[Jason] Just returned from an action packed fortnight, and what a fantastic fourteen days I’ve had. Flew into Marrakesh and spent the first night in the old market square. I’m not a big fan of big cities but a visit to the square in the evening proved to be an entertaining experience with an Aladdin’s cave of market stalls selling everything from Moroccan lamps, leather goods to silver jewellery, food stalls offering up all manner of exotic foods and the ubiquitous street entertainers. This place is full of atmosphere but as good as this place was, I wasn’t here for the markets, I was here for the biking!
The following morning the bikes were waiting for us at the hotel. Determined to make the most of our five days of bike hire we set off early, heading south towards Asni then onto Tizi-n-test. The bikes Neil and I had hired were Honda TransAlps, which we found to be pretty awful and went along way to explain the cheap rental cost of 80 euros a day. Their only redeeming feature was reliability, they didn’t let us down once.
The road down the Tizi-n-test was tarmac but you don’t need to be riding down a gnarly track in the middle of nowhere in Morocco to experience spectacular riding; every twist and turn produced another incredible vista. Rural Morocco has been left truly in the past, we felt like time travellers. We rode through villages with houses made of mud and straw, cruised past women wearing head scarfs, shawls and petticoats washing clothes in a river and goat herders in traditional attire tending their animals. The donkey was the go-to beast of burden and these poor creatures were every where. Children would suddenly appear by the side of the road with big smiles, waving and gesturing to us to ‘rev’ our engines on their invisible motorbikes. Morocco is the nearest ‘far away’ place I’ve ever been to.
Our first night on the road was spent at a home-stay, an enjoyable time with my newly adopted family. I decided to fly my Quadcopter and capture some interesting aerial footage during our trip. This proved to be a big draw for local folk as I flew it over the village, watching the kids stare in amazement at this strange UFO.
From Tizi-n-test with its incredible views over the mountains and distant plains, we made our descent into Aoulous for lunch. An uninspiring and scruffy town with an unfriendly feel. We ate then made like sheep – and got the flock out of there. Taliouine by contrast was more of a tourist place and had benefited from a splash of cash, with its ribbon of new blacktop and overly ornate street lights. This is where we spent night two.
Day three started early feeling relaxed after a good night’s sleep; we headed through a large flat plain towards Tazenakht. Camels, camels and more camels! I shouted to Neil through the intercom. There in the middle of the road was at least one hundred camels of all ages and sizes, being cajoled unsuccessfully by a teenage boy. We waited and watched as the camels seemed to prefer to walk down the road rather than across it. “Ride down the side of them”, instructed Neil, so I slowly manoeuvred the bike off the tarmac and down the line of dromedaries trying not to spook these ships of the desert. Shit, these things are big, the adult males were over eight foot high. Last thing I need is a stampede!
During an impromptu stop to check if the camera on my helmet was pointing in the right direction, I noticed a conical mound of rock with what appeared to be caves cut into it, on the horizon to my left. “Hey Neil, lets go over and take a look”, I demanded. So we left the tarmac and headed up a dirt track towards the honeycomb rock.
I trudged up to the caves as Neil took photos. “Bonjour, bonjour” I shouted, waited but there was no response. “Bonjour, Bonjour”, I shouted again but still no reply. Oh well, may be they don’t want visitors. I was just about to turn back when I noticed an old man in a long green coat and green shesh (a Moroccan turban equivalent) perched on top of his weathered head, walking down the slope towards me. I turned back up the hill, and with an out stretched hand greeted my new friend “Bonjour monsieur, may I look inside your home?” He responded with a blank look; with much gesturing from me, he finally responded with “Tee” holding an imaginary cup to his mouth. “Oui monsieur, merci beaucoup”, I said appreciatively.
We entered his cave home, with its fire blackened ceiling. His few possessions were placed against the walls on the dirt floor. In the middle of the floor lay several rugs and at the back of the cave came the sound of two baby goats. Our host gestured for us to sit as he prepared the ‘tee’. Conversation was a bit limited to say the least, but drawing on the floor with my finger proved to be a better method of communication. After the customary three glasses of mint tea, we bid our host a warm farewell. Our new friend walked with us to the edge of the hill while he threw stones at his over enthusiastic guard dog to try and curb its incessant barking. What a great experience I thought, the real Morocco I wanted to see.
Night three was spent at Ait-Benhaddou, a UNESCO world heritage site that dated back to 17th century. Located in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas in the Province of Ouarzazate, the site Ait-Ben-Haddou is the most famous ksar in the Ounila Valley. It was an important trading post on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh. Aït-Ben-Haddou is a striking example of southern Moroccan architecture. Ksar is mainly a collective grouping of dwellings. Inside the defensive walls, which are reinforced by angle towers, houses crowd together – some modest, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick. Ait-Ben-Haddou has featured in many films including: Gladiator, Laurence of Arabia and The Mummy to name a few.
After an early morning guided tour and some filming using the Quadcopter again, it was back on the bikes for a steady afternoon’s riding up to Telouet. We meandered through landscapes of mountains, lush green oasis, pine woodlands and rocky scrubland. Telouet, I found to be somewhat dreary and after some searching we managed to find some accommodation by the way of a rotund gentleman in a long black camel hair with a big smile, and good English. He looked like a dodgy car salesman but turned out to be a chef at the local restaurant, and for the equivalent of £20 he offered us a 3 course meal in the restaurant a nice room and breakfast. Result.
Fed and watered, we had a quick look around the local Kasbah before it was time to hit the road again. Upon reaching Tizi-n-tichka, we soaked up more incredible views through the mountains and back to Marrakesh. This road is a real bikers road; sweeping bends, shear drop offs and incredible vistas. What a great first week of culture, riding, and spectacular landscape. I love Morocco!