Day 8 – 138km
‘A man on foot, horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more and enjoy more in one mile than a motorised tourist can in a hundred miles.’ – Edward Abbey
My plan from Kalaat M’Gouna was to make it to Merzouga in 2 days, this was about 290km away, but I also wanted to visit the Gorge du Todgha along the way. So I knew I had to keep my legs spinning!
My mornings seem to be my best time, again, making the 80km to Tinghir by lunch. Passing a group of Italian tourers en-route. Tinghir is the town at the entrance to the gorge, but the road running into and through town had been completely ripped up. It was just mud and gravel, making riding a fully laden touring bike tricky at best. I tried to ask around what the road to the gorge was like, and the general consensus seemed to be pretty bad. I ate lunch and consider my options, after missing out on Ait Ben-Haddou already it would be gutting to miss the gorge as well, but I decided to carry on, after all, I have no doubt that I’ll be back here someday.
A guy in a Real Madrid hat asked me where I was from, ‘Pay de Galles’ I told him, ‘agh, Wales, Gareth Bale!’ he replied. When I was in Morocco 5 years ago it was always Giggs they shouted. It made me think, I was glad that Bale had made that huge transfer to RM, as with Giggs getting closer to retirement there would be no point of reference for the travelling Welsh people to explain where they are from.
As I headed out of town I saw the gorge road… it didn’t look that bad, so I took it. As with Jmaa el Fnaa, being this close to something and not visiting would be wrong. This OK looking road lasted for about 500m, and after that it was hell! The first few km was over the steepest hill I’ve encountered! I could barely spin the wheels in my easiest gear. The road was also crumbling from both sides, leaving a span of tarmac 1.5m either side of the white lines, and I was not going to compete with the tourist coaches for this! The terrible road condition had obviously been noted by the powers that be, as the next 10k was filled with heavy road works, meaning that any good parts of road that were left were now covered in sand and gravel. I was convinced that something would break on the bike today as I shuddered down towards the river. Every minute and kilometre of this ride I regretted turning off the main road… until I arrived at the gorge.
Although it was filled with tourists (bus loads of Japanese, Americans and Brits and camper vans full of Dutch and French) it was absolutely magnificent! Completely claustrophobic 160m high walls and sometimes as narrow as 10-15m across. I spent about an hour there, wandering around talking to locals and tourists, and watching a couple of climbers embark on a pretty tricky route. Half of the time I was in awe of the gorge, the other half I spent thinking how in no way did I want to cycle that road back out!
I saw a guy, Brahim, Leaning on a pickup truck, I decided that this would be the man to take me and the bike back to Tinghir and the main road. Ive been fighting a cold since I landed in Agadir, and by this time my voice had almost completely gone, but I managed to communicate my point and we agreed on a price. It was only after this that he told me the pick up wasn’t his and we’d have to squeeze the bike into his van with his carpentry tools. I want to complete my whole route on the bike, and I don’t consider this cheating, as the Gorge du Todgha had been a detour and Brahim was only taking me back to the same point I turned off the main road! (I had to keep telling myself this.)
Like every Berber I’ver met on this trip, Brahim was extremely hospitable. He told me that I should call it a day and have dinner with his family and stay at their house, or at the very least come and visit and have tea with them. I apologised and decline, as I really wanted to get another 40km under my belt to make Merzouga a possibility for the next day.
Brahim dropped me back at the roundabout, and I raced off down the road. About 6km later I started hearing sounds from the bike… I hadn’t reconnected the front brake and the lock had dislodged itself from the rear pannier and was rubbing against the back wheel, almost getting trapped in the spokes.
The sun was setting fast, but I was riding even faster! my lengthening shadow guiding me due east. I wanted to get the 40km in by nightfall and had realised that a I would probably have to wild camp. With that in mind I bought two loaves of bread that would act as dinner and kept on going. After 30km I started looking for somewhere suitable to camp, some trees, a bush or wall to hide behind or at least a patch of ground that was roughly tent sized that wasn’t covered in sharp rocks! nothing, so I kept going, accidentally reaching the next town, Tinejdad, and finding a small, cheap gite for the night. It was nice, but I had geared myself up for a night in the desert.
Day 9 – 152km
‘A bicycle ride is a flight from sadness.’ – James E. Starrs
After Tinejdad the best route down to Merzouga involved taking a b road for 85km. This can be risky in Morocco, as a b road can mean no road, just ploughed dirt! I had a look on google earth, and seemed to be able to see some white lines, so risked it. It paid off, the road was completely tarmaced, and apart from the odd convoy of tourist 4×4’s and lone moped men, it was almost completely empty for the 4hrs I was on it. At one point a small child crossed the road, there wasn’t a town in any direction for 20km, but he just kept on going into the desert?
The last town on this road, Jorf, came as a bit of a surprise. It was heaving, people everywhere, it was good fun weaving in and out of the hustle and bustle. People carrying goats, killing chickens and shouting at each other. It’s sometimes hard to tell if they’re arguing or just having a friendly shout.
School was finishing and a peloton of easily over 200 kids on bikes passed me on the other side of the road. As I passed the school I caught up with a group of boys, probably about 16yrs old, and challenged them to a race. They ended up riding with me for the next 10km, and spoke very good english. One told me he wished he could do what I was doing, so I invited him along, but he had no passport.
The rest of my team
I stopped for lunch in Afoud, and saw another two cycle tourists pass. The cafe owner asked about my security, If I had any problems at any time? I told him that sometimes its easy to travel alone as a large male. Only the brave would try to mug me and the astronomically horny would attempt to rape me. He told me the only problem I would have here is being hassled by one or more of the many english speaking guides. Soon enough they were at my table, unable to understand why I would want to continue on to Merzouga by bicycle rather than a 4×4.
While sitting eating I also saw a donkey get beaten and a boy with learning difficulties get kicked in the head, that, couple with the ever present ‘guides’ urged me to get back on the bike and out of this town prematurely.
The next 60km saw the road lined with palm trees, weaving in and out of oasis’ before breaking out into the sandy desert, with the dunes at Merzouga in sight, the biggest being about 350m high. It takes me a while to finish the ride, the heat and headwind working against me. I eventually reach town, and am waved down by Ali, who goes on to try to sell me a camel trek in the dunes. I have no interest in anything he says, but stand there for 15 minutes letting my legs rest before I head into town to find a place to camp.
I find a campsite right next to the dunes, meaning I have to find numerous large rocks to hold my tent up as the pegs won’t hold in the sand.
Im sitting here with a coffee, covered with flies on Thursday writing this, as I’ve decided to have another day off before heading north to catch a ferry to Spain.
I’ve washed my clothes and will spend the afternoon trekking in the dunes before giving the bike a once over. Its about 800km to Melilla, where I’ll catch the ferry, and throw Espagna into the works.