3 Febuary to 15 March 2019
Kilometers Cycled in Morocco: 2741.8km with a lot of vertical elevation!
The account for Morocco is broken up into the major components of the trip. We have decided to go in block blog mode as opposed to the tried and tested but likely very disengaging day to day format seen in most of the 2018 years entries. Hopefully you the reader will enjoy this a lot more 🙂
Pikala Bicycles – Marrakesh
We decided to fly from Porto to Marrakesh on the same day Emm’s parents went back to Australia. This was a strategic decision in that the weather in this part of Europe is consistently raining and cold this time of year and with all our travels we try and avoid doubling back on our route which we would have to do if we road down into Morocco and back up. Plus the weather in Morocco this time of year is much more appealing than any European country (mid 20’s with no rain typically).
Now as a bit of background Morocco is an Arabic country and honestly we had a lot of apprehension travelling here as there has been a lot of media
hype lately mainly due to the tragic terrorist type killing of 2 European girls out camping. I’m not going to delve into that but suffice it to say as our first Arabic country and our family’s concerns we were on high alert arriving in Morocco.
In Marrakesh there is a warm shower Chantel who is the founder of the Pikala Bikes Project which is a Dutch funded project to get more people on bicycles in Marrakesh. Getting more people on bicyxless in Marrakesh makes sense as it is completely flat city and arguably the main tourist hub of Morocco. Amongst other things the project serves to educate keen young Moroccon people in the art of fixing bicycles, teaching English/First Aid etc. and also provides a cultural exchange for the students. We contacted her prior to arriving and volunteered to help out with the project for a week as we are both passionate cyclists and really value the idea of getting people on bicycles especially in cities (watch
out Sydney/Canberra your next!).
So after landing in Marrakesh and being royally ripped off with a cab fare into the city (did I mention Morocco is a barter country and the cab drivers at the airport know their game and position of power when it comes to 2 people with big bike boxes 😩) we made it to Pikala Bikes and met the team (Sam, Yasser and Chantel amongst others).
The time spent with the team during the next days was really great. In particular Sam and Yasser made us feel really welcome and we were glad
to volunteer our help with this awesome project. For me it was a real lesson in fixing things with scarce resources. During our time with the team we not only worked on bicycles but also helped out in the garden, got stuck into some welding work and even had a go at walking the Pikala dogs (not for the faint hearted 💩 💩 💩 😂.
Beau’s Welding Game is Strong at Pikala Bikes Project
Yasser is a local Moroccon and is one mean chef! Most days of we were treated to a home cooked meal which was a real treat for us as Moroccon cooking is honestly some of the tastiest food you can eat! If I had one meal for the rest of my life Yasser’s beef targine would be a strong contender!
Ohh and did I mention Moroccon tea!!! It probably has more sugar than coke but is super tasty and a real crowd pleaser.
It was all too soon that we were bidding the Pikala team a farewell. If you ever find yourself in Marrakesh we can highly recommend heading to
the shop and renting a bicycle and taking a guided tour of the city. In addition to having an awesome time you’ll be helping keep the Pikala bike project dream alive!
Taking advice from Sam and Yasser we decided to head towards the coast and ride from Essaouira to Sidi Ifni (a stretch of around 350km).
Our first night out from Marrakesh we ended up door knocking on a farmers property for our first camp in Morocco. Despite being not well off the farmers family persisted on giving us food and blankets (sure that our sleeping bags would not keep us warm overnight 😂). It was a really humbling experience and left us wondering why we were so apprehensive of visiting Morocco in the first place.
Arriving in Essaouira we were fortunate to stay with Redouan who is a good friend of Yasser’s. He took us around this very beautiful coastal city
and along with his best friend Soufiane.
Redouan treated us to a local delicacy of fried Sardines with locally produced olives and olive oil 😋. Soufiane had us around for breakfast with him and his family the next morning and helped us plan our route south.
On Soufiane’s advice we decided to make for Imsouane which proved to be a very picturesque point along the coast and probably most famous amongst the surfing community.
The next few days saw us ride through Agadir and then to Mirleft and also Sidi Ifni.
We were fortunate to be hosted by Abdelouahed through Warm Showers who lives not too far south of Agadir.
We were stoked to watch him and his team take the win in their A grade semi final soccer match and also open the game!
Mirleft – a sleepy beachside locationwas a true rest and relax pit stop courtesy of Jim (a English guy we literally ran into in Pikala bikes in Marrakesh who offered us a place
to stay in Mirleft). This hospitality was above and beyond as Jim was not even home at the time but had organised us access to his place. Jim all we can say is a big thankyou! You are welcome anytime!
Our stay in Mirleft formed the final pit stop along the coast before changing tact and heading inland into the anti Atlas Mountains.
Also Mirleft is where beans defined our life lol.
The Anti Atlas
After the coastal cruise and long parkup in Mirleft we felt as ready as ever to finally tackle some of the famed Bergs Morocco has on offer. With the new 46 giant cog on the rear cassette we were both confident the riding would be infinitely easier compared to when we were riding hills in Europe (note we had a 42 tooth rear cog previously).
Our route would take us through the Anti Atlas Mountains (ie the next mountain range just south of the high Atlas). Over the course of 4-5 days
we rode through some pretty sublime desert mountains and Tafroute and the camping further along from this town were the definite highlights for this part of the journey.
Of note we did have one run in with a policeman near Tafroute who wanted our passport details and wanted to know our itinerary but having heard
of similar stories from other bike tourers we told him no and just kept riding (ice cube song comes to mind here…😜). Probably not advisable with any authority figure but we weren’t confident he was even a policeman as his uniform was pretty shabby and he was not driving an offical car. Also we didn’t want anyone knowing where we would camped more from a safety point of view.
Descending out of the Atlas saw us transition into a landscape of shifting sands…The Sahara.
A Desert Detour
The descent into the desert side of the mountains was noticeable straight away. The air was unbelievably dry. My first night sleeping I woke several
times due to an extremely dry mouth. We both started looking more reptilian as the days past with scaly like skin prevailing. I have never ever felt that sort of dryness of lack of humidity (and this is winter time here!).
But what a landscape. It took us a few days to make it to Ouled Driss (near Mhamid) which is a remote town just on the border of the iconic Saharan
desert dunes near Algeria.Cycling through Old Mhamid VIDEO
We were lucky to stumble on this gem of a location through Warm Showers. Luc a Belgium man runs a Kasbah hotel (Carrefour des Nomades) here and as we were riding through Zagora (about 90km away) he offered to host us for a few days. Our time with Luc and his team is probably going to be the lasting memory for our time in Morocco. I hate to say it but Luc and the team really spoiled us. We had home cooked Moroccon meals for breaky, lunch and dinner and enjoyed a super relaxing stay in
Through Luc we also organised through a overnight camal tour into the Sahara with a true Nomad guide – Mohamid. This was really an unbelievable experience that we would recommend to anyone visiting this part of the world. Riding the camels was fun for a short period (think of a choppy boat ride but back side to side instead of back and forth).
However, the experience we will forever remember will be camping out in the desert amongst the sand dunes in a Nomad tent enjoying Moroccon tea, sand bread and a tagine as a true Nomad would.
It was with heavy feet we pointed out bike compasses North with our sights set to to the Mediterranean coastline (our exit point). The ride over
the next 5 days saw us head out of the Sahara and towards the high Atlas Mountains…
The High Atlas and ‘the easy pedal’ out
Our departs from the desert 🏜 saw us enter the high Atlas and climbs as high as 2700m over the pass into Agoudal. The climb itself was done over 2 days but both of us found it surprisingly easy. Maybe it was due to the good company we found on the way…
Again as soon as we crested the mountain and started descending on the other side the change in scenery was immediately evident. We had crossed from the dry harsh dessert to the green and comparatively lush ocean fronting side of the Atlas.
Over the course of the next week and a bit we made our way doggedly towards Cueta (interestingly a Spanish town in Morocco) where we had planned to take a short ferry ride to Algeciras (Spain). Along the way we stayed with Kader and his awesome family!!! and also made a pot stop in the iconic ‘blue city’ that is Chefchaouan.
The riding in this Northern region of Morocco was honestly not that fun as we were on single lane highways with no shoulder. Although the Moroccans
overall are pretty good with cyclists, when you travel higher traffic roads with no allowance for bikes or slower vehicles it can still be not so pleasant😓.
We did eventually make it to Martil where we stayed with Zouhair a cultural teacher who moonlights as a bicycle tourer.
It was at Zouhair’s place that we decided we had not had our full of Morocco and decided to change tac and ride the coast east towards Melilla (interestingly another Spanish city in Morocco) where we could get another ferry to Spain. We choose this route as it essentially parallel the
route along the Mediterranean we had planned to ride in Spain albeit across the ditch in Morocco. What we didn’t factor for (a bit naively to be honest 😑) was the ride profile.
What we thought would be a Mediterranean pootle after all the hard mountain riding turned into a ride filled with block headwinds and lots and lots of vert! On the second day touring we did over 2km of climbing in under 70km! That is epic on a touring bike. Needless to say the last few days in Morocco really smoked our legs but the scenery was banger, the weather a consistently sunny 25 and the road was lightly trafficked so I guess there is really no room for complaint here 🤔.
On our second last night in Morocco we stayed with Medmax (a neuroscientist genius) who showed us great hospitality.
Pedalling the final kms to Melilla was a bit surreal and served to remind me why I’m so lucky to be an Australian. As we approached the land border
crossing we saw 2 African men unsuccessfully try and jump on the back of a semi truck heading to the border crossing. It was obvious they were not doing it for fun but were trying to make it past the border to seek asylum in the EU. As we crossed the heavily secured border we noticed immediately the difference in affluence of the Spanish town compared to the surrounding Moroccon land. It is not hard to understand why Africans seek asylum in the EU when all their experience leads them to believe they will have
a fairytale life if only they can make it to Europe. Throughout our time in Morocco we have had the opportunity to speak with many young people and the sentiment was always the same, ‘there is no opportunity in Morocco and work is hard to come by’. Coming
from Europe the general sentiment I would argue is too limit/minimise/eliminate refugee intake due to problems faced with the recent high influx of refugees (think crime, welfare, assimilation etc). It’s a difficult issue to address and I don’t want to clog a whole blog post on this but rather note it down as it an issue we seem to come across time and again throughout our travels. Personally, I would say ‘there is no place like home’ but I guess from my point of view (Australian with little restriction to travel relatively easily all over the world – ie less VISA conditions etc) that’s an easy statement.
Anyways I’ve diverged here a bit. Let me sum it up. Morocco was the most diverse country in all senses (scenery, food, people, riding conditions)
that we have experienced to date. It is hands down been our favourite country to ride through in this trip and we would both highly endorse a trip here. Although I would only say come here in Winter as summer would be brutally hot!! En adelante a España.