Cycle touring Morocco days 8 and 9 – Next stop: the Sahara (kind of) to Take Your Time

I was reluctant to leave the Palmeraie given another difficult night but I really wanted to get back o the road and salvage something from the final few days on the bike.

We decided to follow the main N9 route south, slowly. This was by no means an original or adventurous route but I still felt very weak, despite shaking off the fever. Pushing off and through the streets of Quazazate, my legs had no power. Tom seemed refreshed after a couple of days rest and powered ahead, pushing a big gear.

Heading south from Quazazate on the  N9
Heading south from Quazazate on the N9

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Cycle touring Morocco days six and seven – let the bad times roll

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.

SSkoura Morocco
Bike fettling at Skoura

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.

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Cycle touring Morocco days four and five – Let’s get haute

Pedalling towards the foot of the Col du Tichka through the high Atlas was heaven after our night on the roof. The air was fresh and we travelled slowly, a fair distance apart, enjoying some personal time with the mountains.

We gazed down upon houses near Taddert sitting in a tightly hewn valley where the adobe-walled homes made economical use of dusty terraces. On the road, restaurant owners beckoned us to stop but we were full from our excellent entrée to the day.

We reached what looked to be the foot of the climb, ate oranges and discussed the toil ahead. The road snaked across a mountain wall ahead of us and much was hard to trace although occasionally the sun caught a car windscreen and the glint betrayed the precipitous lie of our route.

The start of the climb proper
The start of the climb proper

I felt animated by the climb… a childlike excitement felt on Christmas morning. Sure, I have plenty of climbs in the Pennines back home, but nothing compared to this: 20km of delightful suffering amid towering peaks to a summit pass of some 2,200 metres.

Stocking up with water again, we hit the hairpins and settled into our respective rhythms – my cadence fast as always, spinning my way slowly to the heavens. Drivers on the twisting mountain route were considerate in the main, and many were encouraging. Horns were honked, and clapping was accompanied by cries of ‘Allez Allez Allez!’

Lining the route were lookouts and the lookouts were lined with hawkers. I stopped to take in the scene… the road was a sinuous ribbon of tarmac clinging to the dusty slopes way below me. I just had time to take a photograph of sorts before the hard sell started. I was in no mood for haggling and pressed on to a thankfully deserted lay-by where I waited for Tom and searched for anything sugary in my panniers.  Continue reading

Cycle touring Morocco day three – Up on the roof

It must have been 2am when DJ FX and MC Yabba called it a night. I did manage to sleep during their extended mega-mix, but it was slumber filled with beats (international).

We both awoke with what campers will understand as ‘tent face’… hefty baggage under the eyes and frowns. Coffee needed, and lots of it please.

Our leisurely breakfast by the pool set a tone for the trip. There was an intention of sorts to start early and enjoy the best part of the day for riding, but our resolve weakened in the face of café au lait, juice, pancakes, pastries, bread and jam.

Eventually, the bikes were packed and we pushed off slowly into the foothills of the Atlas. It was already warm and I drank little-and-often from the bidon perched helpfully on my handlebars thanks to a £3 bracket I’d bought on a whim before departure.

The N9 followed lush farmland for much of the day
The N9 followed lush farmland for much of the day

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Cycle touring Morocco days one and two – surviving Marrakech before the ‘Yabba Yabba Yabba!’

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.

Tom gets the bike together
Tom gets the bike together

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Maroc and roll

So, back from Morocco… This journey can be summarised thus:

I didn’t camp… at all

I got sick – very sick, actually – and passed out. This curtailed my plans quite severely

Crawled over a mountain pass when I should have been in bed

I didn’t get off the beaten track as much as I’d wanted

I took buses

Drank eight litres of water a day… or should have done

I ate too much tagine and became sick of it


I enjoyed some of the most amazing riding I have ever experienced

Met some warm, courteous and helpful people

Shook people’s hands and touched my heart

Drank date ‘whisky’ (read: moonshine)

Played some drums and jammed

Slept on a roof

Raced local kids

Rolled out my best Huddersfield accent in a moment’s weakness

Laughed… a lot

Watched Premiership football in a local shop

Drank some excellent Moroccan red wine in a rooftop bar

Had the best company.

… stories and photos to come.

Surly Troll in Morocco

Ready, set… Morocco

The weekend saw me clocking up some miles on the Troll ahead of flying to Morocco tomorrow.

The bike is in fine fettle. Now sporting some bigger boots in the shape of some increasingly rare folding Schwalbe Marathon Extremes 2.25″, the ride has softened appreciably which will help if we do venture off road. The mudguards have been removed for this trip, primarily to easing packing in my Evoc bike bag. However, in contrast to UK riding, I don’t think this act will have any negative effect on the weather. I expect it to be dry and, at times, pretty durn hot.

Surly Troll 'stripped down' for Morocco
Surly Troll ‘stripped down’ for Morocco

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Cycle touring Morocco… the plan

Within hours of touching down on UK soil after my two weeks pedalling around Iceland last year, I started thinking about this year’s tour.

I needed somewhere that would challenge me physically, was beautiful, and take me out of my comfort zone. I also wanted to go somewhere where there’d be a chance of some sunshine, softy that I am.

After poring over travel guides, web forums and countless photos, I’ve settled on Morocco – specifically a tour from Marrakesh to the desert… and back again.

I hope the trip will include at least one, if not two, major passes or cols through the Atlas Mountains. Assuming I can carry enough water, I also hope to point the bike off road and tackle a couple of pistes or tracks. Decisions, decisions.

I’ve already booked a beautiful riad in Marrakesh for our first and last couple of nights, leaving bike bags and other surplus stuff at our digs.

The use of the plural rather than the singular in that last sentence betrays the fact that I’ll have a partner in crime on this trip. This is a bit of a departure from the norm but I’m delighted to have some company. My fellow velo is quite a bit younger than me, too,  so will probably leave me for dead.

More details to come…