Ourzazate and the gorges

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Farmlands on route to Tichka

The route to ourzazate was interesting enough, climbing up through km’s of twist and turns, switchbacks and hairpins under construction kept me most entertained. The highest points of the pass of Tichka was for the most part, unsealed roads consisting of heavy gravel pots and packed dirt. Big yellow excavators blew out clouds of black smoke as they dug away at the mountains and giant earth moving trucks lined the gravel roads. Workers were covered head to toe in brown dust, looking half like chimney sweeps coming out of a war zone in their tattered clothing. Up and up the GS and I went, thrumming smoothly up the busy pass.

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Tichka pass

Once over the top of the pass, the mountain scenery changed from dusty charcoal brown to a wild mix of creamy red, streaked with orange. Layers and layers of green farmland swooped down the atlas slopes as I chased the curves of the road. Village after village passed me by as I cruised along at a steady 90km/h. 70 km out of Ouarzazate an excited middle aged  man jumped and waved frantically at me and chased after me as I zoomed by. Upon stopping and quick conversation in my ball aching bad French and Arabic, I discovered his car had broken down. I manage to get him to write a message for his family in Ouarzazate. Leaving him some fruit and nuts, I made my way to the berbers to deliver a message in the southern half of the city.

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Take me to the other side… of Tichka

A wrong turn and a few conversations in Spanish, French and English with some local welders, I managed to locate the 3 palms the frantic gent had been talking about. After passing on the letter to the gentlemen in soft blue garments and sending a mechanic on his way, I was invited inside to share some mint tea, but I politely declined as light was going, and I needed to find a place to camp.

By the time I located a camping spot in between some small bushes on a lake, and begun preparing dinner the sun had begun to shoot it’s colourful goodnight displays across the sky.  While I prepared my fava beans, I watched a few cranes wandering by on the waters edge, as well as some ducks fluttering about on the oposited side of the lake. As I finished with the radishes, and began to create my vitamin boosting salads a 4×4 pulled up by the lake, berber beats wafting out the window. I guess sometimes even when you think you’re alone, sometimes you’re not.

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Wild camping is my way to go

We saw each other at the same time, a middle aged man having a smoke outside his musical four wheel drive. Waving at each other and talking in broken French we engaged in diplomatic relations and I was invited for a whiskey drink. While sitting together in the car, I discovered he was anot off duty, high ranking official in the Moroccan paratrooping division. We chatted occasionally about life, family and travel, learning that essentially, we are one and the same. Munching down on some walnuts and dates I had brought over, we sipped our whiskey to berber music, watching the sunset ploy it’s craft over the calm lake before he departed to his family, and me to my little green tent under the stars.

 

Waking up to a lovely view of the mirroring lake just as the sun had come up, the call of cranes and quack of ducks sounded over the water. Just steps away was the waters edge, so I ventured for a morning walk along the waterline, basking in the warmth of the risen moroccan sun. Small rocky mountains gazed at their twins reflecting off the calm water as I wandered around the sandy shore sipping on my hot green tea and soaked in the beauty of nature. This is what it’s about!

Back on the road right after breakfast, I shaved past Ait Ben Haddou quicker then I would have liked, but considering there was already a growing mound of tourists on the attack towards the famous landmark, I figured my time could have been better used elsewhere. Continuing the old legionnaires road that doubles back towards Tichka,  I pulled up the reigns slightly and took a look inside the growing gorge to my left. All about the gorge, old ruins of Kasbahs are sprinkled about, some still used and some not. They stood about like the old guard of a past moment in time, slowly crumbling to dust, spires still withstanding the beat down of father time and mother nature. Every curve of the gorge road led me to a new part of discovery, where I spent an hour climbing down the cliff face into the gorge before climbing back out again. Gradually the road took me higher, where green pastures ran amongst shady palms on the small source of running water snaking through the gorge.

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On the way out of the old legionnaires road

 

On the stretch to the last few hairpins, a blooming view of the snowy atlas peaks peeped over the lower dry but cold mountains. Sheep and goats, as everywhere in Morocco, were grazing at the soft, green, vegetation as sleepy herders looked on, throwing a lazy wave my way as I passed by. I hope they never set to work to repair the torrid roads in the mountains here. I want them to stay rocky, pot hole ridden and at parts non existent, just to keep the hordes out of the areas that are so untouched by tourism (that probably sounds somewhat contradictory as a traveller). I finished the loop around the legionnaires road before heading onto Boulemane. I ate dinner on the top of Boulemane, on the edge of a rocky drop without a soul in sight, munching on my bag of peanuts, fava beans and carrots to the colour of the sun setting behind the mountains.

Finally, it was time to head into the much talked about dades gorge. I kicked off early in the morning after a ball ripening breakfast of berber omelette, bowls of homemade jams (apricot, strawberry and mango), a ridiculously huge bowl of farmed butter, two bowls of olives (spicy and not), mugs of tea and msemen hot off the press. All that for 4 euros, not a bad way to tackle the oncoming day eh?

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The start of Dades going north

On route through the dades it was absolutely stellar in all forms of the word. Wizened old ruins sat comfortably around every bend, on small hills overlooking the small valleys, overshadowed by the soaring mountains. Curious rock formations surround the remainder of a past era of builders. Inside the gorge now, the famous switchbacks took the GS and I up to the higher reaches as small trucks zoomed down past me. I passed quite a few riders on their heavy laden GS1200’s in both directions. It’s always nice seeing your own two wheeled kind in unfamiliar places.

 

At the last hairpin, I was on top of the ginormous gorge, uniquely shaped by nature doing her thing. It was as if giants had decided to cook rocky pancakes, placed them in stacks and left them for the visitors to feast their eyes on. It was reminiscent of some kind of space crater. The dades was living up to the hype. A small river was snaking around the bends of queerly shaped spaceland. A sight that was wholly engaging with its harsh rocky features, bends in the gorge almost depicted a snakes head.

I had this strange planet in the cusp of my hand. It’s quite something, to feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and be witness to seeing a place as strangely beautiful as this. The only sound was the wind blowing along the dusty off road trail and the steady thrum of the iron horse between my legs. Riding through the tiny villages here, the Moroccans seem so much more pure in personality and character. Poor in materials they may be, but a richness shines out of their twinkling brown eyes.

Children run out onto the battered roads as soon as they heardo my engine thrumming or saw this white stormtrooper appear from beyond the mountains. Intently curious, they wave,  hold their hands out so we can high five each other as I ride through, to loud whoops and laughter. Smiling red cheeked children almost swamp me and surround my bike greeting me in French. I gave what I cold – bananas, oranges and dates, and they clutched it to their chests like it’s the greatest treasure in the world. Nothing beats a wide smile from a child in the atlas.

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Halfway up the passes on route for Imilchil

Seeking a little more adventure then I was on already, I sought out a local to see if there was a good off road piste to loop around towards todra. After beine pointed in the right direction, I still got lost in the dusty maroon hills within the gorge. After sitting around for 5 mins eating a banana and wondering what to do next, two Norwegians on their trail bikes came through, and after a quick chat, came to the conclusion that my tires weren’t up for the task of the rocky river basin of the backroad to todra. North to Imilchil it was.

 

On the way over the higher passes I met three women with their donkeys, lugging grass and other goods back to their village to the south. I pulled to the side to give them the road to get past. They gave me a wave and one started to dance mysteriously, giggling like a school girl as she walked towards me. We managed to get a conversion going in Arabic/French, and I pulled some bananas and oranges out of my bag to share with them. Indicating if I had any clothes to give them, I told them I did not, but when I tried to pass on some fava beans, the woman made a face and laughed indicating a no thanks. After shaking hands and pulling a curtsy, they went one way, I went another and everyone was happy.

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Mars.

Mars. That’s the only way to describe the rocky, dusty, red area of space I was in. The mountains themselves were streaked with a faded mouldy green, while purple dirt spread a carpet to the sides of the blistering white trail. In some places the trail was covered in water from the melting snow, which made sliding through the muddy mess of the sides of steep cliffs a real bum clencher on my road tires. Epic space mountains stood solidly, like oversized orange rocky UFO’s parked up for the night. It was jawdroppingly beautiful.

Upon reaching Agoudal, I finally touched asphalt again, well, as much as you can call it that anyway. Some of the small bridges crossing the small Oued’s had holes so deep you could see the river floor below and notoriously, the road gave way to gravel without warning. Exiting Agoudal, the road turned into smoother tarmac, which felt like glue after the last two hours of sliding around inside the dades on the rough piste. The GS had taken a beating through the dates but held true and just kept chugging on. I spent a good half hour at the tiny gas station in the middle atlas mountains, scrubbing muck of the chain and making it look like I hadn’t just spent a year wandering through Mars.

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Getting closer to the finish line in Dades

My evening was spent on some half concreted rocky steps of my roadside Riad, looking over the mountains I had just charged through, learning Arabic from a five year old mountain girl and her two year old brother.  Brown eyes twinkling and communicating in bad French, it struck me that I was sitting here, on the other side of the world, speaking a language I didn’t know with two beautiful rosy cheeked children, and I was happy.

The people of the Atlas mountains, especially the areas around Imilchil, retain maybe the pure look of a race of people that aren’t mixed, a character that is stoic and steadfast, that have nothing but a ready smile, despite the hardships they endure. They are a beautiful, trustworthy people both in features and personality. Their is an innocent purity in their spirit, with which they seem almost unconscious of, exponentially different from the Northern cities of Morocco. I really feel like this is where the real Morocco sits, here in these unknown, off the beaten path villages.

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Heading to Todra

I was on the road early in the morning, waving goodbye to my young moroccan friends as I zipped off to explore the todra gorge. Back through the pot hold ridden village of Agoudal I went on the ‘sticky’ tarmac, high fiving children on the way out to todra. Old men sat on mud brick walls, relaxing in the warm sun in their colourful turbans and gelabas, watching me rumble past on my dirty iron horse. I rode into a small canyon, alone and surrounded by dipping yellow mountains. Crossing the bridges was about as fun as the previous day – completely hole ridden.

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A half hour before entering Todra gorge

Reaching the first pass of the mountains, the first downhill hairpin brought on terrific views of what was to come – dramatic colourstreaked mountains, long creamy brown ranges that stretched down the straights of the lower roads, through tiny villages. Residents looked on as the colourful personalities of the youth repeatedly chased after me in every village I rode through on the beaten roads before finally making the beginning of todra.

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The straight stretches of road next to the Mountains near Todra

Beautiful in its own right, although after doing the mars run through the dades gorge, was much less impressive then the dades. On and off gravel intervals run through the gorge road. The beauty is quite spoiled by huge tourist section halfway in, at the foot of the stairs leading up to the viewpoints and hikes. This section is not road but more of a tourist souk, packed to the brim with coaches, cafes and more tourists then I thought you could fit in one place. It was comparative to flies on a carcass. To be frank, I thought it was a horrible experience driving through that section of the gorge, especially after being so spoilt in the dades. Riding my horn, I quickly got the masses to part, reminding them that this a road, not Place Jemaa El Fna of Marrakech. I made Tinghir shortly after, before heading south, towards the Sahara…

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Todra gorge

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