Marrakech to Agadir-Tizi-n-Test Pass

Day 12     Marrakech-Agadir (180 miles Approximately)

Walls of Marrakech

Walls of Marrakech

The city walls of Marrakech are quite spectacular and we were able to take a photo just before we left. The pink hues make a charming contrast to the blues of the sky.  As we left the city behind, we formed another phalanx of motorcycles so that we could leave enmasse, without anybody becoming separated from the group. 

Tizi-n-Test pass

The Tizi-n-Test Pass is yet another road, through the High Atlas Mountains, that was constructed by the French in the 1930s.  It links Marrakech to the town of Taroudannt,

Tizi-n-Test Pass

through 200kms of mountain road.  During the winter it can be cut off through rockfalls and heavy snow.  As the road climbs steeply upwards, we were aware that we were ascending the highest mountain in North Africa.  There were severe rock formations on one side, but we were riding on the right hand side of the road, where a precipitous drop was an ominous presence.  It was only possible to ride slowly up this road as parts of it had been reduced to gravel, which can be fatal for motorcyclists.  A line of cars followed along behind. 

Tizi-n-Test Pass

This road is not for inexperienced riders, especially at this time of year.  It twists and bends and it is impossible to legislate for might lie around any corner.   Some of the bends are so sharp that on coming round them, we were faced with a sudden drop on the other side.  It took all the Baron’s riding skills to negotiate this  pass.  However, the scenery was truly magnificent.  Every so often we would notice wrecked vehicles whose drivers had failed to negotiate the narrow twisty bends properly.  Here was a lesson in careful driving.  The descent down to the Sous Valley below is even scarier and has to be done in very low gear.  In places we inched our way over loose scree and gravel. 

http://www.dangerousroads.org/africa/morocco/377-tizi-n-test-road-morocco.html

Taroudannt-Separation of Bikes and Riders

All that slow riding had been too much for some of the group and as soon as we reached the main highway between Taroudannt and Agadir, the faster riders sped off, leaving four bikes to find their own way to the hotel in Agadir.  After a long, tiring day, we entered Agadir, only to find a large town, and a group of four bikers with no idea where their hotel was located.  Eventually, the Baron found a local traffic policeman, and in his very best French, asked for directions.  Still, we couldn’t find the hotel and it was getting late.  We returned to the traffic cop, who left his traffic duty, and took us to the hotel.  His kindness made up for the disappointment of our group leader and the other bikers abandoning us miles from our destination.

Naomi Flashman

 

 

 

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Marrakech-Part II- Marjorelle Garden-Food Poisoning!

Day 11 MarFloral Blooms in Marrakechrakech-Gardens-Majorelle Garden & Yves St. Laurent

There are lots of beautiful gardens and floral displays in Marrakech.  The city has quite aptly been nicknamed “The rose among the palms.”  Many gardens lie tucked away in the courtyards of  traditional riads (inns).  Other, more formal gardens, are attached to the palBeautiful Garden in Marrakechaces and museums.   Contrast these gardens to the pink colouring of the architecture and the end result is very attractive. 

The Majorelle Garden

We found the Majorelle quite by accident.  It is a small garden but has so much packed into it, without feeling over-crowded.  There are prickly cactus plants and mini landscapes, allied to an abundance of colour.  The work of Jacques Majorelle, this garden  was opened in 1947.  Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, his partner, purchased it in 1980, as it had been threatened with destruction by speculators. 

 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gardens-Marrakesh-Angelica-Gray/dp/0711233454

Food Poisoning

On our return to the hotel we discovered that one of the bikers had contracted sickness and diarrhoea.  He had ignored the advice given not to purchase food on the street and was now  paying the price for his rashness.  He assured us he had purchased the food on the main square the previous evening and it had been delicious.  His day was spent inside the hotel rather than exploring the sites of Marrakech.  We all hoped that he would be better by the morrow as we had a long ride ahead of us.

During the early evening the Baron and I strolled round the main square in Marrakech.  This comes alive at night and the smell of cooking in the open-air is intoxicating. We could sympathise with our comrade who had been tempted to buy some of this fare. 

We felt sad that we had only been such a short time in this intriguing of cities and had not been able to visit the museums, mosques, palaces or the old Jewish Quarter, Mellah.  The latter still exists although few Jews now reside in Marrakech.  Neither was there sufficient time to visit more gardens.   Maybe at some future date we will be able to return and spend several days exploring this vibrant African city?

Naomi Flashman

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Marrakech-Medina-Quartiers-Seven Towers

Day 11     Marrakech – A rest day – Medina

stall in the soukNo motorcycling, as today was  free for us to explore Marrakech.  The medina, a magical place, and the central hub of old Marrakech, was to be our first “port of call.”  Just what, you might ask, is a ‘medina?’  Well, it means the old walled part of an African town. Just like Fes, the historic walls of Marrakech were high, enclosing the “quartiers.”  For the benefit of the local community each “quartier” has a mosque, a madrasa (that’s a school), a hammas (bath-house), a water fountain and a bread oven.  The Moorish minaret of 12th century Koutabia Mosque rises above the skyline of the city and is visible for miles around.  Koutoubia Minaret

Narrow street in the medina

Souks are a maze of alleys and narrow streets, and the one in Marrakech is no exception.  It’s easy to get lost unless you keep your eye on the location of various landmarks.  We noticed in Marrakech that various alleys located close to each other  contained the same trades.  It was here that we met Imam Souhaili in the midst of the herbalists’ section.  He was a local trader specialising in herbs, spices, creams and ointments, perfumes and oils.  He managed to sell us some hibiscus tea and pressed a brochure into our hands.  This gentleman had an amazing knowlege of which herbs and oils to use for specific medical problems.  From him  I first heard about argan oil.  This is  a superb oil that is indigenous to Morocco and  used extensively in the western world for hair products. 

Seven Towers of Seven Saints

Near to the Medina we discovered the seven towers of the “Seven Saints” aligned in a row.  This sacred site was quite moving and we gazed in some awe at the structures in memory of the seven saints.  Just like woSeven Towers of the Seven Saintsrshippers in mediaeval times  who made pilgrimmages to sanctified places, so too, have  Moroccans. The Moslem faithful have visited this Holy site since the 17th century.  Like mediaeval and modern-day pilgrims, they hope to be healed of their illnesses as well as receiving harmony and tranquility for their souls.  https://theculturetrip.com › Africa ›

The old city of Marrakech is a maze of colour and I will write more about it in my next article.

Naomi Flashman

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Ouarzazate-Marrakech-Tizi-n-Tichka Pass

Day 10     Ouarzazate-Marrakech (130 miles Approximately)-Tizi-n-Tichka Pass

Tizi-n-Tichka Pass

The French Foreign Legion has to come into our story somewhere, and sure enough, today we were to cross the High Atlas via the Tizi-n-Tichka pass, a road constructed by them in 1931.  It meanders along exposed ridges reaching a height of 7,415ft (11,933km).  The summit consists of twists and turns in every direction,  the surrounding mountains bathed  in a haze.  The Tizi-n-Ichka pass is important in that it connects the cities of Ouarzazate and Marrakech.  This was another stunning, magnificent route.

http://www.evo.co.uk › McLaren › MP4-12C

Arrival and Afternoon in Marrakech

Today’s ride was not too long and we arrived on the outskirts of Marrakech around lunchtime.  The traffic was horrendous, with vehicles  going in all directions, and no thought given to order.  We decided that we would take a leaf out of the Romans’ book and create a phalanx, albeit of motorcycles rather than soldiers, so that we would not get split up.  This worked really well and we negotiated our way through the traffic and to the hotel with ease.   The afternoon was free to explore this place, first made famous by an influx of hippies in the 1960s and 1970s.  As some of us were from that era, we well remembered the sentiments and the drug habits of those earlier western pioneers!  “Peace and Love, Man!”Horse drawn carriage, Marrakech

After dire warnings about street food, and imprecations not to eat it or face the consequences, we set off to explore the city.  And, what better way to do this than by horse and carriage. 

What a lovely city this proved to be, with many surprises in the architecture, ramparts, palaces, mosques, gardens and monumental gates.  I was beginning to understand why this city has a World Heritage status. http://whc.unesco.org › Culture › World Heritage Centre ›

The main area of interest is the Medina, which contains a lot of the historic monumentsFlowers of Marrakech. We also enjoyed seeing the Kasbah, an Arabic word for a citadel or fortress.  This seemed to be in a good state of repair.

During the afternoon we wandered into the square on the edge of the Medina.  There was a lovely café that overlooks the square and we sat on a balcony there sipping hibiscus tea and watching the passersby below.  It was this café that was attacked by terrorists in 2011, their bomb killing 17 people, mostly innocent tourists.  It also destroyed the café. 

We  returned to our hotel for the evening happy in the knowledge that tomorrow, we had a full day to explore Marrakech more fully.

Naomi Flashman

 

 

 

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Erfoud-Ouarzazate & The Dadès & Todra River gorges

Day 9     Erfoud-Ouarzazate-Todra Gorge-Draa Valley and Dades Gorge

It had been an interesting night, with grains of sand raining down on us, creeping through the fibres of the tent as the wind howled overnight.  We had shared a tent with another married couple, something none of us were accustomed to.  However, it had not posed any problems, probably because of the temporary nature of the arrangement.   After a breakfast of fish, which surprised us as we were in the Sahara, we set off on the backs of the camels to retrieve our motorbikes.  Today was to prove one of the most adventurous of the odyssey.

We had a long day’s ride ahead.   It was to incorporate fantastic roads (and some not so fantastic!), desert, oases, mountains and gorges. 

The Todra Gorge/Draa Valley & Dadès Gorges

For stunning images of this gorge see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todgha_Gorge

The sides of the Todra gorge towered 500ft above us as we thundered our way along the road. On one side of the road were heart-stopping sheer drops with only a small barrier to prevent the unwary biker or driver from tumbling down the mountainside.  The valley bottom had been carved out by the Todra and Dades Rivers during the millenia.  In places the road was barely 35ft wide, with sweeping bends.    It was one of those experiences whereby the observer feels minute amidst the scale of natural wonders. The Draa River, at 1100km (680miles), is the  longest in Morocco, flowing from the High Atlas Mountains to the Atlantic. There is some horticulture in the valley, which is also home to a population of around 225,000. The N10 took us past the Dadès Gorges, wadis carved out by the Dadès River and in the moutain areas, small boys plying their goods for sale, semi-precious rocks and the inevitable hashish.

It was evening by the time we arrived at the town of Ouarzazate.  A welcoming swimming pool greeted the weary travellers.   Later, back in our room, we proceeded to hand wash some of our garments.  We had few clothes because everything we needed had to be accommodated in two panniers.  We had purchased quick-dry easily washable clothes before we left home and this was to prove a godsend.  Occasionally, if the chief Biker’s socks hadn’t dried properly by morning. he would fasten them on to the handlebars and let them fly in the wind as we rode along the road.  We had one or two curious looks from motorists, but, as our American friends say, “what the heck!”

Naomi Flashman

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Midelt-Erfoud (140 miles approximately)

Day 8        Midelt-Erfoud

Today we would witness  dramatic scenery as we descended from the Atlas Mountains towards the town of Erfoud, which nestles close to the Sahara Desert.  Our guide, Aziz, was from Erfoud and he  talked with animation about the town where he grew up, enthusing about being a “desert boy.” 

In order to cut through the mountains, the French colonial troops (who else?!!!), during the 1930s, constructed the Tunnel de Légionnaire.  This created a pass through the mountains to the Ziz Valley below.  As the road sweept downwards in a series of flowing bends, a biker’s dream, we could admire the pinkish coloured rock and the fact that the river Ziz had carved it’s way through the mountains creating the gorges below.

  The Chief Biker purred with contentment as he leaned the bike round the bends.  As for Vera, our Varadero, she glided through the curves as if she was floating on the surface.  Throughout our travels, the ride for the pillion passenger, was comfortable with not the slightest sign of a ‘numb bum’ developing.  I, also, had a very good view of the passing landscape due to the height of the machine.  Perched on my throne at the back of the bike, I felt like royalty!

Gradually, we descended towards the valley and the surrounding countryside became more and more arid.  It was obvious that we were now approaching the town of Erfoud and the Sahara Desert.  That afternoon we were to enjoy a typical Moroccan meal with Aziz’s family.  It was a pleasure to be invited into his mother’s home and sit round a table enjoying this communal repast.  I write about this elsewhere on my blog. htt://www.naomiflashman.co.uk/travel/morroco/desert-storm/

After the meal we set off for our overnight stay in a Bedouin tent. We hadn’t gone far along the road when the wind began to rise and sweep the desert sands along the road. Eddies of sand swirled round our heads and grains of it entered places we carefully will not mention!   The chief Biker was heard to mutter something about sand being abrasive and damaging to the paintwork of his precious machine.  He was clearly more worried about that than the impending sandstorm.  Just as we thought we could go no further, we arrived at an hotel to be told that despite the weather, we would be going on a camel-ride to our overnight accommodation.  I cover this in my article called “Desert Storm.”  We had an interesting night but were pleased to depart for our next destination on the morrow.  Lack of basic facilities brought home to us how difficult it must be for nomadic peoples to live in the desert.

Naomi Flashman

 

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Fes-Midelt (Aprroximately 180 miles)

Day 7        Fes-Midelt-Moyen-Middle Atlas Mountains

It was with regret that we left Fes, heading south into the Moyen, Middle Atlas Moutains.  Next stop the town of Midelt.  The scenery was wild and very beautiful.  I understand  few visitors explore this part of Morocco, so it remains largely unaffected by all the detritus of tourism.  The population, unsurprisingly, is sparse.   There were great forests of cedar along with some very desolate scenery. 

We by-passed Azrou, a town well known for it’s monkey population (and I don’t mean people!). It’s population is Berber and numbers around 45,000. It sits between the cedar forests and a wild volcanic area peppered with craters.  No time to stop and explore.  Onwards past Timahdit, a former French outpost.  It never ceases to amaze me how the French influence is seen in so many countries worldwide.  It seems that in Morocco even the smallest children speak French alongside their native Arabic.  

The bike purred along these roads, it’s manoeverability amazing given the load it was carrying and the demands of negotiating the sweeping curves and steep ascents and descents of this particular highway. Sadly, there was insufficient time to take many photos, so my album on this stretch of our odyssey is somewhat depleted.

We passed over the Col Du Zad, some 7,100ft.  It is the catchment area for 3 great rivers which divide here. The road is steep in places and the chief Biker had to concentrate totally on how he was riding.  It was a thrilling ride, nonetheless;  the sort of ride that appeals to bikers as it tests their skill and endurance.

Midelt

This windswept town in the Middle Atlas appears in a backdrop of almost desolation, on a plateau at some 4,900ft (1500m).  It lies in the Middle Atlas and houses a population of around 16,000 inhabitants.  Needless to say, the French also had a garrison here although nothing of this remains today.  By the time we reached it we were glad to arrive at our hotel.  The gruelling ride had taken it’s toll.  Our energy levels were screaming in protest. We had worked so hard to earn a welcome rest.

Naomi Flashman

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Images – Fes

I have many photos of Fes and I would like to share them with anyone who might be interested, so here goes:

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Chefchaouen-Fes (160 miles approx.)

Day 7

Chefchaouen is a great base from which to tour the Rif Mountains.  However,  the imperial city of Fes was beckoning, so  we headed out on foot to the dirt car-park where we had left our bikes in the care of a local man overnight, praying that nothing would have been stolen.  Yes, well…the inevitable had happened.  The Landrover in which our leader had stored all his maps had been broken into.  He was going to have to guide us through the rest of the trip using his memory.  As for the only Welsh guy in our group…his clothes had  been stolen.  It was a trip to the Police Station for him, with instructions to catch up with us later in the day.

 Leaving the town in convoy, we rattled through the potholes until we bumped onto the tarmac that was the main road.  We were to discover that the excellent trunk roads in Morocco often deteriorated into oases of potholes on entering towns.  As the bikers flew along the blacktop we noticed huge fields of vivid green.  On stopping for a mint tea and loo break, I commented on all the grass in the area.   As the word”grass” flew from my lips, I realised what I had said.  There in front of our very eyes were acres upon acres of hashish, being grown quite openly.  Along the roadside verges young children were waving hands full of hashish, begging us to purchase it.  However,  we had been warned that while it may be legal to grow and purchase the weed in Morocco, it was certainly illegal to be found smoking the dope. None of us relished the thought of spending time in a Moroccan lock-up.

Mile after mile

was devoured as we passed through the Rif Mountains.  There were superb views of the highest mountain, Tidirhine at 8,058 feet.  We eased our way through the town of Ketima, “The hash Capital” of Morocco, while we enjoyed the wild beauty of the mountains, before finally, heading down into the city of Fes.

Fes:  The Imperial city of Fes

Nothing could prepare us for the first sight of the

ancient city of Fes, a World heritage Site. It can only be explored on foot and we had a local man to guide us through it’s narrow streets and what is, allegedly, the largest soukh in the world.  The smells  in the soukh ranged from fragrant spices to the unspeakable odours and vapours of the tanning area, the latter causing our eyes to water and our throats to constrict.  Men were trampling the hides in huge open vats, the whole site seemingly a throwback to mediaeval times.   To our western eyes it resembled a scene from Hades.

There were the inevitable carpet stalls and an army of young boys, marching after us pleading with us to buy their goods.  The only way we could persuade these youngsters to leave us in peace was for my husband to scold them in strong French.  They understood what he meant!

There were many artisans in the soukh, plying their ancient skills and crafts. This is a fascinating city, combining the old with the very new, the “Ville Nouvelle.” Ancient walls vie with a modern commercial centre. Overlooking it are the Rif and Atlas mountains. We were told that there is some preservation being undertaken and that the importance of not destroying the atmoshere, ambience and aesthetics of the city is a priority, not least because the present king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, married one of the daughters of Fes, Salma Bennani!

Naomi Flashman

 

 

 

 

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Granada to Tarifa to Chefchaouen (240 miles approx)

Granada to Tarifa to Chefchaouen

Day 6

This day  proved eventful!

Bikers awaiting ferry to TangiersWe arose  early  as we needed to catch a lunch-time ferry from Tarifa, a distance of 173 miles. Alas, we were a little late departing which meant  a hair-raising ride at speed, in gale force winds, along the Mediterranean motorway.

Falling Foul of the Spanish Traffic Police

Careering past legendary towns such as Málaga, Torremolinos. Marbella, Algeciras and Gibraltar, we crested a hill leading down into the port of Tarifa. The winds gusted and the bikes slowed. Eventually, we found ourselves in a  line of traffic. The Chief Biker’s enthusiasm to overtake a caravan got the better of him. Impatiently, he revved the engine, pulled out and blasted past the offending vehicle.  He manoeuvered the bike back into the correct lane, where the centre line became a double white line.  Within seconds, he was to discover the  Spanish Traffic Police  lurking at the bottom of the hill.  A beckoning hand appeared as if from nowhere and he was directed into the central reservation area.  The Police handed the Chief Biker a ticket and ordered him to pay a fine of 60 euros.   I was not amused!

We continued down to the Port,  only to discover that we had missed the ferry.  Many of the other bikers were clearly chafed by the delay. However, as another member of the group had not arrived,  we could not have boarded anyway. We spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine and dangling our feet in the cool waters of the strait. The missing biker, who was an older guy and who had some health problems, eventually appeared.  He had been a former Sergeant in the army  and he was a very experienced  motorcycle rider.  He had not been happy to ride at the speed of the rest of the group, especially with strong winds buffeting his bike.

We caught the next ferry at tea-time.

Ferryfrom Tarifa to Tangier

Tangier to Tarifa

Ferry Across the Straits of Gibraltar to Tangiers

The ferry was clean and modern and we enjoyed a 35 minute crossing, gliding over the calm waters of the Strait of Gibraltar. Once on board, we were instructed to complete a visa form before arriving at the Port of Tangiers. Arrival and disembarkation in Tangiers was to be an education. We had not been given any instructions on how to negotiate exit from the Port and how to avoid all the bodies wanting us to purchase our way out.  People swarmed all around us, pushing and shoving and disorder reigned supreme.  Payment of a small fee  ensured speedy assistance in exiting the terminal.   We were  later told that this had been unnecessary. Ah well! Welcome to Africa!

Enter Abdelaziz Benami, BENAMI TOURS

“Hello, I am to be your back-up in Morocco.  Just call me Aziz.”

This amiable young man had turned up with a Landrover-pickup truck, rather battered and old.  Quite how we could load any broken-down bikes onto it was a bit of a mystery.  We would find an answer some days ahead. 

Ahead of us lay a journey of 173 miles and it was getting late.   Aziz breezily announced that some of the roads were rough and he indicated for another lady and me to climb into the landrover.   Our husbands could then better concentrate on their riding while they negotiated broken tarmac and numerous potholes.

I  wondered when we would arrive in Chefchaouen.  Aziz drove the landrover for mile after weary mile.     Darkness fell and time marched on.  Our stomachs began to growl in anticipation of dinner, which had been arranged at our lodgings for the night.  This was to be at a riad, a traditional Moroccan hotel,  located somewhere in Chefchaouen.

Arrival in Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is situated in the northwest of Morocco, in the Rif Mountains.  First impressions were of a bustling African town, with narrow streets and people wandering everywhere.  We found a car-park, it’s surface covered in potholes.  Our leader consulted his map and as the group headed off to find parking nearer to our hotel, the bike caught in a pothole and began slowly to list to the lefthand side.  The Chief Biker had no option but to drop the bike.  A group of Moroccan men surrounded us and heaved the bike upright.  They were grinning amiably and they seemed pleased that they had been able to help us.  The Chief Biker thanked them in careful French,  which pleased them even more. 

Midnight Dining

Slowly, he eased the bike forward only for us to discover the elderly soldier/biker alongside us.  The rest of our group were nowhere in sight, and the three of us had no idea where the hotel was situated.  One of the Moroccans waved us in a certain direction, so off we set.  With a sigh of relief, we found our group and took our place on the car-park,  home to the bikes for the night. Most of the bikers were dismayed that we had a ten-minute walk to the riad.  They were worried about the safety of their precious machines overnight.  A couple of Moroccan men approached us.  They told us that for a small payment, they would keep watch over the machines until we returned in the morning.  The bikers took a deep breath and paid up!   There was no option to do otherwise.

Thirteen travel-weary bikers trudged through the narrow winding streets of the town, lugging their panniers with them.  They  were prevented from seeing this typical Moroccan town in all it’s splendour, due to the darkness and lateness of the hour.  We arrived at the riad about 11 30pm.  It was a beautiful place, with comfortable beds and brightly coloured Moroccan tapestries.  Our spirits were lifted somewhat after an enjoyable meal, even though the hour was so advanced.

The Chief Biker and I retired to our room, where we fell into a deep sleep.

Tomorrow would be another day. and hopefully, less exhausting.

Naomi Flashman