Morroco Atlas Mountains
February 2024

 Marrakesh - Ait Ben Haddou
4 February 2024


The night’s sleep was dire.  As I’ve explained.  I couldn’t sleep so I was up at 4:30 AM putting my bike together in readiness for an 8:00 AM start.   We and our bikes were driven out of Marrakesh for a couple of hours in to the Atlas Mountains.  Cycling through Marrakesh, it was explained, and I concur, would be suicidal.  So, it made sense to avoid the mayhem of the city and start further out.  The Atlas Mountains, and their Anti Atlas, are a major feature of Morocco, between the north coast and the deserts to the south.

The first day’s ride saw us starting at 7,000 feet, and I was immediately struck by how difficult it was to ride, especially up the mountains !  Sparse oxygen.  It was up and down and up and down, with a general trend up, so that by the evening we were in some small rural town /  in the mountains by name of Ait Ben Haddou, whose kasbah or fortified town is a UNESCO heritage site.  To stay in a hotel which was made of mud and straw.  The hotel was rustic and quirky, and I would have slept well except for the barking dogs and the Muezzin singing the call to prayer early in the morning. Food was a lovely chicken tagine, with only a small bit of chicken but oodles of lovely vegetable.  And beer and wine which the tour guides keep a stock of and we can use during our stays in otherwise alcohol free hotels. Ait Ben Haddou is apparently a place popular with movie makers, and films such as Gladiator and various dystopian films have, in part at least, been made here.

First impressions of the mountainous countryside of the Atlas Mountains is that it is very rural and traditional.  Each small village has its own mosque, which is by far the best kept building in the village.  Houses are all higgledy piggledy, hanging off the mountainside, made from rocks and mud blocks, with only a few built with concrete bricks.  Each village has a multitude of small shops and stalls all selling the same thing.  Donkeys pull carts, mangy dogs sleep by the side of the road, women are all traditionally dressed, men seem to just hang about smoking.  I’m sure some of them work.  The village will be near one of the gorges or valleys where there is water, and fields are down by the river, and on irrigated terraces wherever there is space.  Olives, oranges, almonds and barley seem to be the main crops, and higher up crocuses for saffron.  It’s all a bit unkempt and chaotic, but it evidently works for them.  There is some evidence of the earthquake a few years ago, with many blue tents in evidence where people slept until they had confidence to return to their houses.  Some buildings look as though they were badly damaged, but maybe some of them are just abandoned houses left to rot.  Buildings and their siting all seem a bit precarious to me.  It’s definitely a rural, agricultural, traditional way of life high up in the Atlas Mountains

There are lots, and lots, of young children.  All smiling and shouting, happy to see us pass by, trying out a bit of French that they know, and playing in ways which kids of yesteryear played - rolling a tyre down the hill, riding in a homemade chariot, riding their little BMX bikes that have seen better days.  No iPhones or iPads here.  Even though there is generally good phone and data signal from the many transmission towers that the government have invested in and which sit atop mountain peaks.  I’ve got a local Moroccan SIM card, and it works very well, and even in very remote places there is a decent signal for phone and internet.

Back to children.  On a little walk in the town I got in to conversation with a chap who wanted to practice his English, so we spoke for ten minutes of so.  I think he was a tour guide for another company.  I commented that there was a proliferation of young children about the place, and he told me that in the rural villages Moroccon men can have up to four wives, and many have at least two.  They work in the cities for most of the year, leaving wives and family at home in the villages to tend the land. They come home for two weeks each year, and make babies with their wives and then head off again until next year.  Ready for another baby.  And, contraceptive family planning is not allowed.  So,there are  big families with several wives, and lots of young children about the place.  Our tour guide doesn’t buy this explanation, and maybe he is right.  All the same, there are huge numbers of little ones around.  (For pictures, see further below.)


DAY 1 - London - Marrakesh

DAY 2  - Marrakesh - Ait Ben Haddou

DAY 3  - Ait Ben Haddou - Amsouzart Valley

DAY 4 - Amzouzart Valley - Oulet Berhil

 DAY 5 - Oulet Berhill - Tafraoute

DAY 5 - Tafraoute Rest Day

DAY 6 - Tafraoute -Agadir

DAY 7 - Agadir - Immouzer

Day 8 - Immouzer - Marrakesh

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