Day 5 – 119km
‘Cyclists see considerably more of this beautiful world than any other class of citizens. A good bicycle, well applied, will cure most ills this flesh is heir to.’ – Dr K.K. Doty
I covered the 70 odd km from Chichoua to Marrakech in the morning a lot faster than expected, it was too good to be true, as I followed my nose to the best place for lunch I heard the familiar sound of a broken spoke. Rear wheel, but the easy to fix side. My bike maintenance experience consisted of watching a couple of youtube videos the day I left, but I managed to change the spoke, and true the wheel up ‘pretty well’.
I jumped back on the bike, after a brief chat with a elderly couple from Oxford in their ‘MotorMansion’, and rode into Marrakech proper. I managed to get lost pretty soon, but a guy called Mohammed rode with me for a while, getting me in the right direction before going his own way. As soon as he and I parted, I managed to get lost again. This time I knew I was near Jmaa el-fnaa, the main square, and thought that it would be silly to be this close and not visit. After a sugar-packed ‘natural’ jus d’orange I rode on, asking every policeman directions until I was safely out of the city on the correct road.
I wanted to get as close to the Tizi n Tichka pass as possible, without actually starting to climb today. I decided on a town called Ait-Ourir. My bike felt slow and hard to ride, a couple of times I got off to check things, brakes? another spoke? bottom bracket? Then I realised the problem… not enough food water and rest! Tired!
Got a little room in a very noisy hotel, but got to bed early. I was pretty nervous about the pass in the morning, over 2200m of climbing and a decent length ride.
Day 6 – 120.5km
‘It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of the country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bike.’ – Ernest Hemmingway
Tizi n Tichka pass – 2260m
I got up too early for breakfast, so bread and peanut butter in the room. I was running low on cash so tried to pay by card. Mr night porter told me the card machine was broken, I could see it was fine and suspected he just didn’t know how to work it, so took it off him and managed to do it myself.
I was riding by 7am and had another breakfast just up the road, 2 coffees and 6 dairy lees on bread. My plan was to keep pileing in the calories, my legs should be used to the riding so as long as I keep them fuelled i’ll be up and down fine?!
The first 50k to Taddert went fine, after this it was only 25k to the top, but that was over 1km straight up from here, so I stopped for lunch. I got speaking to a local Berber called Hassan. While we talked he managed to knock over the restaurants entire days supply of soup! Im not sure what he turned and said to me, but by his shrug I think it was Berber for ‘Shit Happens!’ In the end I went and bought a couple of souvenirs from his shop., I asked if my bike would be safe at the restaurant, he said he would personally cut of the hands of anyone who took anything, fair enough.
I felt good after lunch, really enjoyed the climb and was making good progress. The scenery completely changes every few km, oasis, red rocks, brown desert-like, more greenery, snow.
The road is lined with Berbers selling fossils and rocks from the mountains, none of them hassled me, for a change, just shouting words of encouragement.
Made it to the top of the col by around 1430, better than I expected. The last few km reminded me a lot of Welsh hilltops, i.e. the road over to Hirwain if you know it.
There were no tourists there (until a bus load of Japanese tourists showed up as I left). It was really windy, and I got invited into an empty room for tea with two elderly men, one of which identified himself as the local Berber chief (either that or he was the chef?), he was pretty useful as he shooed away the others when they came and tried to sell me things.
The way down was incredible, flying straight down for about 40km, Hi-5ing kids as I passed.
I found a little place to stay, a man called Brahim took me in and gave me tea. We talked for a while. Although I manage to sustain these conversations, my French really is worse than you’d expect. Its a wonder that I manage to reserve a room let alone sustain a conversation. Example – I told him that my sister and I went to Tafroute last December like this – (translation) My it isn’t brother go with me from Tafroute december! but it works!
Day 7 – 131km
‘To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.‘ – Freya Stark
I was woken up in the middle of the night by rustling… I’d strewn my things all over the room, and a mouse had gotten into a bag of bread and cheese. I went to pick it up, and it started sprinting inside the bag, I shit myself! I jumped up onto the bed like the old lady from Tom and Jerry! After I stopped laughing at myself, I untied the bag and the little bugger scurried off.
After breakfast I got away early, the roads were in incredible condition, and I was making excellent time. I decided against visiting Ait Ben-Haddou, a world heritage site, and where Gladiator was filmed. The roads going up there were a bit dodgy and i didn’t want to risk breaking anything on the bike. My bike repair philosophy is ‘you don’t really know how to fix it, so try not to break it!’
In Ouazazate I met another bike tourer, Michel. He was spending a month around this area on a mountain bike, and demanded I change my route to go to Seville and stay with his family. I think he must know the welsh flag from lamb packaging, because when I flashed it too him he replied ‘New Zealand?’
Most of the day was spent riding through desert, and although I am still over 1000m, it was hot! After lunch a saw a thermometer read 34 in the shade, and there wasn’t much shade on the road! I upped my reserve water and by the end of the day I had drunk over 10 litres! I over compensated a bit, and needed to stop for a piss every 10k (although I didn’t get off the bike, sorry dad, I’ll rinse your panniers, I promise!)
Over this side of the Tizi n Tichka, we’re in Berber territory, and they enjoy telling me how they are not Arab! It makes it a bit easier to explain who the Welsh are, as I compare the Berber/Arab split to the Welsh/English, we are both the oppressed mountain people with excellent moustaches!
One of the main differences I’ve noticed is that the woman are out, working and friendly. The Arab woman tended to ignore me, even turning 180 to keep their backs to me as I passed? The Berber lasses always wave and say hello. You see them working a lot more too, even if it is the same work as the donkeys seem to do on the other side of the mountains!
Im going to keep heading east from here (I’m in a little gite in Kalaat M’gouna) until I get to Merzouga, and maybe I’ll treat my self to a day off before I head north and catch a ferry to Spain.