We found a restaurant with wifi in Quazazate and reconnected after our days in the mountains. Our pizzas were, in some respects, a welcome change from tagine but beer remained elusive.
We’d read there was a campsite on the edge of town and were keen to spend a night under canvas… well I was. I had this romantic notion of a quiet pitch amid palm groves with water boiling on my Honey Stove fuelled by a fistful dry bamboo.
This idea seemed all the more appealing given the choked urban tableau before us. As five pm approached and the heat of the day receded, the road before us reawakened accompanied by the all-too-familiar discord of Moroccan traffic.
As we left, Tom struck up a conversation with a woman who worked for the BBC. We were still in the market from some L’alcool à brûler, or Meths, for our Trangia burners and the woman kindly worked the keyboard of her smart phone seeking answers.
My (all-too) brief experience of living in Africa dictates that folk working for the BBC, VSO or Oxfam generally have the best networks – solid circuits of expat acquaintances and helpful officials embroidered with local fixers and folk-in-the-know. She called her friend, a charming gent who was determined to furnish us with our denatured alcohol.
He sketched a map in my mind over the phone and directed us to a handful of stalls conveniently situated behind our restaurant. We thanked our BBC contact and pushed the bikes to the stalls that were opening again after their proprietors had finished sheltering from the heat of the day. I asked at a couple of stalls and the owners pointed in opposing directions. It transpired that the stall stocking what we desired wasn’t open and wouldn’t be for at least ten minutes, or not at all.
Feeling rather deflated and now conscious of the time, we pedalled off to find our campsite. Signs directed us to dusty and dreary plot on the edge of town. Although dirt cheap, we struggled to hammer fragile lightweight pegs into the baked hardpack. We quickly sacked the idea and glumly pedalled into the gloom in search of alternative digs.
A guidebook would have been worth the weight in the panniers right then. I tried a couple of seemingly economical hotels only to be told they were full. With time now rolling we bagged a room at a competitive rate in an Ibis. Armed with beers I’d picked up from a supermarket we kicked back, engaged in a bit of Skype with home and repaired to the bar.
The following morning a decision needed to be made on our route. Progress had been slow so far, but the Valley of the Roses sounded appealing along with the Dades Gorge. Assuming we could clear ground in good time, then an adventurous pedal south presented itself to Zagora via Tazzarine. Finishing our journey along a desert piste would be the icing on the cake.
As we readied our bags and bikes I promptly visited the loo – twice. I had stomach cramps but felt OK so didn’t mention it to Tom.
The road east crossed a desolate plain and the heat hammered our heads. Signs for a major solar power plant underlined the intensity of the sun in these parts.
Soon we reached Skoura and found a lively restaurant for lunch. The owner brought us some delicious goat’s cheese for which the small town is renowned. Highly recommended.
The road continued its bleak course across a plain at the foot of the Atlas, a determined wind from the right now kicking up small dust storms. I was engulfed by one and became momentarily, and somewhat eerily, detached from my surroundings.
Soon the landscape changed and irrigated fields abutted the tarmac. The tenor of the local changed too. This, evidently, was a prime tourist sport and the conservatism and restraint of the people in the High Atlas were replaced by an unwelcome determination to secure some of our business. The children, too, followed this pattern and were more brazen, tirelessly asking for anything… ‘bon bon?!’, ‘stylo?!’, ‘l’argent?!’.
We both became weary of the attention, but remained polite. This introduction to the region had me clamouring for the high mountains.
At Boulmane Du Dades, we found a café and consulted the Rough Guide, now downloaded onto Tom’s Kindle. The cheapest place in town was the Hotel Atlas, which looked uninspiring. However, what it lacked in refinement was counterbalanced by the ebullience of the proprietors and we felt slightly smug at our quadruple room for £14.
At dinner that night I started to feel unwell. As my stomach turned, so did the weather as an eerie light descended and winds scurried around the town’s dusty streets. Minor shivers encountered at the start of our meal degenerated into full-blown shakes by the time the mint tea arrived. I felt very ill very quickly and the changing weather only heightened my malady. We were later to discover that snow was falling on the Tizi n Tichka, closing the pass.
Back at the room, I went to bed and, shaking violently, found sleep. My slumber was disturbed an hour or so later and the floodgates opened. This was to be the rather unsavoury picture for the next 40 hours or so.
During those agonising hours I became a pitiful wreck. The only calories I could manage were meagre rations of Coke. The room, and a basic bathroom down the hall, were my only ports of call. I became adept at using a squat loo and washing in order to ration our supply of toilet roll.
Tom tried to entertain himself in town while I grew increasingly glum at my predicament. I’m eternally grateful for his patience during this rather tricky period and for grabbing me some drugs from the pharamacy after a particularly troubling moment when I decided to pass out on my bed half way though a conversation.
Tom had been told at his café that sachets were a good way to proceed for ‘Morocco belly’ and he managed to source some Smecta after four Imodium failed to stem the tide. Smecta is a clay material, which works in a similar manner to the bushcraft solution of charcoal. It absorbs water and toxins in the gut and the body deals with them in the usual manner.
I double-dosed on the solution and recalling its taste still makes me shiver as I write these words. After four doses it started to work and I felt a little better. The owners of the hotel, all-too aware of my plight, offered mint tea and gestures of consolation.
While their functional establishment had allowed me to hole up, I needed somewhere a little more conducive to recovery. We decided – somewhat reluctantly – to take a bus back to Quazazate and plot and alternative course from there.
We were fortunate to find a bus outside our hotel on checking out and the bikes were easily stowed in the hold. Sipping water, I watched as we retraced our pedal strokes, the contours far easier in coach class. I was bitterly disappointed, though. Time off work is so precious and I seethed that my illness had soured our adventure.
Quazazate appeared quickly and I took some solace in successfully negotiating the bus trip without recourse for the loo. We found a café, coffee and consulted the guidebook once more. A glowing account of another campsite on the road out of town saw us heading south. The description fit my earlier romantic notions and we followed signs through broken, bustling, dirty streets to an oasis of calm amid the chaos.
The Camping Bivouac La Palmeraie was sublime. We checked into a small but comfortable garden bothy with a bathroom (thank the lord) and were presented with mint tea in the garden. The exertions of the morning and the previous 48 hours finally took their toll and I slept.
Dinner that night was all I could have asked. Using produce from the garden, the chef made me rice and vegetables. It was simple yet delicious and I managed half before my troubled insides would take no more. The night took a familiar course, but at the least the fever had at last subsided.