller than A4 size, especially when I later saw some postcard-sized reproductions of EXACTLY the same photographs available elsewhere for just 5dh. If the prints had been priced at, say, 80dh I would have bought quite a few; as it was I bought none. This 'pricing for European pockets' is what is beginning to spoil Marrakech for me which seems to have sold its soul to tourism.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  15. #15
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    It's about time for some words about the bike and equipment used on this trip.

    The motorbike is a Yamaha Ténéré XT660Z which is a single-cylinder 660cc bike with long travel suspension, a large 23-litre fuel tank and rally-style cockpit arrangement. It's one of the best 'out of the box' bikes for dual sport use, i.e. the ability to ride fairly long distances at (legal) motorway speeds, yet then take to rough tracks. There are better bikes for the motorway bits and there are better bikes for the offroad bits, the challenge is to get a bike that will do both reasonably well.

    There's only three downsides for me. The first is the engine is fairly intractable and won't pull from under 3000 rpm in high gears, so you need to be alert to engine revs. The second is the wheels are designed to use tubed tyres with inner tubes, rather than tubeless tyres. If you have a puncture with a tubeless tyre you can mend it with a 'mushroom' plug without having to take the wheel out. With tubed tyres you are into a minimum of 30 minutes struggling with removing the wheel, taking off the tyre, replacing the tube, then putting it all back together again. And then you still have to get the tube mended. The third downside is only noticeable in high temperatures and the problem is that the dual exhaust pipes are both routed up the left hand side of the bike and tend to broil the rider's leg.

    Although it only has a five-speed gearbox the ratios are extremely well spread allowing a fairly low first gear whilst at the same time providing a top gear high enough for sustained 75-80mph motorway riding. If only one could couple the Tenere with the tractable 800cc engine from the BMW F650GS twin, plus a wide ratio six-speed box, it would be a world-beater. Or even better, if BMW would do an adventure/rally version of the F800GS with tubeless tyres.

    [Edit: BMW has subsequently introduced a F800GS Adventure but with just with a bigger tank and screen, and no change to the ridiculously close-ratio gearbox, so no thanks.]


    I bought the 2009 Yamaha Ténéré XT660Z with just 1200 miles (1920km) on the clock. At the end of this trip the bike has now done 45650km and a rough calculation shows that since I bought it I have ridden about 5200km in Spain/UK and about 38500km in Morocco, 6000km of which has been on this trip.

    I was the third owner on a three month old bike, so obviously the other two owners hadn't understood or liked what they bought. After fitting basic protection such as engine bars, aluminium bash plate, hand guards and a centre stand I had the Ténéré shipped to southern Spain where it's been based ever since with the exception of one 'holiday' in the UK.

    I was going to say it's fairly standard, but when I totted up what I have done since it's seems it's now a bit customised. To try and make the engine more flexible I have fitted a stage 2 DNA airfilter and inlet, removed of the catalytic converter, and added a nifty device that allows me to moderate the fuel mixture (for the previous two changes).

    On the electrical side, the fitment of a fuse box wired via a relay enables me to run a variety of electrical devices (mainly satnav, auxilliary lights, heated grips, heated jacket). Oh, and some other bits: AirHawk inflatable seat, the Garmin Zumo 550 satnav, and an internal/external temperature gauge to measure shade temperature.

    Security
    The bike is fitted with an imobiliser, I have a security disk lock for the rear wheel, a cable lock to secure the luggage roll, and another cable lock that can be used to secure my jacket and helmet if I leave them with the bike. Finally, the tank bag has a hidden catch and the zips are secured with combination locks.

    Luggage
    Trying to save some money I first bought some secondhand Ténéré OEM luggage but was forever worried about the strength of the plastic fittings and the 'chocolate' lock mechanism. Also there's no securing strut to brace the two panniers together. So for this trip I bit the bullet and bought a set of 37-litre Metal Mule panniers--very expensive, but the best going. I tend to use the panniers for things I won't bring into a hotel room, so one has tools, spares, chain lube and the like, the other has my tent, sleeping roll, sleeping bag, JetBoil stove and similar stuff. The things I want overnight I carry in my luggage roll so this has toilet bag, notebook computer, charging gear, fresh clothes and so forth. Then I have a tank bag for things I want to be able to access whilst riding such as camera, guidebook, sunglasses and trail food. My Krieger hydration pack holds 3 litres of water and I carry more as necessary in the panniers or luggage roll.

    Clothes
    I blame the terrible weather in the UK for my very basic mistake in leaving the UK with an unsuitable jacket. I took my BMW Rally Pro suit which is great for spring/autumn riding but is really far too heavy for Morocco in the summer. Fortunately I was able to persuade my wife to bring out my lightweight Revitt AirFlow jacket when she flew into Marrakech. This was a life saver. It offers practically zero air restriction so you can ride with it fastened up which given my experience with beasties landing in my open jacket is a real bonus.

    Helmet
    I've never been keen on the 'Darth Vader' style enduro helmets. They limit the ability to communicate (even smile) with locals, look fairly menacing, limit the use of hydration tubes, prevent a decent air flow, and so forth. In my opinion, the best helmets for Africa are open face or flip-ups. Until recently I've used BMW's System 4 and System 5 helmets which are flip-up helmets that convert to open face. This trip I was using the Caburg Hyper X which is a modular helmet that converts in seconds from full face to jet style, with a pulldown sun visor as well. This has proved absolutely brilliant and I am in love with the helmet. When I get time I will write a full review.

    Camping
    I like to carry at least a bivi bag with me so that I can head off into an unknown area and at least have a fallback if there's no accommodation to be had. This trip I was carry the recently released Exped Mira II tent which is freestanding (essential in sandy or rocky conditions), with space for two people (essential if you have wet riding gear or if there's two of you), and which packs down into the bottom of one of my panniers. My sleeping mat is the Exped Downmat 9DXL which is 9mm thick, down filled and both longer and wider than normal mats. It's so comfortable I prefer it to some of the beds you find in cheaper hotels. The extra width is good as often you end up falling off narrower mats, and it packs up real small but if I was buying again I would probably go for the 7mm thick medium-sized mat, just to save some extra space. This trip I had a compact Vango 700 sleeping bag but I have down-filled bags for colder weather. I also carry a silk sleeping bag liner which as well as adding additional warmth can be used standalone if you are somewhere with dubious-looking sheets.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  16. #16
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    Coming from the abysmally low temperatures in the UK, the heat of Marrakech (about 37C) was a shock.


    But I had some cans and bottles of Stork lager cooling in the ice box which were well received.
    (Tim with wife Irene and son-in-law Alfie)



    We watched the action on the edge of Djemaa el Fna from the balcony of one of the rooms


    Daughter Alex (l) and wife Irene in the dingy fading grandure of the Grand Hotel Tazi enjoying ice cold Flag Special


    We then headed for the culinary delights of Djemaa el Fna

    The next morning we had to get the motorbike for Alfie, then the car for Irene and Alex. Alfie's bike was a BMW F650GS twin (800cc) from Loc2Roues, a reliable company that my friends and I have used several times. Alfie had bought with him some Rok straps to secure the roll bag to the bike, plus an inflatable AirHawk seat to help increase the seat height and leg room.

    Finding the car hire place and the associated formalities took some time so it was almost midday by the time we left Marrakech. Irene left the driving to Alex, who was understandably cautious, so we acted as motorcycle outriders as we shepherded them out of the city. Progress was slow compared to my normal buzzing in and out of traffic on a bike.


    Discussing Berber vocabulary with orange juice sellers


    Alex chilling in the sun at Assanfou Restaurant at the top of the Tichka pass

    Progress was slow and the sun was hot so although we took the scenic route via Telouet and Animter we decided to skip both the Telouet Kasbah and Ait Benhaddou and return to ABH the following day. However Alfie and I went a short distance offroad to explore the salt pans.


    Lovely flavour to the salt which was quite fluffy in texture


    Riding out following the salt river. Note the borj (watchtower) on the hill


    With the old piste on the left, Tim looks down on the new tarmac


    The four high steps on the old piste have been tamed by Mr Mcadam and his tar (girls' car just in view below)


    The girls catch up, coming across the bailey bridge.

    To quote Michael Caine in 'A bridge too far', "When you refer to Bailey crap I take it you mean that glorious, precision-made, British-built bridge which is the envy of the civilized world"

    From here we headed into Ouarzazate to spend a couple of nights at Bikershome with Peter and Zineb where I slept on the roof both nights.


    Checking the bikes over at Bikershome garage


    Bikershome is a beautifully decorated Moroccan home with legendary cooking from Zineb


    (l to r) Peter, Alfie, Zineb and Alex
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  17. #17
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    The next morning the four of us rode on the two motorbikes to Ait Benhaddou, then visited the CLA film studio. After crossing the totally dry Oued Ounila, we came across the visitor ticket scam at the main entrance to Ait Benhaddou, extracting 10dh from each visitor. I had a stand-up argument here, to which some visitor commented, "why bother, it's only 10dh?" Well the 10dh multiplied by probably 300 visitors comes to a tidy little scam each day and goes straight into the guy's pocket. He earns as much in a day as a policeman earns in a month and as a matter of principle I wasn't going to add to his earnings.

    So instead, we walked along a couple of hundred metres to another entrance. But actually we were all pretty unimpressed and didn't stay. When I first saw Ait Benhaddou there wasn't a single building along the west bank of the river, now there's so much tat buildings you can't see Ait Benhaddou from the road.


    Flying visit to Ait Benhaddou


    Act your age, not your shoe size (this is the river bed)

    Alfie and I visited the Atlas studio in Ouarzazate the previous year and whilst it's no American-style Universal Studios tour, the film sets you are walking through are the genuine thing. By comparison the CLA studio tour is tame, basically comprising a couple of aircraft hanger-sized sound sets with some props scattered about.


    This sums it up


    Mummy and the mummies


    Apparently the slave galley from Ben Hur

    However the real reason for visiting CLA was that the ticket gives you admittance to the Kingdom of Heaven film set. Various parts of the set are built with different styles as the one set stands in for several castles.


    Alex and Irene keeping cool in the shade


    Alfie up in the 'gods' captures the entrance and its scaffolding




    Even standing right next to the ten year-old set, you can't tell it's just plaster





    Back in Ouarzazate, another milkshake, this time almond with a touch of banana
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  18. #18
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    All too soon our brief trip as a foursome was over and we parted company, Irene and Alex were heading for the palatial splendour of Riad Hida in Ouled Birhil, followed by the calm of the Oliveraie de Maghira in Ouirgane. We would meet up again at Riad Clémentine in Marrakech for the final night.

    By comparison, Alfie and I were going to stay in some low-cost mountain doss-houses. I had put together a plan to go east to the Todra, then take the gorge link piste over to M'semrir in the Dades, take the piste over Tizi n'Ouanou (almost 3000m) to Agoudal and from there try to head west to Anergui and La Cathedral, followed by more pistes along the Ahansal and Ait Bougmez valleys.

    We headed out but it soon became clear that Alfie was far from well and we stopped in the shade near El Kelaa M'Gouna for a while. He had a splitting headache, nausea and also a stomach ache. Alfie drinks a huge quantity of water each day and we suspected the stomach ache was down to the cumulative effect of the large quantities of chlorine in Coca Cola's Ciel table water. Only Coca Cola Corporation could bottle tap water and sell it at the same price as natural mineral water!

    We stopped again in Boumalne du Dades where Alfie took some paracetamol and I mixed up three sachets of rehydration salts for him to drink alongside his mint tea (lots of sugar).

    We started off again, intending to stop in Agoudal or Imilchil, but as we got to the Todra Gorge Alfie needed to rest again, and although it was only 2pm I decided to get a room in Kasbah les Roches in the gorge. Alfie went off to sleep in the cool dark room whilst I rode the bikes through the river to park them, then set off to explore.


    Kasbah les Roches (r) and Hotel Yasmina


    The river rises from this series of quietly bubbling springs just a few metres upstream


    The water supply for the gorge hotels is drawn directly from the spring


    This used to be a ford through the river

    After a few hours Alfie woke feeling a bit better and I persuaded him to come try the icy cold spring water of the Todra. Eventually we spent about 30 minutes in the river and this probably helped cool his core body temperature some more.


    Trying to get Alfie to lie down in the ice cold water

    Looking at the situation afterwards, with the amount of water Alfie drinks it didn't seem likely that he was dehydrated, however it might have been an imbalance of body salts (it's possible to wash the electrolytes from the body with excess water), or quite simply heat exhaustion. With hindsight I should have taken his temperature when we first stopped.

    Another sign of heatstroke is rigors (uncontrollable severe shaking) which I had once in Israel, another time in Greece. The one is Greece was totally my fault, I was on a trekking holiday in fierce sun and was determined to beat the guide to the hotel, so was doing 'Scout's Pace' which is 20 paces running, 20 paces walking, 20 paces running, and so on.

    Because I am not good in high temperatures I have an accurate temperature gauge fitted to my bike with the sensor in the shade away from heat, and my take on temperatures is as follows:
    20C typical English summer day
    24C English heatwave
    28C lovely--warm enough to ride in T-shirt
    32C about as hot as I like it. Take lots of water, sugar, salt
    36C getting silly, especially mid summer, head for a swimming pool
    40C TURN BACK, head for the coast or mountains

    Once it's over 40C you can no longer raise your visor to get air flow over the face as it's like facing a hair dryer, so you have to ride with the visor closed. These are shade temperatures and you have to understand that 36C in October isn't the same as 36C in June/July when the effect of the sun is far more severe.

    It's reckoned that by the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated, yet just 5% affects your judgement. The following exchange of texts between me and my wife from last July indicate how it can creep up on you (and this is in northern Morocco).

    Tim: Don't want to worry you but I'm not very well mentally at the moment which
    is probably why I've 'retreated' to Azrou. Confused thoughts, can't remember what
    I've been doing, much thinking going off at tangents.


    Irene: Can you go to the people you know there who will be sympathetic? I don't
    think you should be on your own if you are feeling vulnerable. Could you stay at
    the Childrens Haven? Let me know when you get this.


    Tim (next day): I've realised it's dehydration. I've listened to my notes on my
    voice recorder and my speech is frighteningly devoid of expression and very slow.
    Since then I've drunk one litre of coke, 1.5 litres of water, five banana milkshakes
    and will keep pumping in liquids and salt/sugar the remainder of today.


    The point in the exchange above is that despite my past experience of dehydration, once it hits you lose the ability to detect that you are in trouble. And this is probably what happened to the Portuguese riders who died. The only good thing is that it was a quick, and not unpleasant death--light headedness followed quickly by loss of consciousness.

    That evening the food in the Kasbah des Roches was quite good, a lovely soup which we drank much of then some chicken kebabs that we couldn't face. As we were planning to camp the next night we parcelled them up in some bread and sealed the whole lot in ziplock bags.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  19. #19
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    The next morning Alfie was pretty well recovered. As he didn't have a tank bag I decided he should have my Krieger hydration pack and I would stick a bottle of water in my tank bag so I could also drink whilst riding along. Aware of Alfie's problems the previous day, the manager of the Kasbah les Roches kindly gave us two bottles of almost frozen (Slush Puppy-like) Sidi Ali to top up our supplies.

    Our plan for the day was to carry on up the Todra as far as Tamtattouchte, take the piste to M'semrir in the Dades, then another piste to Agoudal, then up to Imilchil to refuel before tackling another piste heading west.

    This turned out to be a very long and eventful day.

    First of all though I wanted to try to recreate a photoshoot from 38 years ago and this was the result... You will note that on the older photo there no tarmac or concrete road and the hotels weren't built until some years later.


    August 1974 on the left with June 2012


    Some more comparative photos this time just after the floods of October 2006 when much of the tarmac road was washed away


    And the same spot now with immovable concrete in place of the tarmac


    Helmet cam video of the ascent of the Todra as far as Auberge le Festival

    Once we got as far as Tamtattouchte we started on the gorge link piste heading west for M'semrir. This is a real Jeckyll and Hyde piste. I've done it three times before, twice taking about 3 hours, the other time taking 14 hours, the last six of which were in moonlight! Since then the eastern end of the piste has been reengineered, but the area in the middle will still be a problem whenever there's been torrential rain.


    The reengineered eastern end (riding one handed whilst filming)



    The piste is basically a series of three river beds and two tizis


    Navigating one of the small gorges

    As we got to the western end we came across literally hundreds of people collecting animal fodder. There seemed to be something of a carnival spirit about the enterprise, many men were wearing Roman/Greek-style wreaths on their heads fashioned from the grasses. Access to common grazing and agricultural land is something that negotiated between the tribes and my guess is that this was the time in the year that people were first allowed to crop the grasses.


    Helmet cam of the cropping


    The area being cropped was extensive


    Closer-up view

    M'semrir used to be the end of the tarmac road in the Dades, but the asphalt now extends more than 20km further north. On the way to the piste over the Upper Dades we stopped for coke cola and coffee at the café belonging to a guy called Tayri, at whose house I had stopped about six years before. I was welcomed like a long lost friend and we relaxed in the shade. I was very impressed with the community when I last visited and their ability to carve a living out of the barren land.


    Behind Tayri you can see the bountiful orchards and agricultural land

    Tayri now offers lodging in his kasbah and was keen to show me the changes he has made, so he set off with a son on the back of his moped, I had another son on my bike, and Alfie a daughter.


    No health and safety inspectors around


    Tayri's guest room now has a proper bed

    Much as we were enjoying ourselves with Tayri and his family we had to make our excuses and carry on north.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  20. #20
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    After leaving Tayri we headed north up the Upper Dades route.


    Hardly a drop of water in the ford


    Unlike here where Gordon Brown, Mark Littlewood, Mark Hutchinson and Gareth Jones from the UK KTM Forum demonstrate stream crossing...(video by Jason Robinson)


    On the long ascent



    It's a long ascent of around 800m to the Tizi n'Ouano at 2900m


    Then an easy descent


    Lovely scenery

    We then came across a Greek couple, Georgia and Nikos, in a Suzuki Grand Vitara 4x4 who had broken down on the piste. They'd decided in view of the Greek financial situation to sell up and go travelling! They were in no immediate danger as they had lots of cold water but they were about to walk for help in totally the wrong direction. We were only about 7km from Agoudal and the tarmac road so we gave them a lift on the back of our bikes to Auberge Ibrahim where the staff were hopefully able to organise a mechanic. They have a blog at http://thepinprojecten.blogspot.co.uk/ and in time they will hopefully post how they got on!
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  21. #21
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    We then carried on north to Imilchil to refuel at the only station in the middle of the High Atlas, then rode 20km south again to Bouzmou where we were to explore a piste heading west to Anergui. The last time I was in the area people at both ends of the piste said it was cut, but we thought we would have a look see anyway. What with the likelihood that the piste was cut, I was in two minds about this route especially as the sun went in as we started and the piste looked tremendously bashed about, but Alfie is a tremendously positive person and now he was the one overcoming my misgivings and pushing me along!


    Looks a bit bleak to me


    Climbing and climbing from Bouzmou


    Spectacular strata


    The first of the tizis


    Tizi n'Igui at 2982m above sea level, the highest 'through' piste I'm aware of in Morocco


    Yup, that's where our piste goes

    Whilst proceeding on the piste we kept our eyes open for potential wild camping spots. Although the green area below looked very promising this is in fact a dayat (seasonal lake) and more of a bog than a meadow.


    There's a reason why Ireland is green


    The ascent to Tizi n'Aferdou was a bit tricky, this is the descent


    Steeper than it looks, this was very tricky the next day when we came back the same route


    The same section, this time on video


    And then just before sunset we found somewhere to wild camp

    We had headed off from Bouzmou with six 1.5-litre bottles of water, plus probably a litre or so in the Krieger hydration pack, so at least 10 litres in total. During the day we had been drinking steadily and the first course of our meal that evening was several helpings of pea and ham 'cup-a-soup' which comes in a dry form so has to be mixed with hot water. We then had the chicken kebabs saved from the previous night. These had been in a zip-lock bag all day so we heated them up over the flames from the JetBoil stove.

    By then it was almost fully dark and the temperature was dropping quickly which was a bit of a luxury--at first. A couple of hours later I was really cold and had to make a quick exit from the tent to stand shivering by the bike whilst I hauled out some additional clothing from the panniers.

    My down-filled sleeping mat is really good at protecting from cold from the ground, so I use my sleeping bag more as a duvet than an all-round bag.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  22. #22
    Without a doubt it's... very entertaining, lots of information, wonderful sceanery, detailed, amazing heights, heart warming, making people want to travel, enriching....
    Great report Tim, really, fabulous!

    Peter and Zineb, Ouarzazate.

  23. #23
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    Shortly after dawn


    There's a rather obvious reason why the bikes are on that side of the tent

    I woke with the dawn but waited a bit for the sun to warm things up outside before exiting the tent. Alfie was still asleep so I mixed up a packet of instant caramel-flavoured cappuccino with some hot water before waking him.


    First time the tent has been used in the wild

    As we were packing up the gear we were visited by two guys with mules who obviously wanted to try to bum some ciggies or money from us but they only spoke Berber and I was playing dumb and eventually they gave up. They did say, however, that the 'triq' was broken before Anergui.

    I was also concerned as the track had become increasingly faint in places with no sign of four-wheeled traffic, yet now we were 35km west of the tarmac at Bouzmou, we only had another 25km or so to go before Anergui. All of a sudden a 4x4 came along the track. According to the logos on the side, the 4x4 belonged to some Association and there were two young guys in the front, and two girls in the back. It didn't look like official business to me. We had a brief chat, they were heading for somewhere I hadn't heard of and disappeared into the distance.

    Another two of the plastic water bottles were now empty. You may be shocked to learn that I throw these away, but I only do this with the tops secured, and in the knowledge that they are appreciated by the locals who use them for storage. So before leaving I placed the bottles upright by the side of the track, secured in place with small stones.

    We set off heading west again and after about 5km came across several groups of locals, all of whom volunteered the information that the piste was cut. By now we are only 12km from the valley floor at Anergui. I was feeling a bit woozie due to the continued high altitude (we were consistently at 2600-2800m), whilst Alfie was all for continuing in the hope we could somehow get the bikes through. With a lot more experience of pistes than Alfie I knew that if the piste was cut so close to Anergui it was likely to be cut badly, plus looking at the topo information, there was a 1,000m descent between us the Assif Melloul (Melloul river). Eventually we decided to turn around and approach Anergui from another direction. In retrospect I regret this, but it was the right decision at the time.

    So... back along the piste, past the campsite (plastic water bottles now gone), and now to tackle the rocky ascent of the Tizi n'Aferdou.

    The challenge is negotiating steep uphill hairpin bends. You have to slow down for the bend and then you have to wait until the bike is pointing in a straight line before applying power otherwise the rear wheel will just slide out from underneath you, but by now you aren't going fast enough and it's difficult to get traction on the loose stones and rocks.


    I've stuck the image in again to illustrate this part of the track.

    I managed the worst section--just! I was helped by the Tenere's long-travel suspension, the knobbly TKC80 tyres, and lots of prior experience doing the same elsewhere. However I suspected Alfie might have problems, so as soon as there was a less-steep piece of track 250m further on I stopped and waited. Alfie didn't appear so I walked down the hill to find him lifting the F650GS. His tyres were dual-purpose road/track so not as knobbly as mine. Alfie tried to launch uphill again, but the tyres couldn't get traction.

    This is where you need to understand that you don't have to play the cards you've been dealt. If the track is difficult, one option is to modify the track--this is what Moroccans do whenever there's been damage. So we set to, spending several minutes clearing the loose stones from the bottom of the hill and Alfie had another go at launching. He almost made it, but not enough momentum. So we dragged the bike back downhill and spent another few minutes kicking and sliding more loose stones from the track. Now the launch pad was much longer and with a crack of the throttle Alfie was up and bouncing over the rocks. He carried on past my bike (anticipating this I had cleared the loose rocks from the track next to my bike before walking back), and was soon at the top of the tizi.


    Tizi n'Aferdou doesn't look difficult but the piste is terribly cut up


    We had a good run back to Bouzmou, great strata


    And great scenery


    Eventually we could see Bouzmou in the distance

    There's a new dam being built at Bouzmou so another place for wild swimming.

    We regained the tarmac and headed north for Imilchil, to refuel once more at the Inov station.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  24. #24
    Trailblazer Tim Cullis's Avatar
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    UPDATE on post #6: Heard from Milo by email. After riding his bike to Almeriá he then drove the van through Spain to Santander and on his return to the UK went to A&E (accident and emergency dept at hospital) only to find his ankle was broken in two places. It will be in plaster for a month!

    Get well soon, mate.
    "For sheer delight there is nothing like altitude; it gives one the thrill of adventure
    and enlarges the world in which you live,"
    Irving Mather (1892-1966)

  25. #25
    Great picture - Cabezo Castildetierra (something like head of the castle of earth)

  26. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by Tim Cullis View Post
    If the track is difficult, one option is to modify the track--this is what Moroccans do whenever there's been damage.
    Indeed. And this works for 4x4 tracks too - as we found out.

    The problem was that, being novices in Morocco, we didn't recognise the difference between fallen rocks and those placed across the piste to indicated it was closed! And it nearly ended in disaster - but what a fantastic experience over those mountains.

    Msemrir to Agoudal - 9th April 2013:
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