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Old 04-28-2006, 01:09 AM   #1
Tim Cullis OP
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Morocco: 'A piste too far' trip

Morocco: Middle Atlas
Lakes, monkeys, volcanos and snow

After spending three 500-730 mile days riding through France, Spain and northern Morocco, I overnighted in Fes. As usual, I still had my watch set to Spanish time, so my early departure of 0900 on the next morning was in fact 0700 Moroccan time. It was extremely misty and cold in the lowlands around Fes, and the mist only cleared as the road rose towards Imouzzer.

I fancied covering new ground on this trip to Morocco (my third in less than a year), so turned east on to side roads to do a tour of the dayets (lakes) and bird sanctuary. What was once a dirt track is now a lovely metalled road and I meandered around taking in the scenery, coming out of the area near Ifrane, where I breakfasted. The modern part of Ifrane was built by the French in the 1930s in the style of an alpine ski resort. It's relatively cool during the hotter months and you can glimpse the King's summer palace hidden in the trees.

From there I headed east again to do a loop through 'The Mischefflin' an extinct volcano that in winter is a ski resort.


Inside the Mischefflin


Inside the Mischefflin

After playing in some snow I rejoined the main road to the south of Azrou where I watched a troop of macaques (Barbary Apes) playing in the cedar trees.


No, I DON'T want to hire your sledge!


Peanut overdose


Sitting pretty

From there I headed south west through the cedar and holm oak forests via numerous aguelmanes (lakes in volcanic craters) on a tortuous route that eventually took me to Sources de l'Oum-er-Rbia, the springs that mark the start of Morocco's longest river.


Aguelmane in a volcanic vent


Kids swimming in the l'Oum-er-Rbia

When I rejoined the main road near Mrirt I stopped at the petrol station opposite the junction where I had a delicious tajine for lunch.


Beef tajine with caramelised potatoes and onions (2.20 incl bread and water)
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Old 04-28-2006, 01:11 AM   #2
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Morocco: High Atlas
Fantasia in the mountains

Afer lunch I decided to have a look at the At Bouguemez valley in the High Atlas (At means 'people of'). I left the main road to Marrakech just after Beni-Mellal and climbed to the Bin-el-Ouidane dam with its impressive hydroelectric plant.


No water shortage in this part of Morocco


Boats made from corrugated iron sheeting!

I was given the third degree by the soldiers guarding the dam who had apparently been pi$$ed off the previous day by a bunch of riders that had ignored the plainly visible 'no photos' signs. I was only allowed on my way after the soldiers had been through every single one of my photos to check I hadn't taken any of the dam.


A scene from the past (with sat TV dish in background)

I then came across a regional festival (possibly the moussem of Moulay Aissa den Driss) involving many hundreds of people from the surrounding area, massive festival tents and three groups of altogether 50 or horsemen staging multiple fantasias. The fantasia is a demonstration of the techniques of horseborne warfare used by the Arabs during their conquests and at the end of the horsecharge everyone discharges their guns. I was the only European there but was made most welcome with cheery grins and waves.


WATCH THE VIDEO OF THE CHARGE
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Old 04-28-2006, 01:14 AM   #3
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Morocco: High Atlas
A piste too far: one fall, two drops, one rotation and one submission


I overnighted at the friendly Tanout hotel in Azilal and the next morning set out at dawn heading east.


Fortified graneries


12 mph speed limit over the bridge


Less on this one

After a while the road deteriorated and then as I headed south, became a well-surfaced gravel road, good for 40 mph.


The Cathedral is popular with rock climbers

Shortly after the 'Cathedral' came into view and I passed the Gite of the same name, I noticed a small sign to the left reading 'Imilchil 105 km'. This looked like a heaven-sent shortcut to the Gorges of the Dades and Todra, so without much hesitation I took the dirt track. Well, actually what happened was that I asked some local guy in French whether I could get to Imilchil on that track with my bike, and he replied "yes."

(At this stage people will undoubtedly butt in and remind me of the dangers of asking leading questions to people who don't want to show their ignorance of the answer. I'll also probably get it in the ear from friends when they read this for venturing into unknown territory alone, but hey, we are supposed to be adventure motorcyclists.)

Initially the track was smooth hard-packed earth meandering through trees, then it started to deteriorate.


Suckered into the start with a smooth piste


Riding on the right here

Loose rubble in the middle of the track meant that in many places I couldn't easily cross from one side to the other, and had to keep within one tyre width--preferably the one furthest from the steep drops! The track climbed and climbed, and over my 25 miles of penetration went from 3800' to 5300'.


Although generally climbing there were many descents


The only decent bridge

I started to get nervous at one stage, focussing too much on the ground in front with the predictable result of falling off the bike--a bit of a wake-up call.


Broken indicator mended with gaffer tape, no other damage

Most of the streams coming down the side of the mountains were fortunately dry, but nevertheless there were a couple of massive boulder fields to cross. The only option was to power through with the rear wheel bucking and weaving and much banging of stones from the bash plate. I now realise it was probably about here that I lost the engine bash plate. I dropped the bike towards the end of one crossing and bent the rear brake pedal. The next time I started the bike I found I only had residual braking. Hmmm, getting interesting.


Look, no hands!

A couple of small streams were still running and I had difficulty getting traction up the other side; at one crossing some shepherds helped extricate the bike.


I should have taken this one faster, but it was an awkward angle

Then I came across the real stopper, a section of the trail with a massive spring running over it--a lateral uphill ford some 80 metres long. The stones were the size of half bricks and I lost momentum on the slippery surface. It was time to give up, but I found I couldn't move the bike.


Hoist with my own petard

I unloaded the luggage--for the third time--and tried walking the bike out under power but I couldn't shift it.

to be continued...
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Old 04-28-2006, 03:03 AM   #4
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Great stuff so far Tim. The more reports of Morrocco I see, the more I want to get down there and see it for myself.

Just out of curiosity, how come you didn't have the right hand tank panel on in that shot by the bridge?

Chris
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Old 04-28-2006, 03:10 AM   #5
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Fantastic!

Keep it comin'!

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Old 04-28-2006, 03:22 AM   #6
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Just tell me now, did you make it? Keep it coming!
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Old 04-28-2006, 03:43 AM   #7
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Great report, can't wait for the rest, i've done that 'road' but its a lot easier on an XR400

They have started tarmacing the road from the other side of the Atlas Mountains from Todra Gorge up towards Imilchil, bloody progress spoiling the piste!
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Old 04-28-2006, 04:06 AM   #8
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Eh?

What a cliff hanger!

I'm reading this so you obviously made it out, but we need to know how. With lots of pictures

Cheers
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Old 04-28-2006, 04:18 AM   #9
Tim Cullis OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by carcher2k
how come you didn't have the right hand tank panel on in that shot by the bridge?
I took the panel off to thread a tank bag strap through and left it in the garage area of the hotel in Fes. Fortunately it was still there several days later.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BDG
i've done that 'road' but its a lot easier on an XR400
Is it the same one? I'm starting from 010 and heading towards 730 which is Imilchil. Does it get easier further on?

Tim
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Old 04-28-2006, 04:24 AM   #10
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Morocco: High Atlas
A piste too far (continued)


I considered my options. I was alone. By myself. Without help. 25 miles from the gravel track. 50 miles or so from the main road. Then I remembered the words in Jupiter's Travels where Ted Simon breaks down by the side of the road and wonders who will come to his rescue today.

Sure enough, eventually a wiry Berber woman about 75 years of age came to help. But even with two of us we couldn't move the bike on the wet stones--either forward or reverse. So there was no alternative but to use the skills learned on the BMW off-road course--to lie the bike down on its side and rotate it round on the cylinder head (thank God for Touratech cylinder head protectors). She pulled one wheel, I pulled the other, we then got the bike upright again and were then able to walk the bike out under power down the ford.

I don't normally give money or sweets to kids, but often I carry a small jar of Marmite as a special gift. I didn't have one with me this trip, so I gave the old woman a postcard of Eastbourne with six different full-colour views of the pier, the cliffs, the seafront, the gardens and so forth. She seemed duly taken aback by my generosity and the postcard no doubt now has pride of place on her mantlepiece.

I started back but by now I was really knackered.


And the piste goes on.


And on. And on

I parked up in the shade and considered stopping on the trail overnight beside the bike. I had an emergency exposure sack, a head torch, sufficent food, drink, and warm clothes, but no lighter for a fire. I pulled out my iPod and some Red Bull and snoozed for an hour or so. I awoke refreshed and started on the long 25-mile extraction back to my starting point.


Feeling chirpy now

Then I hit the evening rush hour with several 4WD vehicles, flocks of sheep and goat, and numerous donkeys. Unlike those on the main road, the animals were unused to bright red R1200GS enduro bikes, so I had to cut the engine, stop, and wait for them to pass. I even came across a troop of macquetes who scampered uphill (accidentally?) dislodging stones on my head. Eventually I made it out back to the gravel road just as the sun set.


Sunset on the Cathedral


Getting darker

I then had a fairly long night ride along the gravel road and over the mountains to El-Kelaa-des-Sraghna and a totally forgettable hotel.
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Old 04-28-2006, 05:46 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Cullis
I took the panel off to thread a tank bag strap through and left it in the garage area of the hotel in Fes. Fortunately it was still there several days later.


Is it the same one? I'm starting from 010 and heading towards 730 which is Imilchil. Does it get easier further on?

Tim
Tim, i sit here at work without my maps talking out of arse having just seen the map you have posted. I have stayed by the lake at Bin but have used the 'main' route some miles north of Bin that we qaintly refer to as Mad Dog valley over to Imilchil, not the route you have detailed on your map. I have subsequently heard of the route you tried, but am told it is more difficult than Mad Dog Valley.

Apologies for misleading you, but i will check my maps at home and try and be more specific.
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Old 04-28-2006, 06:00 AM   #12
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Morocco: Telouet piste
Smashed 4x4s and overdeveloped gladiators

I worked out a temporary fix on the brake problem in the morning, then set off early again. Seeing as EasyJet are soon to start cheap flights to Marrakech I decided to skirt the city and head for the Tizi 'n Tichka pass towards Ouarzazate.


Tichka Pass

Shortly after the top of the pass I turned east towards Telouet to visit the ruined pis (mud/straw) buildings and lunch.


Pis lasts between 60 and 100 years, depending upon rainfall


Storks nesting. Pseudo nomads driving 4WD vehicles sound alarm bells (show-off drivers)



Several threshing circles in view--for separating wheat from chaff

The road turns into a track (piste) which unfortunately over the years has become popular with 4WD clubs from Spain, and also locally hired 4WD vehicles from Ouarzazate.


Sometimes, however, the track bites back. This rollover was a couple of hours before.

This route is best done north to south as there's a long difficult descent with steps and loose stones that would be a real pain coming the other way. Having said that, that's the way Tomas and the Czech guys did it.


More 4WD on the way

There's a lot of (over)development going on at the southern end around At Benhaddou.


Last year


This year


At Benhaddou, backdrop to Gladiator and other films

I was heading for Bikers' Home in Ouarzazate, a facility established by a Belgian guy called Peter and his Moroccan partner, Zineb.


Bikers' Home is at the southern end of Ouarzazate


Decent workshop


View from the top floor


Zineb and Selma, a real bundle of fun

Whilst in Ouarzazate I took the time to visit Wilderness Wheels.


Honda 250, 400 and quads for hire
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Old 04-28-2006, 06:02 AM   #13
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Great report. Hope there is more...
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Old 04-28-2006, 06:11 AM   #14
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Morocco: Dades Gorge and Berber hospitality
Ice cold shower and satellite television

I lost my rag the previous day on the Telouet piste. Normally I take all hassle with a smile, but one particularly insidious character got right up my nose and I ended up raising my voice and decided to leave. When pushing the bike round to change direction the side stand flipped up and in trying to prevent the bike from falling I ended up tearing a ligament in my right arm--still weak from the tear from the Salisbury Plain outing. I suppose you could call it karma for my ill temper.

So what with NSAID creams and compression bandages I had a fairly late start from Ouarzazate, then a boring ride along what Michelin reckons is a mostly green (scenic) road running in the Dades Valley between the M'Goun Massive to the north and the Jbel Sahro to the south. Since the map was last updated, however, there's been a pile of ribbon development along the road hiding much of the view.


Another in the series, 'Ridiculous Moroccan loads'

I left the road at El-Kelaa M'Gouna heading north to check out the Itran Kasbah that I had passed by on a previous visit (looks great), then returned to the main road before starting up the Gorge of the Dades.


Glorious colours

I last visited the Dades in a Triumph Vitesse in 1974 and gave up due to the state of the track. Nowadays, however, it's a smooth blacktop all the way to Msemrir.


Quieter than the Todra Gorge


I'm pretty certain we didn't get this far in 1974!


The road kept climbing, eventually coming out on the plateau above the gorge at 6,700'

It was now just an hour or so until dusk and too late to tackle the 27-mile piste connecting the tops of the Dades and Todra Gorges. I was considering turning back for a hotel, but a Moroccan guy walking with a party on the track kindly invited me to stay with his family, an invitation I accepted with alacrity. This is the real advantage of travelling solo--far more interaction with locals.

Moha's father's house was in Tilmi, several miles beyond the Todra turn off, but he directed me to Cafe Tayri run by his brother and I waited there whilst Moha walked. Although way up the piste to Imilchil I had full bars on my cellphone reception and was finally able to send some text messages. The scene from the top of Cafe Tayri was really quite laid back with people coming home, chatting to each other--a very close community.

Berbers tend to lead a fairly relaxed life with much visiting of relatives who have married outside the immediate locality, so once at the house I was shown into the tamsriyt, a highly decorated room set aside for overnight visitors. I had slept in a tamsriyt when trekking with mules in the High Atlas, so the rest of the house and toilet facilities wasn't going to be a shock.

LINK TO VIDEO OF TAMSRIYT (right click, save target to desktop, then watch from there)

The loo/shower was in an outbuilding. The loo was, as you can imagine, a hole in the ground; the shower a plastic bucket beside the loo underneath a cold tap. A stick ran horizontally across the outbuilding at eye level to hang clothes on whilst 'freshening up'. I had just finished showering with icy cold water when there was a knock on the door with a kettle of warm water. Too late!

We had an entertaining evening, relaxing lying back on the floor against cushions. The old guy whose house it was had been in the Moroccan army which is how come he spoke French, but was severely deaf. We had an on-off conversation in which I think I committed to going to the souk in Imilchil the next day. I showed him how to use the iPod earbuds and played him some Moroccan music at full volume. His attempts at a singalong had the family in fits.

Food is plentiful and having large families of eight or more childeren is easy in the country and Moha's brother had five children. His wife asked me how many I had and when I said two, she responded that "I must have a small one." At least, I think that's what she said!


Layla, one of the five

After a ceremonial washing of hands the men ate an excellent tajine (with our hands) which was served on a low table whilst the women and children ate separately later. You could tell by the tiny grit particles in the bread that the flour had been home milled.

LINK TO VIDEO OF FAMILY ROOM (right click, save target to desktop, then watch from there)

The house had electricity installed three years before so they had basic lighting (bare bulbs), a casette player and... satellite television! In addition to excellent Moroccan programs such as a spotlight on local towns, the fare included Desperate Housewifes, Bob the Builder and other western 'culture'. I asked what people in remote places thought of such programs and they said it was "just entertainment," it didn't make them want to leave the countryside, but the electricity and the television made life more bearable in the cold winter months when they would often be housebound for days on end.

I settled down in the tamsriyt. My bed was some thick blankets laid out over the rugs, with a cushion as a pillow but I slept well.


0620, time to hit the road for the gorges link piste
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Old 04-28-2006, 06:49 AM   #15
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