“F*&^! off and go back to your country we don’t need tourists like you!” Perhaps it was time for me to leave Marrakesh. I had clearly insulted the restaurant pimp; impersonating a native Spanish speaker had got lost in translation. In retrospect, I may have come off as a little rude when I responded “cuando quiero” when he inquired “cuando” exactly would I be returning to dine in his – not so – fine, generic, open air restaurant in Jemma el Fna square.
This was our last evening together, and my Sweetness was worried that I would get bored without her. “We must find you something to do” she told me with great concern. I knew exactly what I was going to do, but in the interest of keeping Rosey in ignorant bliss, I sighed and said “yes we do”.
We said our goodbyes at the airport early the next morning, and before Sweetness had even passed through security, I was on the phone to several motorcycle rental businesses – I had been clandestinely researching for days beforehand.
The guy on the phone had a motorbike for me and within 15 mins a tea shop salesmen came to pick me up from my Riad on his scooter. I was in my element as we darted through the narrow lanes of the Souq, which, in most other countries would be reserved for pedestrians only.
We arrived at his tea shop with no motorcycles in sight! The only thing that matched the google search, was the small poster in the shop window. As per usual Moroccan protocol, I was offered tea. Royal tea! Not the over-sweetened mint variety that was served everywhere else; this was the good stuff!
The transaction transpired exactly as I had come to expect in this country. It took 3 men to deliver the bike! I put down a deposit on my credit card and the rental amount was paid in cash. No receipt.
The bike was in surprisingly good condition, although I would soon find out that the odometer, speedometer and fuel gauge did not work. I’d chosen a relatively lightweight and –by north American standards – underpowered Honda Tornado 250. It’s a street legal dirt bike. I was keen to get off the beaten track, and I knew that track would need something light and capable.
In order to get to these heavenly roads, I first had to navigate through the hellish traffic of Marrakech. The map I had bought was completely useless; however there were no shortages of locals offering to show me the way. These are exactly the guys you don’t want to ask though. Their help comes at a price. I was short on Dirhams, so I asked a disinterested scootist for directions instead. He gestured me to follow him, and led me to the airport for the price of a thankful wave.
The first leg of my journey followed the same route (R203) towards the Atlas mountains – Rosey and I had rented a car and driven it the day before. I was once again headed for the little Berber village called Imlil. It’s setting is gorgeous, nestled deep in a European – looking – valley replete with fruit trees and luxuriant blankets of bright green grass. It’s only when I gazed upward that I was reminded I was in Africa! This village is the starting point for trekkers climbing Mt.Toubkal (4167m); the highest mountain in the Atlas range.
I wasn’t going back to Imlil however, and turned right at Asni, following the R203. I passed the little village of Ouirgane which hugs the barrage (dam) of the same name. The road had many twists and turns with great camber. A motorcyclists dream! The surface was a little inconsistent fluctuating from brand new blacktop to ancient gravel. The Moroccan motorists however, were reliably consistent. Appalling! The weather was inverse to the motorists. Gorgeous!
Due to my late start, the sun was already sinking behind the high Atlas mountains and my thoughts turned to finding shelter. I considered riding down a dirt track into the riverbed and finding a secluded spot to camp, but I had no means of making a fire, nor a blanket.
After riding through several tiny settlements, I realized that my best bet was to return to the slightly larger Ouirgane to find a room – or a blanket shop. I didn’t find anyone selling blankets, but I did find a hotel. As I rode through the immaculate grounds past the tennis courts, stables and spa, I suspected this place was out of my price range. I was optimistic that I might be able to incur a big discount for showing up so late in the day.
No such luck! The grumpy concierge was un-budging on the 110 euro a night rate, although he did offer me the honeymoon suite and told me the dinner and breakfast was included. I faked walking out, but it was clear that he was not concerned about losing the business. I justified the cost by promising myself that the next night I would buy a blanket and a lighter, and sleep on the rocks and under the stars.
The place seemed deserted, but when I went for dinner, there were quite a few couples and a group of French tourists spread out around the spacious lounge with the massive fireplace. I had my three course meal, which was disappointingly unremarkable, then retired to my suite and tried – unsuccessfully – to occupy every square foot of my gargantuan bed.
I slept like a cat, and was woken the next morning by that wonderfully familiar African sound of cooing doves.
The breakfast was slightly better than the dinner, but most importantly it was plentiful and I stuffed myself – and my camera bag with breadrolls – I might not have been able to buy food for the rest of the trip! The problem was I only had a mickey mouse bank card – Presidents choice. Do not fall for the free groceries for signing up! I had battled to withdraw cash in Marrakesh; the little I had was reserved for petrol and rocks – more on the rocks later.
I prolonged my stay at Domaine de la Roseraie & Spa until noon. I got a sense that the staff were anxious to get rid of me, as each one asked me when I was leaving. I must admit, I was by far the scruffiest looking patron of this fine establishment and I was probably lowering the tone.
Speaking of which, a dirty looking European Rastafarian hippy hitch hiker had gawked at me turning into the resort the night before. I’m sure he was even more surprised to see the scruffy, lanky, mismatched European South African coming to stay at a place like this!
I finally left and almost got beyond my turning point from the day before, when I realized I had the hotel keys in my pocket! I then had to return the 15 km stretch of road I had now ridden for the 4th time! After the 5th time, I finally surpassed the previous days mark at well after 2pm!
I was heading to Ijoukak, which was indeed rather kak. The humorously named town – it literally translates to “I You Pooh” in Afrikaans – did however have numerous roadside restaurants, and the smell of beef tagines seduced me to stop for a – very – late lunch. Images of Brazilian kebabs returned, but I was hungry and took a chance with the cheap street meat.
I was enjoying my beef tagine and saving the fatty bits for the gathering stray cats when I noticed a general store across the road. It was selling blankets!
I finished up my Tagine, washed it down with a big black coke and fed my scraps to the grateful – almost – dead cats. I walked across the road to the general store, but there was a broomstick blocking the entrance. The attendant was nowhere to be found! I went to a few other stores and enquired in sign language and a few French words about the whereabouts of the blanket merchant. They were all completely disinterested which was a complete 180 from what I had experienced in Marrakesh, where anyone would sell you anything from anywhere. I gave up and walked down the street looking for another blanket vendor. There weren’t any.
Just then, a young man greeted me in English and immediately invited me to come and stay with his family. He said he didn’t care about money, and seemed genuine. I would have, had I not covered such a pathetic distance of my set loop. Instead, we had tea and deep fried dough and chatted for a while. His name was Ali and he was studying tourism – I shudder to think what they teach them about tourism if anyone I had come across in his country thus far, had actually officially studied it!
I thanked him profusely for his kind offer, but insisted that I should continue to Tizi-n-Test pass. He told me it was too far. Ali gave me his phone number so that when I gave up and turned back, I could contact him. I reached the Tizi-n-test pass within an hour.
I stopped at the summit curio shop and restaurant to photograph the camping sign, an old Renault R4 and a starving dog – all great subjects – and was immediately accosted by the proprietor whose name was Mohammed. Quite a coincidence that the two chaps I’d met have names that, combined equate to the greatest boxer who ever lived!
I enquired about the camping, which he halfheartedly told me was 50 Dirhams a night, but quickly changed the subject to a room in his newly built refugio. The rate included “dinner, bed and breakfast” he told me. I steered the conversation back to the camping and he showed me the parking lot in front of his stone house. I asked if he could lend me a blanket but he kept directing the conversation back to the Refugio. I looked at it; it was very rustic. The beds looked uncomfortable, the windows were taped shut, it was ice cold and there seemed to be no electricity. I smiled to myself thinking “now this will be affordable”. He wanted 400 Dirhams! I offered him 200 without the meals. He said yes immediately and I knew I had overpaid.
He turned on the hot water, screwed in one – no – watt lightbulb, lit the outdoor propane cylinder heater and left me to my discomfort. After my luke warm shower in the ice cold bathroom, I tried to turn up the heater. I turned the knob the wrong way and it went out. The thought of going outside to ask the owner to light it again didn’t seem worth it so I went to bed. It wasn’t even seven ‘o clock.
I escaped early the next morning – before dawn – so that I wouldn’t be persuaded into buying Mohammed’s overpriced breakfast. I headed up a rough dirt road towards a weather station to find the perfect vantage point for the sunrise. After admiring the scenery for as long as I could endure – it was cold and windy – I rode back down the treacherous dirt trail with the abyss on one side and jagged rocks on the other. Was this what they meant by “between a rock and a hard place”? If so, there is no place I would rather have been!
I freewheeled past my refugio and descended the Tizi n Test Pass. The beginning was barely more than a dirt track, but the surface soon improved. I stopped half way down at Café Sunset for a piece of bread and a cup of boiling water. The tiny couple upsold me on the 3 egg Omelette for an additional fifty euro cents! All told, breakfast was a very reasonable seven Dirhams – much cheaper than the summit price of fifty.
I savored the remaining switchbacks and ever improving road surface until I reached the relatively flat farmland on the Southern side of the mountains. I turned east on the N10 and passed many commercial farms with high walls and lucrative crops, occasional scrappy villages and a very unlucky cat.
The landscape nearby was ever changing, but the Atlas Mountains on my left remained a constant blue companion. The slopes spread out on all sides, their varying shades of red reminiscent of the Berber carpets I’d seen in Marrakech.
Somewhere after Taliouine I noticed a hill with many caves in it’s cliff face. The tiny trail towards it made the exploration irresistible. I rode as far as I dared, and then scrambled up the remaining slopes to the entrance of one of the many caves. They were definitely man made, and huge! They looked ancient, and probably were used for human habitation in the past but now housed kids. Baby goats! They were so cute and when I put my hand in to try and pat them, one mistook my hand as it’s Mamma’s udder.
Back on the main road I started gaining elevation and my hands got cold. I was craving some sweet tea. Just then, an old man in a traditional Berber red dress waved me down. He had a roadside store selling semi precious rocks. He introduced himself as Hussien and kissed me on both cheeks. He must have read my mind, because he invited me in to his tiny house for tea. I sat beside him on a rice bag filled with sand. We drank, mainly in silence, what he called “whisky Berber”. It was in fact only tea. His house was no more than a five foot by seven foot cinderblock shack with no windows, just a creaky metal door. His bed was a piece of cardboard with a bathmat on top. He had no blankets! He invited me to spend the night, but again I declined. I had to meet Sadam.
As I stood to leave the ‘Sadam’ in Hussein appeared and he became a ruthless rock salesman tyrant! I felt obliged to buy a worthless piece of rock that I did not want; and could not afford. As I rode off, I was furious with myself for buying something so trivial instead of hoarding my cash for the petrol tank of my bike.
I got weary of riding and was happy to arrive at Ouarzazate as the sun set. I was even happier to find a petrol station that accepted credit cards! I added Pringles, chocolates and a room to my petrol bill and collapsed in blissful exhaustion onto the garishly mismatched blankets of the gas station motel.
The next morning I left early and rode to Aït Benhaddou. I had to literally run around the 17th Century Ksar and shove Japanese tourists out of my way. I had to have the motorcycle back in Marrakech by 1pm! This fortress has been used as a location for many movies including Gladiator. ” Are you not entertained!” I shouted at the giggling Japanese tourists!
I raced back through the Altas Mountains on the N9. It was a stunning ride, but a little busier than the R203. I touched snow on the Tizi-n-Tichka pass and ate Gato at the summit. Again, Spanish conversation with a Moroccan proved a mistake, and only when I declined eating “meow meow” did this rock salesman tell me it was cake!
The free cake cost me more damn rocks!!
This entry was posted in Africa, Morocco