06 May 2010

The Desert

MAY 2, 2010

After two nights in Marrakech, I was ready to hit the road again. I had planned to ride down to Oaurzazate, and old French Foreign legion town, and stay at Bikers Home, which is run by a Dutch guy and his Morrocan wife, and get the full intel on the various pistes that I wanted to check out. Unfortunately, I found out yesterday that Peter is leading a tour, so there is no one home at Ouarzazate...not only would I have to ride further than I planned, but I would really know what pistes I could try to tackle on my own. This was a very unfortunate development, but that's what happens when you don't make any advance plans.

I really didn't know where to go for tonight's ride; I figured I would check out Ouarzazate, and if I liked it I would stay, and if not I would keep going to Zagora, down on the edge of the Sahara.

May 2 is my own personal holiday, the day I got back from Desert Storm, so I try to do something special every year on May 2. Today turned out to be pretty cool!

Anyway, when I went to get my bike (I had moved it closer to my new hotel), I had another first--a couple of cats were sleeping on my sheepskin seat cover (one of them scampered before I could take a pic):

I shooed the cats away, and pulled the bike out onto the main square--a little more sedate at 7:00 am!

Leaving Marrakech, I headed back toward the Atlas Mountains, but this time toward the Tizi-n-Tichka past, further east than Tizi-n-Test. This pass was easier to drive, the road being wider, but it was also quite nice, and I stopped for breakfast at a nice cafe at the top of the pass. A few kilometers from the top of the pass I made a left off of the main road onto the road to Telouet, another ruined castle type place. The road was quite nice, and the castle itself was pretty cool.

This was a nice stop and all, but the best was yet to come, lots of great riding left before I reached Zagora. After leaving Telouet, I took the piste between there and Ait Ben Haddou, another well-preserved mud village. This piste was generally well-graded and very easy, but fun nonetheless. Here are some pix:

This was a pretty fun ride, although when I got to Ait Ben Haddou it was too hot, and a bit too late, for me to hike up to the city, so I only took some pretty mediocre pictures of the place (not even good enough to post). Depending on whether I liked Ouarzazate, I potentially still had a long way to go--all the way to Zagora, including another section of piste that I wanted to do. So after a couple of cold cokes at Ait Ben Haddou I set out for Ouarzazate.

I arrived at Ouarzazate in forty minutes later, and decided that it probably wouldn't win any prizes for most charming or interesting Moroccan city, but I did have some business to take care of there; Peter from BikersHome had told me that there was a supermarket in town which had wine, etc., so I decided to stop there and stock up before heading down to Zagora and then to Erg Chebbi, where I figured I wouldn't find any such luxuries. When Peter said "supermarket" I pictured a fairly grand affair, and I rode by the actual place several times, and had to stop and ask for directions, before finding it. I finally found it, parked in front, where these kids offered, or rather insisted, to watch my bike if I paid them a couple of dirhams:

The place was not what I would call a supermarket, about the size of a large 7-11, but it had a decent selection of stuff, including wine. I bought a couple of bottles of Morroco's finest and poured them into my handy wineskin on the bike. No reason to dawdle in Ouarzazate, so I decided to head down to Zagora.

So I left Ouarzazate toward mid-afternoon, and still wanted to check out the mud building at Tamnougalte and ride down the piste between there and Zagora. This was a nice day's ride, but unfortunately I only had half a day to do it...

Once at Tamnougalte I turned off the main road to find the ksar or whatever this type of mud building is called. Here it is:

At the time it was cool enough looking but there were tons more mud buildings to come...anyway, I had hoped to go inside, but the place seemed deserted until I had remounted and headed back down to the road, when from the corner of my eye I saw someone sprinting toward me down the hill...I figured it was the caretaker looking for a donation, but I'd already lost interest in a tour and instead just set out down the road to the south. The road soon turned to a piste, although a good one, and I road it for a couple of hours. This was one of my favorite roads of the trip, because it went through some villages, oasises, up hill and down, etc., it was pretty cool. Here are some pix:
But by now it was getting kind of late, maybe about 17:00 or so, I had a long way to go to Zagora, and I didn't want to be stuck on the piste when it got dark. This piste runs parallel to, and a bit east of, and across the river from, the main road to Zagora, so after going ten kilometers or so I was able to find a way across the river and on to the main road. Some cool terrain along this road:
I pulled into Zagora right as it was getting dark. I had hoped to stay at a nice hotel there, but once again couldn't find the ones listed in Lonely Planet and ended up staying in the first decent-looking place I saw, the Hotel de Palmerie or something like that. It was pretty hot, about 97 degrees, and the town definitely has a more African feel to it. I walked around a bit, lots of people in arab headgear and robes, more so than further north. The hotel was a fine place to stay, with a pool and cold beer, so I took a plunge, pulled a bag of potato chips from my bike, ordered dinner, and had several beers before heading off to bed. Here's a pic of the cheesy Timbuctou sign by the hotel:

MAY 3, 2010

Set out early the next morning, with Erg Chebbi as my destination, via N'kob, which supposedly was pretty cool. This meant that I had to backtrack 60 kilometers or so to the turnoff for N'kob. This road through N'kob was one of the most boring of the trip, just hot, dry, dirt. There were a couple of cool spots though, like this old fort:

N'kob itself looked pretty unimpressive from the road, so I didn't even bother to look around, just stopped for a drink and kept going. By now it was pretty hot, somewhere north of 90 degrees. Had to stop after another hour or so for another drink, was too damn hot! By early afternoon I was approaching Erg Chebbi, and against all the odds, the terrain got even more boring--flat, dry, dirt:
I had scoped out several hotels at Erg Chebbi via Lonely Planet and the interweb, because I wanted to stay at a place with parking, a pool, and a good view of the dunes. For one of the first times ever, I had a hard time finding a place, and had to go to 3-4 places before finding a hotel with a room. I guess I was lucky, because the place I ended up staying (Dar el Janoub) was very nice, with all of the desired features (plus they served wine!!). Here a pic of the pool:
This was also the most expensive place I stayed in Morocco, I think more than 150 euro a night, although that included dinner.

Anyway, most of the next couple of days were spent walking around the dunes, at least in the morning and evening, when it was cooler, and there are better photo opps (better lighting, shadows, etc.). Here are a bunch of pictures, as you can tell I really enjoyed taking pix out in the desert, this is a small sample of the pix that I took:

MAY 4, 2010

The next day I also stayed at Merzouga, but after exporing the dunes in the morning, I decided to take a day trip to visit the Source de Bleue Meski, which is a pool/oasis in the desert made by the Foreign Legion and used by them as a rest spot. I love this kind of thing so road about 90 kilometers each way to check it out. Here it is:
The touts were pretty annoying here, wanting to sell this or that, but of course no stickers which I would have bought in a flash. After a couple hours at Meski I rode back down to erg Chebbi, stopping at a museum/shop for the obligatory dinosaur shot:
The next day it was time to leave the Sahara, and head back to the Atlas mountains. I had read about a little auberge on a lake in the mountains north of Todra Gorge and Agoudal, so decided that I would like to stay there for the evening. I set out early, with Todra Gorge as my immediate destination.

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