We transferred by mini-bus from Oulet Berhill through the flat and rather featureless valley that stands between the Atlas Mountains and the Anti Atlas range, for two hours, to the foothills of the Anti Atlas range, to begin a 100km ride across the mountains to Tafraoute. We didn’t begin riding until 1130 AM and it seemed a big push to complete 100 km over some serious mountains before sunset. It was ! I only finally arrived at dusk, which comes quickly here, and another 30 minutes or so and I would have been navigating the town of Tafraoute in the dark. It was seriously hard riding today, with long climbs, and then downhills, but only then to have to climb up again. The final down from the top of the range to Tafroute was a 14 km vertiginous switchback road that required no pedalling. Just shows you how high up we had climbed, up to 1700 meters / 5000 feet, to come down to 600 meters / 1800 feet in that 14 km. All in a day’s riding.
The Anti Atlas Mountains are south of the Atlas Mountains, and beyond them starts the Sahara Desert. There is a wide, flat and pretty uninteresting valley between the two, very agricultural, growing the usual oranges, lemons, olives which seem to be the staple here in Morocco. The Anti Atlas appear to be less populated than the Atlas Mountains, where there were many valleys which are cultivated, with villages hanging on to the cliff edges above the river valley. The Anti Atlas are much drier, without the benefit of water filled valleys, and so appear to be much les agricultural and less populated. The landscape looks something like you would find in Arizona, New Mexico and other mountain / desert areas of the US.
This area is Berber territory, the original indigenous people of these parts of North Africa, and still very much an item of the place. Berbers seem to have been conquered by the Romans, the Muslims, and then the French, but still seem to have preserved their own culture and language. Most signs here are in Arabic, Berber, and French. The Berber script looks very similar to the Greek alphabet. People speak Berber, our tour guide Abdel says his first language is Berber as he comes from the south of Morocco.
I saw a second solo bike tourer today, although he wasn’t very communicative (French, I think !), to add to the chatty Basque chap I saw the other day. My judgment so far is that Morocco is a pretty benign sort of place for that kind of visitor, with a culture of hospitality and welcome, and a simple, rural, rustic infrastructure that would meet most needs for food, accommodation etc. The busy roads I would not want to cycle on,especially around the cities, but the roads in the countryside and mountains are perfectly safe and acceptable. The sort of roads we have been cycling on over the last few days. So, I could be back, solo and independent. An organised tour such as the one I am on is fine, but I’ve only done it to gain intelligence and situational awareness of Morocco. It is not my usual kind of preference for cycling. The people are very nice, and it is good to have lots of the practicalities looked after for you. I still prefer to do it for myself and not have to keep to other people’s timetables and agendas. Organised touring is very organised. I think I’m past being organised by other people. I like to organise myself. Still, needs must, and I’m glad I’ve been wise enough to check the place out in the organised tour way.
Tomorrow, Thursday, is a rest day, which will be welcome after the mountain cycling of the last few days. Visiting the souk, looking at carpets, tending to bicycles, and a gentle day of peace and quiet. I hope.
DAY 5 - Tafraoute Rest Day
DAY 6 - Tafraoute -Agadir
DAY 7 - Agadir - Immouzer
Day 8 - Immouzer - Marrakesh
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