See the section for Morocco of the Trento Bike Pages.

Morocco by bike - November 1994

By Andrea "Andrea is a guy's name in Italy" Casalotti (, Thu, 20 Apr 1995 12:35:17 +0000
This is the diary of a solo trip I made in southern Morocco. From Marrakech I crossed the Atlas, rode along the Draa valley to Zagora, then coasted the Sahara to Tata and Akka. I then crossed the anti-Atlas to reach Tiznit on the coast. I used the Michelin map. If anyone is thinking of a similar trip I will be happy to provide additional info.

Day 1 - 19th November

At the airport FX counter, the two Gibraltar sluts change a grand. The guy doesn't accept my card, so I tender stg 70, all I have. I must see if a hotel can advance some money (banks are closed). I enter the walls of Marrakech: immediately I am engulfed by stalls, shops and colours. I get some money and mandarins and I set off on the desert plain. The Atlas stands majestically and magnetically in front of me. I pass herds of goats, an attractive kasba and a dam. By now I know that I will not make it before dark. A sense of fear is soon dispelled. The sun sets in a flourish of red and I keep on pedalling. It is only when I arrive at Cafe de France in Amizmiz, that I realise that I pushed a bit hard. I feel feverish, but still able to enjoy my first Moroccan meal: tajine was the name , but I am served first a big tomatoes, peppers and sardines salad, then an omelette, followed by a lamb tagine and a side order of chips. A few mandarins conclude the feast eaten in the garden and washed down by my first and last beer.

Day 2 - 20th November

In the centre of town I have a liberating haircut. Then a young guy invites me in his shop to try some tea: he adds some fresh mint, brings it to the boil again and then adds a lingot of sugar. We chat: he tells me how her Berber mother always refused to learn Arabic. Berber men wear their long tunic with a hood, which can become a pannier. I set off skirting the foot of the mountain; a lot of olive trees, but in the valleys they are ploughing for wheat. I reach a river where women collect water with beautiful jars. The slopes are wooded and I climb to reach a col with beautiful views over a lush valley. Great descent into Ourigane with its luxurious hotel. I have this wonderful olive tagine cooked in lemon juice, followed by a delicious apple pie. Then up the valley following the river. At times it is quite narrow, but where it widens, it is quite well cultivated. I reach Ijoukak with the last light as the muezzin tunes his call. So much life in such a small high street. People playing cards, eating tagines, changing buses, playing drums and singing, even a woman with fishnet tights!

Day 3 - 21st November

It is Monday morning and from the terrace I watch children going to school. I had left my door open to let the strong moon light come in but so did the cold and at 8:30 when I set off, it is still intense. First I follow a beautiful narrow valley, then I start the two hour climb, always watched by the snow-capped Toubkal. After the pass, this amazing valley, totally surrounded by mountains, opens up. Beyond it is the Souss. The long descent is exhilarating, often broken up to let the view sink in. Once in the middle of the valley, I stop to look at a ruined ksour; next is a school and I don't need a lot to be convinced by one of the teachers to spend the night there. He invites me to take a steam bath. It is only when we are in the tiny domed hot shower room, that he tells me about his black belt in aikido and how he gets inspiration for his practice from the beautiful setting of the village. As all village schools, the teachers come from some far big city and live in spartan conditions in the school compound. After a game of chess, we have a good lentil stew

Day 4 - 22nd November

The valley is famous for its honey, and I taste it with some local bread. Then the piste takes me smoothly downhill, then up a col to reach this forested plain, followed by a steep narrow valley. The track is smooth, gently downhill, halfway up the steep slope: just paradise, and it goes on and on. Finally I reach the plain and after half an hour, a souk in full swing. I am directed to a restaurant where my order of tagine is brought to my private chamber. I share it with my guide who later shows me around the souk. The parking lot is full of mules and asses. On one side they can be bought, a good one costing 7-8000 dirhams (=$1,000) and lasting 30-40 years. Seems a pretty good deal, considering how much they carry. I buy some dates and watch the closing hour of the souk. People make their way back to their villages as the sky turns red and the voice of the muezzin fills the valley. My hosts spend the evening huddled in blankets in the moonlit patio watching Moroccan music videos.

Day 5 - 23rd November

After a breakfast of dates and mandarins at a lovely spot by the river, the path takes me through a surprisingly fertile valley, well cultivated with plenty of irrigation. Then as I climb, it becomes ever more arid with few trees among the thorny bushes. Wherever there is some water a group of farms can be seen. The final climb is quite steep and the sight of Askaoun, with its two mosques and the garden of the palace of the caid is welcome. The souk section of the town is vast with many shops but hardly any customers. I have a quick omelette, find a room, look around the shops, and then, guided by the local kids, including the caid's son, all very knowledgeable of world capitals, even more of footballers, visit the hills around. Contrasting the beauty of the plain with Toubkal in the background, is the rubbish strewn next to the caid's palace. A cold wind begins to rise which makes the slender telephone line go down. I meet Paul, a charming researcher on soil erosion on his second winter in Askaoun. He tells me of his adventures over a tagine in Cafe Seroua.

Day 6 - 24th November

The cold wind is still blowing mercilessly, and we have a hot barley soup. The souk has a "High Noon" atmosphere with few souls venturing across the central area. But by 9, the wind has died down, the sun is starting to warm up and traders are starting to set up stalls. People arrive by mule or by truck and by 10 the market is in full swing. Paul does his weekly shop of fruit and vegetables, I linger by the date seller with his many varieties. Stocked up with ready calories and the wonderful local bread, I say good-bye to Paul and set off for the high passes. It is a memorable journey with the piste rising first from an arid plain to green carpeted ones. These are the summer pastures, but on the way I see two or three shepherds with their flock. I climb to 2500m. then descend lightly to climb again to the final pass. In front of me opens a magnificent view: A green valley with sheep and a village in the distance; the valley is enclosed by two cliffs; beyond them, in the distance the yellow and orange plains of the desert. I start to descend; soon the track has to negotiate the deeply eroded mountainside, so that, even if I see Tachokchte around 3, it will take me an hour to wind around the deep gullies and reach it. At four kilometres from the village, my tire slips and I fall, wounding my hands. I am very fortunate: at the village, my host has a very well equipped medical cabinet. He disinfects and covers my wounds and then offers me a delicious tagine. By 9, I start to feel cold. Is it me or is it the air?

Day 7 - 25th November

I feel unwell and my hands hurt. I still have some 40 kilometres of piste before reaching the main road and the discomfort is balanced by the sheer beauty of the landscape. Arid plains with fascinating mountain shapes overlooked by Mount Seroua. Further down some areas near dry river beds are ploughed, waiting for the rain. I reach the main road at midday, resolve that I want to visit a hospital; after some tea, I hitch a lift to Ouarzazate, where at the hospital my wounds are well tended. I find a hotel, have a ramadan soup and crash out in 40+ temperature

Day 8 - 26th November

Rest day - I change the tyre of the bike, visit the kasba, have a good tagine, relax at the pool and rest. I am the only guest of this large hotel until it is invaded by a coach load of Japanese.

Day 9 - 27th November

The road to the Draa is through arid hills occasionally crossing some dry river beds. I pass a small caravan of camels and have breakfast by some palms. After 40 km. the road rises to a col from where a magic view opens: the green Draa valley snakes itself among amazingly looking red mountains. The descent is long, twisty and exciting. At Agdz I enjoy a good kebab with vegetables, then a merchant ensnares me in his den, asking to translate some letter, and I end up buying a beautiful Tuareg bracelet. Then in late afternoon a magic ride along the Draa, with the golden colours of cultivated fields, the palms, the kasbas and the glowing mountain sides: joy. When dark arrives, I stop at a cafe, which offers me a room, or shall we say a carpet, and a tagine. The out-door satellite TV is being zapped continuously, rivalling in volume the one of the cafe across the road. Finally I let MTV to the locals and take a walk under the starry sky

Day 10 - 28th November

Mornings are still cold, so I spend half an hour watching kids go to school and sipping tea. Then I continue along the valley. I want to visit a kasba, but it is closed, so I see a well appointed three storey clay house in the village. The floor is a bit rubbery but very solid. I reach Tinzouline where today is market day: very cramped, lots of junk, everyone seems to have some facial defect, and where are the women? Much more pleasant was a snack by a bend of the river overlooking its turgid flow, the palms, the brown kasbas and the now widening valley. Zagora is a large dusty town, and I find refuge at the Fibule, where I have couscous by the pool watching a guy plucking the dates and pruning the palms. I relax in the evening after my first hot shower in a week.

Day 11 - 29th November

The Fibule is charming with a beautiful dining room. The sky is threatening rain, and I set off for a circular tour. However, after one and half hour of hard desert piste, I decide to get back. The desert was lively with various plant life (it had rained heavily a month earlier) most beautiful of which were some delicate white flowers, As I get back to Zagora, I am trapped by Mustapha, the Christian Dior pseudo- Tuareg merchant for whom I had translated a letter yesterday, (by now I start to think it is a ploy). He spreads out all these different carpets and then spreads himself over them asking what my last price is for one for which I deigned interest. I say "I will think about it", leave the shop to be greeted by rain. After a siesta, during a tour of the town, everyone wants to invite me for tea, but they are all sirens. I retreat to have couscous at the Fibule.

Day 12 - 30th November

The sun is shining and I enjoy breakfast of bread and honey by the pool. I then set off for a 15 km. desert ride to Tagounite to view the koranic library. A few layabouts do the Marrakech hustle and I return after viewing a few of the 4000 old texts, and the yard of a mosque where some ill people spend a year in hope of being healed. Not a wholly productive morning, especially because when I get to the souk at 1 o'clock, they tell me that the truck to Foum Zguid had left an hour earlier. There are a still a group of traders waiting for transport to the halfway village. They (and I) hang around for a couple of hours, only to see that the truck is only half the expected size and the driver is having a hard time fitting the sheep, the sacks of flour, box of chicks, the merchants, etc. Quick change of plan and I catch the bus back up the Draa valley and as the sun sets I relive those two beautiful days of riding.

Day 13 - 1st December

I set off early on a delightful piste: against a background of two-tone mountains, villages in palm-rich oasis are dominated by minarets. Then after some bleak mining countryside, an exhilarating ride at the bottom of a twisting canyon, its stark contours contrasted by the beauty of the oasis and occasional kasba. After 135 km I reach Foum Zguid, which at first sight seems a charming desert outpost with its portico square. It turns out to be a dump: after the sunset, the generator is turned on, drowning the square with its noise; no-one is willing to provide me a meal, everybody too busy watching Turkish comedies and Italian soaps at the only bar.

Day 14 - 2nd December

Greeted by the news that the 140 km of piste to Tata have recently being paved, I set off determined to cover the distance today. A good wind is friendly pushing me on. The first half is through flat desert; at one point I pass the carcass of a camel. Then the road reaches the oasis of Tissint where there is a breach in the Bani mountain range. The next 30 km are beautiful with bare mountains on the left and on the right the palm-fringed dry river bed in front of a large plain and the Anti-atlas behind. The approach to Tata is dramatic, with the town framed by towering mountains and stormy clouds. By the time I settle at the comfortable Tata hotels, it is pouring. Later I visit Tata, by far the most charming town that I have seen, with its tiled porticoes. I meet the local dude, who shows me his villa and friends; we all have a wide selection of nuts, before a good tagine.

Day 15 - 3rd December

Again the clouds of the previous day have vanished. I meet Sluman and friend for breakfast. Then, after watching the arrival by chopper of a minister for the opening of the new mosque, we go for an exciting ride through the palmery of a nearby village. I am then invited for lunch when all the males quickly devour from the single tray a big plate of beef and peas. The women are washing clothes next door. Nevertheless I have a chance to thank and shake hands with the mother. I set off for the 60 km. ride to Akka through sheer desert. At Akka, I find solace from the drabness and dirt of the hotel/restaurant by watching the sunset in the palmery.

Day 16 - 4th December

Akka's market turns out to be the most charming that I have seen. Just outside, at eight o'clock knives were being sharpened at the small abattoir; when the vet gave his OK there was no escape for a dozen goats and an unlucky camel. The souk is divided into three sections, the smallest hosting the wholesale date market, where merchants were tasting the different varieties displayed in big piles. Leaving the souk I meet Mouloud, a small man with a vast knowledge of the area, and self-proclaimed protector of the hundreds of prehistoric engraved rocks in the desert. I cycle a few km's. to this idyllic pond at the edge of the oasis, where I sunbathe for an hour watching red dragon-flies, a pair of white heron, small frogs, and in the distance Berber women washing cloths. Then at 3:30 I have a rendezvous with Mouloud at his village. We walk for more than an hour in the desert, past burnt-out Algerian vehicles from the war, to reach a low ridge of hills, where on top he shows me many samples of engraved rocks, depicting elephants, rhinos, giraffes and, most beautiful, gazelles. Not long ago there must have been a lot more water in this area. We return to Mouloud's house where his mother serves a simple dish of rice and milk.

Day 17 - 5th December

After a delicious barley soup and dates, I set off on the desert highway, always assisted by the wind. After passing through a couple of pretty oasis, I reach Tizguy, where I buy some bread and tomatoes and lazily wait for Mouloud to arrive. He is delayed by his perennial conflict with everyone in Akka, but at 2 o'clock we start our walk in the desert. We pass a large herd (100+) of camels, a pretty, small oasis, and then we get to the brick hut of a nomad, where we are going to spend the night. We then go to a small lake nearby, where with the sun ready to set, the big herd of camels arrive, drink a bit and continues in their search for "green" pastures. A really beautiful scene. We go back to the hut where he have an omelette with very good bread. Mouloud doesn't appreciate some of the comments by the nomad, whom he helped become guardian of some of the rocks, so we decide to leave and return to the village in a mad ride in the night.

Day 18 - 6th December

I cross the Bani through a gorge and follow a nice wide valley on a good track. There are a few trees with long menacing thorns. I cross only one a man on his mule and a herd of camels. Then at the mouth of a canyon Tadakoust appears, scenically perfect: the lush palmery, the mud houses on the side of the mountain and on top of the red mountain the ruin of the old fort. The teachers at the school are a riot and they convince me to stay. A local youth shows me the way to the spring deep in the canyon. Here I relax, bathe and soak the sun for a few hours. Later I explore another arm of the canyon and return to the school at sunset; here the party is in full swing: everybody is dancing to the repetitive beat of Moroccan music, the session interrupted by a good lentil soup. Later they surprise me by knowing how to play Machiavelli, or Casse-tete. The dishes will be washed the next day by the pupils: women are not allowed in the school compound after a few years earlier two teachers were discovered bonking two local girls: a chase in the mountains and a trial ensued; severe punishment was avoided only because the act took place in the school, i.e. the girls were partly to blame

Day 19 - 7th December

An early rise for the climb of the peak on which the fort is perched. It was built as a look-out and as a granary. Parts of it are still in good conditions and it commands a spectacular view over the village. As we watch the women going to the fields, Mohamed tells me of his life in Rabat still unsure of which he prefers. Back to the village and I set off continuing yesterday morning's track passing some Nomads' tents. After a couple of hours I rejoin the tarmac road, which slowly climbs. When I reach the place where I think I should turn off, I mistakenly ask confirmation to a young shepherd who happens to need a ride. He tells me the turn-off is further down and climbs on the pannier-rack. Not only he attracts a buzzing fly colony thirsty of my sweat, but his sense of distance is so mistaken that a conspiracy theory soon takes hold of me. After 10 km. from the original three, I tell him to get off. I now have to approach Amtoudi from a different track, which turns out quite pebbly and uncomfortable. At the end I am spurred by a dramatic sunset. I reach the hotel at dark; there are no guests, no electricity and no hot water, but the sheets are clean. I walk in the village with the caretaker to buy some provisions and he then cooks me a delicious tomato omelette.

Day 20 - 8th December

The kids are going to school and Amin, the man with the key to the fort is already tilling his plot. I therefore start climbing alone. It takes about twenty minutes to reach the top and as I turn to see the panorama, I see the rounded 50ish Amin climbing the last rocks: he must have set a personal record. With the Berber key, he shoves his arm through a hole next to the big door and opens the fort for me. It is beautifully preserved, still holding many apiaries, but the bees are gone. The view is splendid. Amin acts also as tourist rep and we organise the rest of the day: with a picnic pack I start the walk up the gorge, first through the palmery, then up nice rock formations, until I reach an opening where a spring bathes palms, bamboos and other shrubs, the birds sing and I find a perfectly smooth rock to relax and attempt to smooth the sharp tan line of my cycling shorts. When it gets too hot I slide down a rock into a pool of cool water. Bliss. It is hard to leave this Eden, but Amin had arranged a tagine at the village; so I return and in a charming courtyard, I have a great meal. After a short nap, I find a spot up the slope to look at the sunset. For dinner I am invited at the home of the restaurant owner, where we share a big plate of chicken couscous, softened with goat milk; delicious. In the middle of the night I wake up and sit on the roof terrace for an hour, looking at the stars and the rising moon. It is the last time I am offered such a spectacle.

Day 21 - 9th December

Amin has assured me that a track, not signed on the map, will reach the Tiznit-Tinzouline road and that it is rough for only one hour. I set off at dawn, and the track criss-crosses a dry riverbed up a beautiful canyon. The pebbles are literally a pain in the bum. After two hours I reach a village, with the usual teachers eager to share a few words in French. I chose a beautiful spot to have a flat tire; cycle past an amazing agadir, and keep climbing until I reach the forbidding and arid plateau. Far on the horizon, the major peaks of the Anti-Atlas. Mining has lead people to this inhospitable area, and I start to see some of the pink painted houses. The track goes on and on, finding a few pockets of green, until after a small col, a magnificent valley opens up: reminiscent of the Cape, the land has different colours from yellow to ochre, the villages are white and pink, many with wind mills, and a beautiful mountains frames it; I finish the last of my mandarins. The tarmac road is not far. The first kilometres are lined with eucalyptus. Then, after a while I reach the edge of the escarpment and the beauty of the vista is matched by the exhilaration of the long winding spectacular downhill. Joy. Impermanence was taught by the very long last fifteen kilometres to Tiznit, a roller coast ride on an arid plain with the wind and the setting sun blasting my face. In the walled city I have time for a quick soup before boarding the bus to Marrakech. At one a.m. in the middle of Allah-knows-where the bus stops at a refreshment area, with its own butcher ready to supply the kebab sellers. It is only three before we reach Marrakech and with the help of a con artist I find a bedroom facing Jemaa el Fna.

Day 22 - 10th December

The square is waking up and the orange juice sellers are uncovering their stalls. The bread women take their places. Olives, figs, spices, mint, fruit are stacked up high. And then leather, wood, jewels, carpets, plastic buckets,... Delicious pastries are preceded by a good chick-pea soup. Hustle is minimal. I buy a silver bracelet, not knowing how much I have over-paid. The last dirhams go into dried figs. After three weeks I learned a bit of this country, but I am sure that it will continue to surprise me.