A friend said that Marrakech would feel like Mos Eisley… The ‘wretched hive’ on the fictional desert planet Tatooine from Star Wars.
It is, perhaps, not such a fanciful comparison for those with a vivid imagination. Climb aboard a plane in Manchester drizzle and disembark three hours and change later into dry, desiccating heat and a city that never sleeps. Snake charmers, hawkers, hookers, hash peddlers line the main square and streets, but not a drink (or, sadly, a Womp Rat) in sight. Culture shock.
You can get a drink in Marrakech of course. Morocco is not a dry country in alcoholic terms, it’s just that for two weary travellers presented with the baffling streets of the medina, finding a bar was a step too far.
We settled on orange Fanta and a decent view of the Jemaa el-Fnaa – observing the mayhem from a safe distance. It later transpired that we were precisely 56 yards from an agreeable watering hole. Oh well, you live you learn.
The chore of shipping the bike on EasyJet had been relatively easy. Portaging the bikes from the airport to our riad in the medina was more complex. The substantial 4×4 taxi struggled to swallow our two bagged and boxed steeds. Once inside the ancient city walls, the bikes were lashed to the top of a handcart and pushed through the labyrinth to our digs. Our man at the helm of the cart took no prisoners, barking at the night time crowd with an officious ‘App!’ and banging on the bike boxes while shooing away the opportunist few who thought they could prey on two unsuspecting cyclists fresh off the plane.
With bikes stowed we promptly got lost in our quest for cold beer and ended up discussing our plans over sickly soft drinks, the sugar setting my teeth on edge. In fact, I was unsettled by what I had seen so far and couldn’t relax. Plotting a route out of the city was going to be a stern test in the morning and the problem weighed heavily on my mind. Route finding was baffling and the traffic some kind of random thermodynamic system. No amount of traffic lights and junctions could comb the chaos into order… Or so it seemed to my tired eyes.
My companion Tom had never cycle toured before and was unused to a bike with load. This baptism of fire played on my mind as I sipped my drink. Back at the riad, I slept fitfully despite the comfortable bed and air conditioned room. At breakfast we discussed a rough itinerary and set to the task of building the bikes in the lounge of our digs, depositing tools and associated bike paraphernalia all over the floor.
Tango went together pretty swiftly – a well practised routine these days. Tom’ s full susser took a little more fettling. Following airline advice to the letter, he’d deflated the tyres. While pumping air into the front it exploded with a sharp crack, which left us both shaking. The explosion prompted one or two nervous looks from our hosts, too.
The disc rotors had taken a pounding in transit, the rear quite badly bent and rubbing on the calliper. Tom’s unfamiliar disc brakes had me a little baffled, but we eventually found a happy medium between breaking power and minimal rub – albeit a day or so later once I’d located a secondary barrel adjuster.
We agreed on a rough direction of travel and pushed off, Tom ahead. He wobbled a little under the weight of the bike and was promptly hit by a taxi. This was a glancing blow, but sufficient for me to again question the sanity of our undertaking.
Cars, trucks, bikes, donkey carts, pedestrians all fought for position on the road. There was only one tactic to employ here: be bold. We eventually found the city wall and plotted a course on more favourable roads, briefly enjoying the relatively sanctuary of a separate cycle lane. Confused once more at a junction a man pulled alongside us on a scooter. Mohamed Lamrini presented his card and clearly wanted to help. A keen cyclist, he was equally keen to tell us about his employer’s business venture Argan Xtreme Sports before pointing us in the right direction.
Thanks to Mohamed’s timely directions, we found a relatively quiet road heading to N9 and our route to the desert through the Atlas Mountains. After weeks of pedalling through rain and the dank chill of a Mancunian winter, my heart swelled in the sunshine. As the adrenaline of the morning subsided, we realised we were hungry so I rolled out some dodgy French at a roadside stall and procured bananas and oranges. A few more clicks along the N9 and we found a petrol station with a cafe and stopped for coffee (and lots of water), enjoying a quick toast for successfully negotiating the streets of Marrakech… without dying.
We struck up a conversation with some British motorcyclists at the cafe. They seemed impressed that we were planning on heading up the Col du Tichka, a major pass through Atlas.
‘Doing it the hard way,’ one rider chimed, with a frail smile.
Their trip had not been without incident though. A pothole had buckled one rider’s front wheel but the resourceful Moroccans had fixed it with some nifty TIG welding.
Back on the road and a measly 40km recorded for the day we started to think about digs for the night. Barely out of the urban clutches of the city, wild camping did not seem an option. A sign for a hotel came into view… with a pool. One wrong turn later and pulled up outside the hilariously named (for me at least) Hotel Le Coq Hardi.
Time to roll out the French again and we were presented with a comfortable room with dinner and breakfast for a bargain price. Happy days. A very pleasant swim was followed by mint tea on the terrace and our first of many tagines… With beer. Hallelujah!
We spent a pleasant evening shooting the breeze. As we headed to bed, now weary after a poor previous night, a chap started setting up a sizeable PA system. For tomorrow, I naively thought. Au contraire, mon ami… 11.30pm and it was party time at the ‘Hard Cock Café’.
You can get an idea from this poorly shot video from the tiny balcony of our room. An over zealous DJ let loose
with an effects box while a vocalist who appeared later crowned each line of his song/ rap with an excitable ‘Yabba Yabba Yabba!!!’
I lay in bed chuckling… Repeated blasts of a horse neighing on the DJ’s command prompted a half conscious Tom to mutter: ‘Oh for f@ck’s sake!’