Ifran

After a lazy and slight frustrating 2 days in Kech. It was time to hit the road. Back on my steel lady crush, the trusty gs700. Spattered in mud from previous antics around Laka Takerkoust, she looked every part of a trailblazing adventurer. Time to visit Casa, chasing down an elusive tripod for my camera. Taking the well beaten regional roads, I stopped off in Safi, opting for a calamari tagine. The hot meal was welcome in my empty, round stomach. Cats surrounded me where I sat, attempting to get romantic with me for a bite of my calamari. I tossed a piece out to theme – much to their digust, just sniffing at it before wandering off in search of bigger and better things. Thanks guys. Appreciate it. I passed the parking guard the small ‘guarding’ fee and got on my merry way to Oulidia.

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On route to Safi

On route to Oulidia, the clifftops whistled with wind as the waves sloshed over the rocks below.  The scenery gradually opened up into a picturesque scene of coastal farmlands, opening up from the sands to the higher mountain fields. Faded greens mixed with yellow grass along the plantations the on stony beachlines, dark gold sand soaking themselves in the cool Atlantic sea. The rise into Oulidia gave me a quick taste of the beauty of Oualidias lagoon. Happy to pull up out of the buffeting wind off the higher cliffsides, I hopped to organise a place to sleep for the night.

For an odd reason, not really understanding why, locals from the campsite informed me there was nowhere to camp in Oualidia, this spot included (it was for motor homes only). I was pointed out the way to El Jadida, the old Portuguese walled city to the north, about 70km south of Casablanca. With a sigh, being too tired to even bother debating the issue further (although they weren’t too tired to try selling me some mussels), off we rolled out of Oualidia, me and my motorised mistress to make tracks to El Jadida. All I could think about was panache and a quiet place to camp. Missing the police checkpoint completely, instead of stopping I zipped right through at 120km/h exchanging waves to the policemen on duty. What a nice bunch of blokes they are.

Pitching up my tent in a quiet spot, surrounded by trees in a camping lot, I unpacked my gear and put some tea on the burner (thanks Greg!) after a quick dinner of harira soup and an avocado and oreo smoothie. The best 10 hours of sleep occurred that night under the trees in El Jadida. The morning sun glowed on the side of my green tent and with the peacocks calling out to each other I was up, hairy legs poking out the tent flap while I got another pot of tea brewing. Up at 7am, later then I would have liked, a cold shower shocked me to life. On to Casablanca it was.

After a good old fashioned argument with a parking guard over fees in Casablanca, loaded up with the last of my camera gear, off I roared into the setting sun, on route to Mohammedia, a small port city nestled between Casablanca and Rabat. There I found my superb host for the night Adil, a good friend of Abdel of Agadir. Leaping on to the back of my bike, we putted along down the crusty road to Adil’s house, tucked away in a serene little corner shaded by lively green trees and bushes. Welcomed warmly with a hug from his legendary meal making mother, I was greeted with fresh milk, dates and tea. The renowned Moroccan hospitality was at work again. Animatedly chatting away, more food found its way onto the table – honey pancakes, olive oil, amlou (an almond version of peanut butter), confiture and rich honey were accompanied by fresh baguettes and traditional bread for dunking.

My first experience watching the el classico (Real Madrid vs Barcelona) in Morocco occurred across the railway closer to the waters edge. The cafe was so packed to the rafters, it may as well have been Nou Camp (Barcelona renowned stadium) itself. Rows and rows of hired chairs lined the small cafe from the furthest corner all the way out to the edge of the road outside. Young men lined up on the road itself in groups, battling to peep over one another at the small television screen. Grown men shouted at the live broadcast, some in the white of Real Madrid and others in the red and blue of the catalans. Young and old alike sat at their tiny cafe cables, sipping away on black coffees and mint tea. In the final minutes, Los Blancos scored and the cafe erupted into a volcanic mess of cheering, sugar cubes and male bonding. Who needs a football stadium when you have this kind of passionate chaos in the streets?

Breaking my fast that morning was a banquet. Everything I turn up to Moroccan home it’s like they try to murder me with frivolous amounts of food. I walked into the dining room to a feast so big my eyes began watering, and my stomach backflipped like a gymnast on fire. Moroccan style doughnuts. Biscuits. Cakes. Fresh baguettes. Traditional bread. Dishes of Amlou, honey, olive oil and confit. Dates. Olives. Fresh milk. I felt like I was in training for the round bellied santa claus Olympics.  It was absolutely nullifying. Hopping on the GS after hugs, kisses and gifts from my Moroccan family (a radical pottery mug that gave whatever was poured in a smoky taste) the bike groaned under my fat bottom as we waddled off into the sunshine.

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The low mountainside around Meknes

By the afternoon I had rolled past the gate of Meknes, located a camping site on one of the low rising mountains. Pitching up for the night, the road 50 metres away beckoned with its curious little fingers of broken tarmac and gravel. The road snaked it’s way around tight bends, no crash barriers and a good drop in some parts provided an exhilarating experience. Add the Moroccan style of driving, where everyone sticks to the middle of the road, got my body reacting quickly. I was rewarded on the way up the gravel by splendid views of green valleys of farmland, bright green in the afternoon sunlight, stretching out before me, kissing the rocky feet of the adjacent mountains. The clouds ran over… It was beautiful.

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Two friendly furballs at camp in the region of Meknes

New cuddly friends were found hiding under my engine while I waited for my ‘adventure’ meal to heat up inside the foil bag. The road swerved and dipped as I wound on the throttle, looking out over the long green farmlands as I twisted the wrist. Glimpsing at reddish pastures between the lush greens, villages nestled on the small mountains crept up, peering down on me.

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The lush green fields on the way to Volubilis

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Plenty of cool mosaics in Volubilis

You could taste roman on the air, and the air itself seemed to halt in time. Remnants of the old city were clearly visible on the small hill. Sun soaked mosaics were in good form, lazing about depicting the stories from generations past, depicting gods, heroes and artists. Stone used columns have been delicately carved with designs, aging in black shades. Giant gates at either end of the main heroic Street. It really is the stuff of legends, remnants of the old houses of the rich still stand, crumbling slowly as if to accentuate their age. Flowers and green bushes grow out of the stone floors, weeds creep up the old walls, even with all the plant coverage and missing stone the idea of granduer is easily imagined. Ancient mosaics tell a story of wealth and cultural integration of the roman life, Volubilis is a surviving story of the Romans and you can really hinge off the presence of the Romans.

The ride up to Ifran was chilly, but my gore tex over my body armour provided the wind protection I needed as always. Stopping off for a hot vegetable pizza and a coffee, I tackled the cedar forest surrounding Ifran late that afternoon. Orange-brown trails lead into the cedar metropolis that was sprinkled with patches of snow. The snow present was annoying punted across the trails making my forays in different directions impossible on my road tyres. Rear wheel spinning and fishtailing around the white snow, I continued the search for a secluded camping spot.

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Snow hampered my progress through the forest

 

After sloshing through endless (but very mild) slops of red mud, I hopped off and did a little recon in my mud spattered gear, into the lush cedar grandeur. A bright green, grassy clearing materialised amongst mossy boulders, overshadowed by the giant cedars. Rushing to beat the looming rain, I wheeled the bike in through crumbly old branches and parked up under a cedar before setting up camp. Not a moment too soon – the raindrops had begun to fall. Hoping my cheap green tent was going to stand strong against the cold raindrops, I put some tea on the burner, while munching down on a fruit dinner of bananas, oranges and almonds. I sipped my hot tea while listening to the rain patter down on my roof and the wind blowing through the cedars, I felt cosy instead my humble, little green abode.

Sleeping through constant rain is harder then I imagined. The wind was relentless over the cold night, sounding like constant waves breaking on the beach. I managed to knock out 5 hrs of sleep before deciding to break camp after a breakfast of fruit and nuts. Preparing everything to get loaded inside the tent I thrn loaded up the old girl to go in the now misty rain. The mist had created shrouds around the cedar trees, looking like a fog of war straight out of a Hollywood movie. The only sounds now were the birds singing their morning tunes and my footsteps crunching through old broken twigs. Soaking up the serenity, I left to head south.

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Cedar forest of Ifran

The way out of the cedar forest was a rioutous mess. The trail had flooded overnight, leaving whole stretches of track covered by muddy orange water. After struggling on through thick mud and my rear tire spraying the orangey goodness everywhere, I tried delineating a trail through the forest floor, which was covered in broken branches, rocks and mossy green grass. Clearing a path for the bike, I had to duck under fallen trees as I slowly rode between the huge cedars. After making some slow headway, I was forced back into the orange mush and into the unknown world of trail riding. Without knobbly tires, this was going to be a world of entertainment for anyone watching. Wheeling the bike manually through muddy muck, I was a foot deep in orange slush and the bike was looking like a steel monster rising from the ground. Progress was slow, but finally I made it out to the cedar line – I had made it out of the forest but into a fresh problem – super heavy fog.

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Fog is rising!

I couldn’t see much beyond the few muddy metres in front of me, the clearing where the open trails were was completely blanketed in the white mist. Pulling up for a banana, I pondered the next part of the adventurous ride, while marvelling at the magic of the surrounding woodland. Going for a walk in discovered these trails hadn’t fared much better then inside the forest. Muddy pools, trickling water, tough rocky ground to either side… the hard worn trails of yesterday had fallen out of favour and turned into earthy slippery slides of muck. Well I came for the adventure right?

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From flooded trails and thick earthy mud to mysterious fog

Gunning on, the mist slowly began to lift, I thanked that aged old lady Mother Nature. I wasn’t cherishing a ride in the heavy fog through the rest of the woodland through incomprehensible fog on a rural road in Morocco. Finally by the tarmac roadside, I breathed a sigh of relief and look down at my feet. Orange boulders caked in red dirt resembled my feet, rich earthy colours had managed to stick to my legs like glue, leaving me looking like a half troll. Even my upper body had been heavily peppered in glorious earthy muck. I felt like a semi triumphant hero. At a point inside the trails, I had almost despaired at how I was going to get out of the deep forest and break the cedar line. The pain of having to go to some weird inventive extremes to get me and the bike out seemed like it had been so trivial now I was out. What a blast!

Although the clouds were still gray and more miserable then a sour puss, after a short ride,  I walked down to Ras Elma to see what all the rave was about. A waterlogged meadow sitting on the river source was being mulched on by a small entourage of colourful cows. Free ranging their way through the meadows, donkeys gave me a lazy look before returning to their hillside grazing, as I pushed on through a leafless sparse forest growing out of the water flats. After following the fairytale like stream with its gnarled and buckled trees sipping on the fringes, I made my way back up the steep incline and wandered right into a large group of Macaques, raiding the hillside for food. Small babie monkeys raced after one another down the rocky slopes, while watching mothers looked on. I had a great old time standing alone in the hills of Ras Elma watching the monkeys play, eat and watch the males try and ‘woo’ the females.

After a tagine and orange juice, I caught up with my friend Haytham in town. A big Lebanese bloke, he offered me a comfortable bed and awesome hospitality, which included a few, very cold, golden delicious beers. Warming ourselves by the heating, we headed out into the 2 degree weather for a chicken shwarma and a panache. Haythem gave me the lowdown on the area of Ifran/Azrou and was well finessed in making sure I knew my way around, showing me all the local hotspots and exit roads.

I left the next morning for Marrakech to catch up with my German mountain crew one more time. That day I positively hated Moroccan roads and drivers. 400kms can be a lot of good riding when the driving standards are comprehensible – which wasn’t the case. Some people say the cities in Morocco are the most dangerous place to drive/ride, but I don’t feel they have spent enough time on national roads in Morocco. Overtaking is done willy nilly here, without a logical approach. Drivers will overtake on blind corners, and even when on a straight road, will overtake when there isn’t enough road for all parties involved, which means you’re stomping on the brakes to avoid a head on collusion. Grand Taxis are a peril to ride behind, they love slamming on the brakes randomly at nowhere in particular to let a passenger out. I can think of more relaxing ways to ride.

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Interesting lakes on the 400kms run back to Marrakech

I made it into Marrakech and settled down with a cold beer for a few games of Durak with the boys, before the next leg of the trip going south to the Sahara…