Saturday, March 19, 2016

Morocco: The Gorges and the Desert

Cycling in Morocco - The Summary:
  • -          728kms biked from Marrakech to Merzouga
    • via Tizi-n-ticka pass, Telouet, Dades and Todra Gorges and the N12 highway
  • -           Longest Day: 130kms
  • -          Shortest Day: 3kms
  • -          Highlights: Rest days, homestays and a trip into the desert dunes to see sunset/sunrise
  • -          Lowlights: Battling ongoing sore knees and the odd head wind challenge

Patte des Singe campground up the Dades Gorge

After a 13 hour “sleeper” bus, we are back amongst the bustling, bursting streets and alleyways of Marrakech. It was only two weeks ago that we were here last, but our confidence with biking round and navigating the busy medina has sky-rocketed and we are much more comfortable navigating the busy traffic on loaded bikes.

The last week has been, quite simply, awesome! We spent 2 nights in a family-run campground up the Dades Gorge where we were able to rest and enjoy some good company. We discovered the joy of riding un-laden bikes for day trips, so made the most of rest days to do some local exploring on much lighter and speedier bikes!

Riding up the Dades Gorge

Enjoying an early morning excursion!

Andy entering the Todra Gorge

After a grueling ride into a strong headwind, and another quiet day trip following, we rode on again towards the desert. There had been some choice regarding our route, however a friendly Moroccan tour guide convinced us to travel the N12 (National), a route he assured us was free from traffic and “just like Botswana and Kenya” – desert and acacia trees! So we followed his advice and headed for the desert!

The view from above the town of Tinghir
On the road towards Alnif and the N12

Getting closer to the desert

 At our finishing point for the day we located a café for a cup of tea and Andy asked about the possibility of camping. 5 mins later Mbark turned up on a motorbike, ready to escort us to his Cafe & house for the evening. What a stroke of luck this chance meeting turned out to be! Mbark and his family were so hospitable, insisting on feeding us both dinner and breakfast, despite our protests about being self-sufficient. After dinner, again, they insisted that they be allowed to dress us up in traditional Berber outfits – usually used for weddings and the like. The whole family seemed to get immense joy out of this and the obligatory photo shoot lasted a while! 

Festivities continued with Andy learning Arabic numbers from Grandpa (who had no English), while Grandma looked on approvingly as I convinced some of the daughters to do some colouring in with me. Talk turned to religion and politics and it was cool to have the chance to have a chat about some of these big issues with Mbark. The next morning, we were refused our offer of paying for breakfast, but we managed to leave some food behind for the family as a way of saying thanks, which they accepted. We biked off with full hearts, feeling thankful for a lovely evening with easy hosts.

Chillin' with the family

The obligatory photo shoot! A very serious occasion!

We bypassed Rissani (our planned overnight stop) as it seemed like a very industrial, harsh little town but a bit of a weird vibe. Despite a local guy trying to convince us to spend the night (“In the morning there will be 300 donkeys outside your window!! Tomorrow, is donkey day. Many donkeys!”), the lure of the desert just 40kms away spurred us on and we set out to find a nicer spot to camp.

Pedalling into a head wind during the final 40km to Merzouga

It was incredible to be cycling out across the plains with the desert dunes looming closer and closer. It felt empty and a bit wild. The hot, dehydrating wind sapped our energy, but the promise of our finishing point kept us pushing forwards. As we rolled into town, we were accosted by the usual hostel/campground manager trying to draw us to their small patch of desert. We followed Hassan after his promises of hot showers, a sheltered camping spot and good tea! As the sun set, we were cooking a well-deserved meal, gazing over at the mighty dunes.

The Sahara ....
We decided to be touristy and signed up for a camel trek – a wander into the middle of this dune system via camel train where we spent the night in a traditional berber tent, watching the sunset, having an epic feed, bonfire, drumming and up for sunrise the next morning. We really enjoyed being with other people and the conversation and mingling with a wide range of people that we haven’t had much of. Everyone was full of anticipation on the ride in, but I particularly enjoyed the ride out, where everyone naturally spent the time in silence appreciating the surroundings.

And then here we are  - the bikes are back in their boxes and tomorrow we are catching a train back to Casablanca, where we spend the night with a Warm Showers host (couch surfing equivalent for cycle tourers), before flying onto Amsterdam to start the European leg. We are really excited about the chance to meet some of Andy’s relatives, but are a little nervous about the weather and how satisfactory our gear will be warmth wise!! We’ll update you next time!!

Miri (& Andy)

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful photos of the Todra Gorge and the Sahara. They look simply magical! Though I'm a little sad that you missed out on "donkey day."