10 May 2010

Through the Mountains (again)

MAY 5, 2010
Little did I know it when I set out from Erg Chebbi, but this was to be one of my longest and most challenging riding days ever, even though it was only 370 miles. I set out from Erg Chebbi, heading toward Todra Gorge, which I'd heard was pretty spectacular. From there I would head toward Imilchil, a small town in the Atlas Mountains, and kind of play it by ear after that.
The ride to Todra was pretty uneventful, and I got there by late morning. The gorge was OK, here is some of the terrain just past the deepest part of the gorge:
But the scenery after the gorge was pretty cool, and the road was quite nice. I got to the little lake-side auberge by about 14:00 and had some lunch, but decided against staying there--it wasn't anything that special, and there was basically nothing there. I decided it was too early in the day to stop riding, so decided to keep going to Imilchil. Imilchil is famous because every year there is some kind of wedding festival there, where all of the young men and women from the region come there and have some kind of ceremonies for seeking their spouse. Apparently it draws busloads of tourists and has sort of turned the locals off on the whole tourist thing. Anyway, I got there and it was another dusty Moroccan village, and it was still early (15:00?), so I decided to keep going. Here is where the trip started to get interesting...

Once through the gorge, the road was paved, but not very well, and it kept going up and up--up to above 2000 meters eventually. The views were pretty cool, but for a variety of reasons--mainly the complete lack of a shoulder--I didn't feel safe stopping for pix usually. The pix I did take didn't turn out that well, so there are not that many...

By the time I got past Imilchil I started looking for a place to stop for the night, and decided to head toward a town called al Kebab (or something). I started descending from the mountains through a beautiful valley covered in poppies and other flowers--very nice:

I got to some town where they were having some kind of market day or something, and my GPS told me to turn down a road that was chock full of pedestrians and stalls selling whatever they sell at these things. There were a few other vehicles trying to make their way through, so I figured it was OK. Finally picked my way through the crowd and hit the open road again. This is about where I got lost. Or rather I should say I went "off the charts" provided by the GPS. I was on some pretty small roads at this point, and they weren't on the GPS. And there weren't any road signs, so I really had no idea where I was, although I did know (thank you GPS) that I was heading in generally the right direction.

So then I started climbing into the mountains again, which I didn't really expect. Was slightly concerned at this point, but didn't really know where else to go, so kept going. Here is a nice shot of a lake that I saw:

The road kept climbing after this lake, past herds of sheep, etc. I think I got back up to almost 2000 meters again before the road started descending again, and I saw signs for al Kebab. I finally got down to some kind of main road and more or less figured out where I was, which made me feel better.

I wasn't really ready to stop yet, so I decided to push on, at least to Khenifra. It was kind of a hot, boring ride to there, and when I got there I wasn't that impressed, so after filling up the bike with gas, and me with a couple of cold cokes, I decided to keep going, even though it was now about 17:00. Looking on the map, I spotted what looked to be a lovely valley, maybe 60km away, with what looked like would be a resort area, Sources de l'Oum-er-Rbia, right in the middle--it looked like a perfect destination!

This turned out to be one of my greatest navigational blunders ever. Off I went, after about 30 km I reached the turn off toward the valley. After a few kilometers, this road turned into gravel. And then rough dirt/gravel. I pressed on rather slowly as the sun started to set. But no worries, because I could see that I would soon reach the main road traversing the valley, which is presumably where all of the auberges would be. Sure enough, at dusk I reached the waterfalls, and spotted the adjacent town. Upon riding into town, however, I realized that it was a dump, and the only hotel was one of the most unappealing places to stay I have ever laid my eyes on. It would soon be dark, and now I had no idea where to stay...

This time I set off like a bat out of hell to the north along the mountain road, trying to get out of the mountains before dark. I kept riding through what can only be described as a desolate wildnerness and did not emerge before darkness fell. Crap! I hate riding in the dark even in the city, and in the middle of the mountains in Morocco I was distinctly uncomfortable. I didn't really have a choice, however, so I kept going, although quite slowly. I finally came to a town and found what looked like a decent motel-type place...what a relief! But it was closed! I finally got out of the mountains but now once again my GPS was completely useless, it did not show the road I was on, nor could it tell me how to get to Azrou, the nearest large town, where I figured I would spend the night.

I finally found some road signs, got on the road to Azrou, and probably pulled in about 10 at night, having ridden all the way from Erg Chebbi in what may have been my most epic ride.

Luckily I found a rather nice hotel full of German tourists and serving nice red wine and good hot food, it was very nice to finally relax. In the morning as I was packing up the bike several of the German tourists came over to chat before getting on their tour bus and seemed rather amazed that someone would come to Morocco by themselves. To each his own, I guess!

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