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Old 08-01-2011, 02:58 PM   #10
mrwwwhite OP
Studly Adventurer
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Joined: Jun 2010
Location: Bucharest or RTW
Oddometer: 600
Morocco - A Warm Up

Later we rode through Casablanca, heading inland toward the High Atlas. After sleeping in a millet field and after a villager gave us fresh cow milk in the morning, we climbed to the 100m high Ouzoud falls (in full swing at this time of year). You can pass the touts and faux-guides and ride your bike close to the pools where you can take a cold plunge or enjoy the free spectacle of nature; just take the right gravel road before the bridge for 5-600m.

In the afternoon we stopped again in Azilal for a tagine, then continued on a breathtaking route among peaks ranging from 2K to 4K. The landscape kept changing every hour, from lifeless valleys, to cactus infested walls, from reddish soil and rocky forests to fragrant cedars and green canyons punctuated by magenta wild flowers. When the road appeared to end, we suddenly found ourselves at 2750m altitude, from where 50km of tarmac interrupted by gravel brought in by spring floods led us to Imilchil.

We slept a charmed night at the Gite d'etape run by a Berber family. Aziz has built the beautiful house himself and is a licensed guide. He also has a shop in the village, selling carpets hadmade by his wife, Fatma.

After eating some freshly baked bread in the morning, we left behind the Bhutan-like atmosphere of beautifully camouflaged Imilchil behind, heading to Gorges Dades via Agoudal. Enter the most thrilling piste so far: after Agoudal the tarmac turns to gravel, then just traces in the dust. For 5 km we rode through a riverbed that had erased the piste during the recent floods. Offroading with a heavily loaded bike proved difficult and we took a few tumbles, managing to cover only 100km in more than 4 hours. Apart from the riverbed crossings, the piste is a fun ride, climbing to 2700m then going down in hairpins and thrilling turns, with alternating gravel, rocky patches, sand and dirt. The piste ends with a 30cm deep river crossing, from where the road is all tarmac, interrupted by landslides that are easy to manage. As if the whole day ride wasn't enough, we crossed the canyon of Dades back to another famous set of spaghetti-like road.

The public demonstrations cheering the king's peace oriented decision to promulgate a new constitution (giving more executive power to the elected government) arrived from Meknes where we last seen them in Boulmaine de Dades. We bushcamped outside the town, then left at sunrise to see the place where Sahara starts. You can see the mighty sand dunes in two places in Morocco: the golden ones of M'Hamid or the psychedelic pink Erg Chebbi in Merzouga, which is where we arrived in a blazing hot weather. A weird afternoon rain in the Sahara and a pool plunge later, we woke up to see the sun rising behind the glistening foot-trace swallowing mirage that is Erg Chebbi, a dune 160m high, bordered by the village of Hassi Labied.

The beauty of the desert is magical, and we left the second day still reveling in it. As a technical problem that has been aggravating for a while become urgent, we rushed the 400km through desertificated Draa Valley from Merzouga to Ouarzazate, where after a few days and with the help of Peter at BikersHome, we managed to change our defective chain.

Marrakech was like a punch in the face: crazy, hot, bursting with energy. It's instant love or hate, and we left our bike in the parking behind the Koutoubia mosque, then dove into the UNESCO World Heritage show that is Djemma el-Fna, with its storytellers, musicians, artisans and food stalls selling Michelin star worthy plates of tangia, sheep brain and seafood. The next day visit to Ali Ben Youssef medersa was followed by a protein load in Mechoui Alley, then a cool walk in the Jardin Majorelle.

At 5pm when we exit town, the roadside thermometer read 53 degrees Celsius, but 200 km further, in Essaouira, the wind capital of Africa, we felt chilly at 22. We didn't stay long to enjoy the white and blue spanish influenced colonial architecture of the medina, as our GPS got stollen in the fish market, only to be retrieved later against a 30 Euro ransom. That's why we ate quickly our delicious sardines, fresh fish and squid grilled at the public grillades de poisson with possibly the best bread in Morocco, then camped some 200km later, near Agadir.
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