Test, Tangier and Tazekka

Tizi ‘n’ Test

So, after killing a night in Agadir with my hippie brothers, I took the road through to Taroudant, leaving before the psychotic driving of Morocco got heavy. Taroudant is the gateway city to crossing the Atlas north to Marrakech – over the Tizi ‘n’ test pass. If you recall, I’d already road tripped through Tizi ‘n’ test with the Souf and Natalia in our boxy ford (Read Here) but it’s never quite the same as riding a motorcycle on your own. Well, truth be told, nothing is quite like riding a motorcycle on your own…

Anyhow, pleased to be back into the swing of things, I fueled up and headed straight for the pass after a mint tea. Thankfully, there was next to no traffic on the smooth tarmac, except a young fella in a sparkling new Toyota Rav 4, who was hellbent on flirting with the idea of racing me. I let him flirt with the road instead, I wasn’t in a mad rush to get anywhere. Climbing up the sweeping, warm black bends, road sticking to my tyres like glue, they slowly pinched tighter as I trundled on.

Up the Tizi 'n' Test

Up the Tizi ‘n’ Test

Getting deeper into the anti Atlas, cute little villages consisting of tiny brown houses, hugged the small valleys below. Pulling up for a photo, a smiling suspect crept up on me as he herded his goats. I had to chat with this smiling fella named Ismail, sat down and broke some bread together while he told me about the tiny group of villages that I had been gazing at – Tamsoult, Atigua and Ekfes. He was quite the gentleman, so we took a photo together with the villages in the background. Back on the road, before long the road changed to the rather potholed, tight road through the higher passes.

The guardian Ismael and I

The guardian Ismael and I

Tangier

After splitting from Casablanca, I took the boring road up to Tangier stopping in Moulay Bousalham for a night, pitching my green tent on the sandy floor next to the bay that opened up onto the Atlantic. Sunset was much too pretty to see through a camera lens – pink skies set fire to the blue bay as the sun fell, the water turning into a firepit of orange, pink and purple. I kicked back in my seat watching the show as I mowed down a plate of fresh calamari and salad.

Reaching Tangier just after breakfast, I headed for the hercules caves, before spending the afternoon playing on the coast of Cap Spartel. The caves were nice and empty, so I could soak in the carved ceilings from previous berbers needing the stone for their millstones. Taking a rest from the bike for a day, I met Sara in town that afternoon to catch a cab out to the coast.

I spent the afternoon climbing rocks on top of the crystal clear water, while Sara played with her camera. Waves lapping at our feet, we hiked around the small rocky beaches and up and over the small rocky hills on the edge of the Atlantic. The water was clear as day, so after getting splashed on and almost falling off the edge of a rocky formation, we decided to head inland.

The rocks at Cap Spartel, Tangier

The rocks at Cap Spartel, Tangier

Hiking up the road to Park Pericardis, which is further away then one thinks when the sun is setting, we managed to hitch a ride from a passing architect who was as high as a kite by the smell of hash in the car. He was a nice chap though, and we had a good ride to Pericardis with him in the car. Out of the smoky haze, Sara tried to get me to run down the trails so we didn’t miss sunset, but I was happy just chugging along to the beat of my own step.

Magic trails appeared out of nowhere, Alice in Wonderland wouldn’t have looked out of place here. Flora had wrapped itself into a circular tube, creating a green tunnel of sorts along the foresty coastal edge. We did make sunset though, even after I fell flat on my arse from sliding down a slippery trail. Finishing our day off with a superb panache from the local Lebanese fruit bar, we went our separate ways.

Nature tunnels on the hiking paths

Nature tunnels on the hiking paths of Pericardis

Back on the bike, it only took me 70kms before I had a low speed lowside crash at a roundabout just outside the small coastal town of M’Diq. One minute I was up, next minute I was sliding on a shoulder and a knee guard up the road. Picking up the bike, I gave myself and the bike a good once over. Uh-oh. ‘Handlebar feels funny’ I thought, the left hand side looked a little low and felt a bit strange too. So back to Tangier I went, to get the handlebar inspected and fixed at Smeia BMW. I slept for two hours waiting for the repair work. As the sun was going down again, I was stuck in Tangier for one more night. Well, at least the sunset on the beach near my campsite was pretty…

Sunset right by my campsite

Sunset right by my campsite

Riding to Tetouan was a breeze and I made good time, so I stopped for some tea while refueling the tank. Finally touching the coast, I rode along the Mediterranean Sea, soaking in the soothing coastal views. The water sparkled in the sunlight, while the feet of the sea cliffs cooled themselves in the Mediterranean. Small fishing villages sat on beaches, nestled between the green covered seaside cliffs. Low clouds rolled in over the tops of the Rif Mountains to my right, covering their small tops in white toupe’s like a bald man in denial.

Small seaside villages dot the coastline of the Mediterranean

Small seaside villages dot the coastline of the Mediterranean

Akshour and the Rif

Turning inland, I sought out the short road from Oued Laou  (a beachside town) headed south to Akshour. Sometimes I wonder where everybody has gone on the roads in Morocco. As I passed through these beautiful green filled valleys of farmlands, the only transport that existed were donkeys, scooters, the odd tractor and very rarely, a Grand Taxi. Tiny mosques sat amongst the gorgeous greens of the fields, the only access being narrow dirt paths winding down from the mountain dwellings of the farming families in the surrounding areas.

Low running clouds in the Rif

Low running clouds in the Rif

Small villages almost hidden by the green trees were clumped together, tin roofs shaded red from the red covering their modest interiors. Orange roads led out to the villages in the middle of the lush mountainsides, streaking across the mountains like a purposeful brush. Small, almost dry rivers fed off the small waterfalls just up the way, snaking between the raw orange rock faces hiding the falls from view. Such a magical place.

Tiny tin roofed villages are tucked into the Rif Mountains

Tiny tin roofed villages are tucked into the Rif Mountains

Riding on, the Rif really began to open up on the way to Akshour. Rising out of the sea of trees and farmers fields, the orange rockfaces towered above the rest of the greenery, controlling the clouds from a height. Everyday I was there, it was if the mountains themselves had trained thick white clouds to run from the tops, to the lower valleys and back up the mountains on the other side. Bartering at a hotel in Rueda (a few kilometres out of Akshour), we settled on a price including meals and hey presto, I had a hotel room which opened up on a terrace with fantastic views of the Rif mountains. Not a bad way to spend a few days hiking out in the trails surrounding the locally famous waterfall.

Plenty of small waterfalls and canyons around Oeud Laou

Plenty of small waterfalls and canyons around Oeud Laou

Akshour Cascades

The cascades of Akshour

The cascades of Akshour

I spent the following day hiking through the Akshour cascades on the dusty dirt trails leading up to the main attraction. It was a nice walk, lauded with rubbish from tourists dumping it on the way through. Obviously cleanliness and recycling isn’t a priority in the country. Clamouring over rocky crossings, catching sight of the occasional tortoise tanning in the sun I sped along through inventive local juice bars sitting along the trail, whose fresh orange juices were cooled by rigged up pipes diverting the cold water into small manmade rocky pools.

You'll find signatures on the rocks all around Blue bag waterfall

You’ll find signatures on the rocks all around Blue bag waterfall

The waterfall itself was cascading down to a pool in thin streams which had carved out the age old rock covered in moss. It’s quite a shame about all the plastic bags left behind though, so with that in mind, I’m going to refer to it as Blue bag waterfall, due to the sheer amount of blue plastic bags surrounding it. Riding back along the rickety old Road, the clouds were doing their little mountain shuffle again, from mountain to mountain.

Makeshift bridges leading to the waterfall

Makeshift bridges leading to the waterfall

Saidia

The coastal road to Saidia (located on the border of Morocco and Algeria, on the Mediterranean sea), was a good smooth ride except for the semi trailer that decided it didn’t want me on the road anymore. After flicking on the throttle, I quickly squirted past his cab, passing on the one finger salute as I went. At this point of my riding career in Morocco, I was used to people trying to kill me on the roads here, so it was getting much easier to anticipate their methods of trying to execute me on the road. Arriving in Saidia later then expected, I found all the camping parks were closed in the off season.

Eastwards to Saidia

Eastwards to Saidia

With daylight running out quick, I lunged for the nearest reputable hotel, which so happened to be a 5 star palace on the beach. Getting held at the security gate, the guard asked me if I was with the rally to which I replied promptly with a ‘Oui Monsiuer’. He shook my hand, let me in and after parking right at the fancy hotel doors, I walked in to be given a room with all expenses paid for 2 nights (I’m not entirely sure what happened, but clearly staff thought I was someone important and I wasn’t about to argue the point). Winner winner chicken dinner!

Some of the rally bikes set to go, support vehicles in the background

Some of the rally bikes set to go, support vehicles in the background

I’m not really an advocate of hotels, I find them boring and a terrible waste of money for the most part, but when someone is offering you a gold bullion, you take the gold bullion. The room was huge. The king size bed looked enormous after sleeping on an air mattress, couches and single beds for the last month (that excludes your place Greg, your house is a flippin’ palace). I could’ve hosted an adventure rally on top of it, but I didn’t.

Taking advantage of my luck, I sipped on whiskey at the bar, my first and only taste of it in the whole three months in Morocco. The buffet was killer too, lots of vegetables for a change, a good break from all the meaty tagines I’d being hoeing down my gullit. That was about the only good thing to come out of Saidia, besides befriending an awesome photographer call Raphael, from Marseille who was on a contract to shoot for the french friendship adventure motorcycle rally that was touring Morocco for a few weeks. I actually met the guys running the whole show too, but of course, I took great care not to mention anything about the free room I had been awarded.

Parking on the hotels front porch

Parking on the front porch

Borders

I’ve never been to a fenced off border before, so it was pretty cool to be standing 5 metres from Algeria (who have now closed their borders) and waving at farmers on tractors, who grinned back and gave me wave. It felt like I was giving my mate a grin in class when we were kids, when one of us pisses off the teacher but can’t get in trouble for it.

I’m not sure why everyone raves on about the borders and how dangerous they are, I mean I went to two separate border points (Saidia and Oujda) and everyone was great – we shook hands, offered each other cigarettes, chatted away about motorcycles and everyday life and cracked jokes like we’d known each other for an age.

It was the same throughout the whole of Morocco. Makes you wonder about the blown up nothingness that the media spouts. I read four different western government advisory websites that said it was a high risk venture heading to Morocco. Oh, and heres a fully functioning Go-kart track on the border of Morocco and Algeria.

Gone racing!

Gone racing!

Taza and Bab Boudir

After having a cigarette with the border guard, I squirted off west to Taza to check out the scenery and get some more hiking done. The ride from Oujda to Taza wasn’t anything breathtaking, except when I almost swallowed a date pip. That was pretty damn breathtaking.

Getting inside Taza, I didn’t like the look of town much, but I did know there was a small road leading up to the Rif mountains to the south – which was covered in a thin sheen of orange mud thanks to the continuous and slow roadworks making its way south.

Stellar views on the way to Bab Boudir

Stellar views on the way to Bab Boudir

I had fun spraying the white GS in mud, as well as the rest of me too. What I hadn’t bargained for was the beautiful views on the way up the winding roads. It was an easy ride up, and once I got to the top, glowing views of the pastel greens spread up and down the lower mountains like avocado spread. The sun flirted between the creamy white clouds, highlighting the odd patch here and there in crisp gold rays while the blue skies patented every shade of blue imaginable.

Then the valleys to Bab Boudir began… you wouldn’t have imagined places like this existed in an arid, north african country. The bright green and yellow fields spread all the way to the feet of the higher plateau mountains, cows wandered freely about, mowing down grass while sharing it with sheep and donkeys alike.

Rich green valleys line the road to Bab Boudir

Rich green valleys line the road to Bab Boudir

Every mountain I rode around, another superb example of nature was undressed. You could have planted a rock in the fields and grown a money tree. The road was all mine and everything was absolutely bang on. It was a little crisp, a little dewy and perfect riding temperature, another one of those ‘grin like a madman under your helmet’ kind of moments.

Tazekka

Strange forests up mount Tazekka

Strange forests up mount Tazekka

I hiked up two mountains the next day – Tazekka and the Grey peak, although I did contemplate taking the GS up, I thought it might be nice to get some blood flowing. Tazekka got good once I entered the forest surrounding the peak. Full to the brim of Cork and Holm oaks, the trees were monstrous in comparison to anything else I’d discovered in Morocco. With the trees towering above me, I was wondering if Treebeard was going to wander out and ask to play lord of the rings.

Great trees in Tazekka

Great trees in Tazekka

The many twisted, gnarled arms of the oaks stretched over the red trail giving it an eerie aura as I followed it up the mountain. I wandered off the trail to walk amongst the giant oaks instead. I hiked all the way to the top into a radio tower camp, before finding a rocky outcrop overlooking the entire lower section of valleys and gave nature a good look at my privates.

The views were pants dropping

The views were pants dropping

Grey Peak

The grey peak was a much shorter trek, but also a much steeper one, not helped by the fact I practically ran up the thing. I crossed paths with a few sure-footed, wild goats who took one look at me and fled. Must have been my ferocious, yeti-like body hair. The grey white rock was covered in patches of moss and a large collection of colourful flowers, and the trail leading up to the top was a free for all half the time, so I had a wonderful few moments delineating a route up.

The views at the top were simply spectacular however – very rewarding for a sweaty bloke with a pot belly. Rows of the craggy Rif mountains were just barely discernible in the very far distance, with a huge green section of fields stretching out like one immense football field in the centre of all the rough, rocky excitement. The beauty didn’t end there however…

From the top of Grey Peak

From the top of Grey Peak

Back roads to Fes

I took the road through the Tazekka national park the following morning, which is full of delightful views of the lower Rif,  and the snow covered higher Atlas mountains. Turning south to head to Tazarine (I got this little tip off a local), my wheels turned through rolling green hills, small farms and views of the snow tipped high atlas behind.

I could have been riding through Hobbiton. The only vehicle I saw was an ancient red truck, overloaded Moroccan style with timber. The road had been partly washed away in some sections, but for the most part it was great ride all the way through to Sefrou until the raindrops started falling…

Hobbiton, Morocco

Hobbiton, Morocco