Well the 10 dirham sandwich seems to have gone up since I was last here, 20 dirhams!! He might have seen me coming….
It wasn’t until we arrived at HUBB UK last year that our friend who was with us, ‘The Doctor’, overall winner of the skills course and slow race, had decided on this next adventure.
He was free for 2 weeks in September and we had a vacancy for a cameraman. Plus his private school French was far better than ours.
So after touching down in Marrakech that warm September morning we had a job to do as no bikes had been booked for this trip either. After dropping our bags at a booking.com £7 per night souk based Riad we set off on foot searching for 3 Honda XR 250’s.
Trolling the back allies, eyes were upon us. From the cripple begging on the floor, the old man sat in the café to ladies that past us invisible, behind veils.
After some knock backs and chancers we came across Chakib. A well educated playboy of a man.
Who despite having an office at the base of a tree at a busy intersection was somehow was able to magic up 3 XR’s from his rental business M2r at the last minute.
It wasn’t until attending the overland event in Oxford the week before leaving for Morocco that the grand idea was even an idea at all . We bumped into a world traveller while helping out on the TRF stand who really gave merit to the idea. I felt slightly embarrassed at our basic budget adventures, surrounded by globe trotters and talked of longing to follow in his footsteps.
Wills retort was to point out that there are some very long boring bits while overlanding to your next destination, travellers often leave out the story and he felt we had struck on something interesting. In fact cherry picking the best bits then returning home for a break, always with the next leg approaching soon was a great idea! Will came back over to me some time later and announced The Grand Idea! that’s what you should call it, adventures for a thousand pounds. I excitedly approached Chris Scott’s legendary old desert crosser, the XT500, and I knew in that precise moment what I needed to do.
Leaving Marrakesh behind we were crossing the tizi n test pass 2100 meters high, on our way to the first unknown stop. Taliouine the Gateway to Saffron. As we pulled in to the hotel we spotted a GS and large KTM parked up outside, little did we know it but it wasn’t the last we would see of these tankers. We played like children in the pool for half an hour before dinner, tucking in to chicken kebabs, chips with a mouthwatering Moroccan salad consisting of tomatoes, onion, mint and spices.
The foothills of the High Atlas were hot, but their was worse to come..
Finally on day 2 we arrived at our first Moroccan trail Chris Scott’s MA 12. We would follow a vast graded rocky expanse to the edge of a gorge.
The rundown into Aguinane was truly breathtaking! Hundreds of foot drop over as much as a pile of loose stones for a curb, to break left meant certain injury or death. Like a sink, curving round, ever descending downwards.
On the valley floor a sea of palms stretched as far as the wide eyed travellers could see.
We stopped at a auberge and tried to get breakfast. In this foreign land communication is relayed by a system of sign language, over exaggerated movements and animal noises. As it is, in this band of the Franco mute the four word man is king. The Doctor or John as he likes to be called negotiated breakfast or we thought he did but only tea coffee, a few peanuts and biscuits seem to emerge. With a peak around the kitchen door, some more French, omelettes and pancakes followed.
A new looking van passes us piled high with mattresses. After a while, following the gorge down on the river bed, through damaged tarmacked canyons we found the normal way in to Aguinane.
On to the next Berber village and Fern slipped in the dirt and fell off. I missed it, but John picked her up. The land was starting to level out as we crossed over the tail of the High Atlas to the edge of the desert, rock plains took us to Foum Zguid.
It was getting hotter as we searched for hotel with a pool. We found a little resort hotel with a lovely pool and English speaking waiters that appeared to float along while completely staying stiff upright.
Lounging by the pool with the map, beers, diner and then bed. Which was a mud dome hut with air-conditioning and sheets draped from the ceiling. €30 each for room, dinner and breakfast.
The next morning after scoffing as much cake, pancakes as we could we set off wanting to see dunes following Scott’s MS 7 trail. I was pleased we had gassed up the night before. Within minutes of the town we were crossing flat open desert dirt, not sand yet. We stopped when we met some friends coming the other way.
The 2 Austrian guy from the hotel a couple of days before, GS & KTM man. They warned us not to sleep in the desert auberge as they did, sweating it out the night before, without so much as a tap to wash under. Adding don’t go all the way to M’hamid as it’s to sandy, take the cut off to Taganout.
We got our passports out at the police checkpoint had a quick mint tea with them and rolled across the open dryness of lake Iriki.
The next 50 km to the midpoint of the desert trail over rocks was, difficult. Fern went down getting trapped under the bike. Thirsty and tired with numb hands from all the clinging on we came across an oasis in the desert, L’oasis sacree.
There was palm trees, a flock of goats, a well and everything. We sat around, eventually thinking the building was abandoned until this guy came out to tells us the auberge has been closed 7 years. But then proclaimed that he has been alive a million years.
After some fun banter he draws us a map to show us the way out of the desert. He then very kindly invited us in to his walled compound.
La Bas as he liked to be called was also a doctor so John felt an instant affinity. A quick tour of the irrigation system and gardens, where we ate ripe dates straight from the palms. A round of coffee later and La Bas filled our pockets with dates and camelbacks with well water . A final offer to stay the night and we were off! Following a sand drawn map that we had to leave behind for obvious reasons.
It must be humbling living 50km from civilization with a ocean of sand behind you that stretched into Algeria and the blue peaks of the Atlas ahead. Something makes me feel he wanted to keep us there. Luckily for us La Bas gave us well water because we were going to need it. I’ve never been in a place where you can have your visor closed without it fogging up. In the desert you needed it shut or after a while your eye start to feel they are drying out as if a scalding hair dryer is going full pelt in your face.
We made it to Taganout, the sand map proved useful, only missing a minor turning marked by stones balanced in piles at the edge of the track. We filled up on coffee, omelette and fuel then thrash it on road to the edge of Zagora. As the big sun starting to set a little castle type riad with pool came into view. We needed it after the day of 40c + in the desert.
As I sat drinking rum and coke an air of achievement came over me, I was relieved I had not got to play in those dunes in the distant haze after all. The little bit of sand we encountered was boggy enough. The doc had found he had damaged the lid of his duty free stash and soaked his clothes in spirits an inch closer to the exhaust and could have all been over. The evening passed dining on roof, another tagine with lemon and olives.
After collecting my dried socks and boxers from the handrail outside my door we set off following the Doctor, he gets his first puncture. Now I’m always amazed at the resourcefulness of the less privileged. I stopped a guy in a suit for help with finding a garage. He pointed and walked off.
We hurried put some air in and moved on a few streets only to be flagged down buy a garage owner with his lacky on a moped who knew we needed his help. After an hour of watching them work we were anxious to get going, I was just 1 more tea ceremony and £20 short of the game.
A little argument ensued about whether it should come out if the kitty and it did.
Piloting the bikes flat out on fast roads, past palm groves we arrived at what looked like a quarry in Nkob.
This beauty is Chris Scott’s trail to Tinerhir, the MH4, and was the easiest going by far. Twisty climbs with flat sections of open plains between them.
Tinerhir almost insight and we only bump into our same friends again on a mountain pass surrounded by goats performing vertical feet’s. After just having had to make a swift exit from a trail side tea bar as the berber didn’t have change for a 100 dirham note. I did give him and his children 2 euros and a few Arabic looking coins from Mauritania.
It looked dark over in Tinerhir, luckily by the time we had arrived we just missed the rain. After yet another fuel stop we got our usual coffee with milk. Todra Gorge the next stop for the night, where we found a quaint faulty towers kind of place with only one man running it. He would later accost me on the way back from the toilet with a fixed expression enquiring ‘whisky, whisky, whisky’. Now I’m fully aware this wasn’t his war time call sign. He had gotten close enough to smell my breath because unlike John I had packed my bag carefully. However, little did Basil Fawlty know I was nearly caught in the act of using an empty bathroom next door, leaving a stubborn gift occupying the porcelain.
After John’s second puncture and swift breakfast in town due to Basil not being able to understand my sign language. We were in search of cooler climbs today. We headed to another of Chris Scott’s MH2 routes up to Imilchil.
The real Morocco for me. A cool mountain village on the MH1 & MH2 crossroad which felt untouched by the tourist trade, which is solely based on the price of the chicken and fact you had to cross the road to by it from the butcher first before returning to BBQ at the café for them to grill it. We ate and split down the MH1’s amazing twisty alpine passes. The road getting evermore broken up below. The doc was hooning off ahead again. Fern broken down, not the bike. She looked at me, a tear runs down her cheek. The heavy 250 km a day minimum was starting to take its toll on its participants. Eat, sleep, bikes.. Repeat. It gave me time to check my bike. It had started to play up jumping about more than usual at altitude. I took the air filter off and it had the Sahara in it, with a quick bang it was back in place.
We traveled past a few villages where they blocked the road with rocks and sticks. We ride on only to have stones thrown at us. The children in the next village growled and pulled faces while lunging at us.
Then we came across Oudadn auberge a little mountain gite rendered white with a log roof opposite an apple orchard, just as the book had promised. We had fun with the owner, me riding round the room on a pretend donkey slapping it arse trying to ask him for a go on one I had seen earlier. He still didn’t understand, even with the use of Google translate. I can only hope it wasn’t asking him if I could ride his ass around the room.
The next morning I was so relieved we didn’t decide to carry on last night. The road disappears. It’s fallen rocks on broken tar or its the riverbed. We ended up in the river bed amongst a mass of spiky bush patches.
Soon as the tarmac came back we climb out the river, only to be back in it moments later with me coming off the bike too no consequence.
John rode both ours up the bank successfully. I come off the bike once more. I use my gloved hands to make a path around the edge of a landslide, riding through skirting a sheer drop on to the river bed a few meters below.
Thankfully after about 15 /20 km it dried up and the road came back to civilization. Onward to the official start of the MH1 at Midelt and passed the high peak of the Cirque de jaffa. Switching back along the windy fast main road to finish the MH2 leading back to Imilchil, which had been tarred over now, but it’s still a lovely climb.
Where on the ride into Imilchil passed a big lake we only bumped in to our Austrian friends again and stayed at their hotel. Into town again to visit that butcher. Then an early night for all as it was already late.
Swiftly away in the morning after a few children had gathered, waiting around for treat, John gave them an empty chain oil can. We were heading for Boumalne du Dades to see the gorge.
Lovely climb following the MH1 again, but the bit we hadn’t been on yet and going the other way. We past a colourful marriage festival on a hill where the nomads visit but once a year to find a wife. Lots of dusty trails taking us to just below 3000m and the pay off, another amazing decent to a tea stop in the valley below.
As we got closer to Boumalne du Dades we stopped at the top of the gorge, an amazing sight the way they weave the road up the side of it. We took photos and had a tourist lunch. My bike was so much better once I had given it a proper clean at that gite a night ago. The ride down into Boumalne Dades was fast, passing many roadwork’s. Still hot and craving a pool at the right price we headed another 60km down the main road towards Ouarzazate. We arrived at Sokura, it was a nice town built up around the main road. We found a lovely European hotel like Foum Zguid but at a fraction of the price.
400 dirhams for a triple room with 8 fort tower rooms built in to the walls with pool views. Fern and I were fed up riding and talked on the intercom of wanting a day off. Only after arriving did we tell John and changed the booking to two nights. He wanted go out on hooning his own tomorrow but a violent case of belly du Maroc at 2am put a stop to that. He didn’t surface for nearly 24 hours. Time for fern and I to lounge by the pool for the day and sleep. The last of the contraband rum was ceremonially drunk that night! What a holiday!
I after a day recharging l knew a good campsite with rooms and a nice menu north of Sokura.
So that morning we set out on the penultimate day following MH12 to Cascade du ouzeds and the Dutch owned Zebra camping. We stopped off for lunch and I get upset as the waiter trying to charge double, I know a fare price and paid him it. Not before making a gun sign with my fingers and initially refusing to pay. We haggled for a bit but once he realised I went lower with my offer each time he took the 120 dirhams, which I still think is to much for a pancake, 2 omelettes and a pot of tea.
We got to Zebra and booked a basic room for 200 dirhams. We got talking to a couple of Dutch travellers, who told us the road from Imilchil had got washed out a few years back with landslides and great rains.
We rode down to cascade du ouzeds and a tout latches on to us at the falls. Though genuinely being useful for an hour he demanded a ridiculous tip with the words ‘I deserve’ and big smile. .We pay what we think and ride the bikes without helmets back to zebra just in time for a Chinese meal.
Last day! We’re not in such a hurry to cover the 156 km back to Marrakech after John’s safety talk, consisting of a lot of accidents happen on the last day, so stay alert.
Passing 2 school boys riding a donkey to class, I stop and flag them down. Instinctively they knew what I wanted. Not hashish, pictures of me astride the beast in full ADV kit. Fern paid them about 8p each and we were on our way. However, mid ride John wants to change the route to cover the tizi n tichka pass. It was only 100 km extra and it would be a good laugh.
We never fully plan a route. We have a rough itinerary of places we would like to visit and a few trails in between mapped out. The rough unplanned nature of the tour affords us the feeling of spontaneity and freedom. Being able to listen to the land and the locals makes me feel like an explorer.
The Tizi n tichka seemed empty and when we got close to the summit a massive traffic jam was apparent. I pulled to the left and whizzed past everyone. Up to the head of queue to be told by another biker that it was closed because the army had used to much dynamite while clearing the road. I tried to convince them I was Jeremy Clarkson from the BBC and needed to get through but they weren’t having none if it. Hooning back down the mountain range we smell the lovely ceder forest passing many roadside stalls and speed traps.
Rushing to get the bikes home, but not before ferns rear light is just caught in time dangling by its cable.
Back in Marrakech Ferns sat nav took us through the centre of the souk and its mayhem. Tight walkways with people selling their wares, bike, mopeds, cars and donkeys. People are staring at us. Some direct us others wag their fingers. Eventually we stop as we workout the satnav is sending us in circles. We ask a passing boy on a bike for help and he pedals off leading us to the central plaza. After dropping the bikes off, and with lots of fern fluttering her eyelashes to explain the rear light, missing mirror and indicator we were done.
Another couple of days in Marrakesh getting scrubbed up and having a wonder and we returned to the UK.
Total km covered in 9 days riding with 1 day off. 2160km
40% off road / tracks 40% poor tarmac 20% main roads.
📆 15 Days
✈️ £240 flights return to Marrakech from London
🏍️ £340 per bike. XR 250’S (10 days) (€300 deposit)
🛒 £25 per day expenses
📄 £30 travel insurance
💸 Total – £1000 approx
Thinking about travelling to Morocco?
Chris Scott’s website https://sahara-overland.com/about-me/