Chilly morning in Tilmi – and it’s going to get a lot chillier.
I set off up the track and soon find it’s in unusually good shape and actually with a very gearing-friendly gradient. Good road building! Down in the valley, the very last village on the south side.
I stop on the Tizi Ouano pass, just short of 3000m or 10,000’. Nearly over now and, with the worst exposure behind me and all excess weight ditched, the WR burns down the track. I cover the 40kms in a little over an hour then brace myself for Agoudal village.
That’s the sign you need to watch out for if coming from the north and wanting the dirt crossing to Dades. If you stop they’re on to you.
As it is right now, you could easily do this pass on a GS12 with topbox and Tourances. Or if you don’t fancy it, stay on the asphalt and make your way down to Schmodra Gorge and Tinerhir, via Ait Hani.
Better still, at Ait Hani (before Todra) turn NE up the valley for Assoul, Ait Jacoub (nice auberge there), mysterious Amellago, and down through the amazing Rheris gorge to Goulmima.
All off-axis, great riding and not a single, rainbow cheche vendor will you see.
Clear of Agoudal, for me my friend the piste is over, so I pull over on a culvert to brush the chain with lube. Mario from Slovakia on a 700 TA pulls over and we have a good chat. He is finding some indolent, scrounging Moroccans hard work. I say get off this axis. He says I want to do MS6 Merzouga to Zagora. I say with that load, and those tyres you may find it hard work.
I decide to follow MH1 right through to Tounfite, but dodge the over-rated Cirque de Jaffar finale and stick to the tarmac.
I’ve done my share and there are scores of ‘Jaffars’ all over Morocco (not least, Sarhro West).
Soon I’m climbing on a frost-damaged, storm-ravaged road with more carts and mules than cars.
I get to Agoudim village and turn right, head over a rather radical ditch which no village Merc van could manage, and soon the road starts to disappear.
Within a km I’m riding along a bike-wide path above the river bed. This was one of the easier sections.
This does not feel right. And that is because (all together now):
“It’s Never Over Till It’s Over!!”
There is no trace of asphalt now, just a massive landslide where the road – only a few years old – once was. I park up and walk on, wading through streams. There are knobbly tracks, but really this all looks a bit hardcore. How long will it go on for? Why was there no sign: ‘Road closed after Agoudim’?
Oh well, all good research for the book I suppose, so I schlep the 80 clicks back to Imilchil – a village I’d not usually spend my money on.
At the servo I ask the wrong question: ‘When was the road cut to Tounfite?’
‘Yes there is asphalt all the way to Tounfite’ three blokes tell me. Whatever, then.
It’s late, I’m cold and hungry and I’m about to set off north – a long way to anywhere with a hotel. Then, at the edge of town a nice-looking kasbah.
Same bloke from the garage: ‘100 ds chum, and another 100 for nosebag’. Not bad at all for what it is.
It was a good call. All that night a freezing wind howled from the north, rattling the panes. I slept in all my clothes and sleeping bag. Six am next morning (above): the snow may not be deep but the wind chill is arctic. A good day not to be riding. So I stay over and spend the hours uploading one of these posts.
At breakfast next morning, two German backpackers are wrapped up in all they have.
Nice bloke at this place – good tucker again last night and a full Moroccan on a platter.
Last night I looked at the big picture on Base Camp and saw a new road goes round the washed-out gorge. I managed to get on the HUBB Morocco forum. Confirmation: old route totalled, new route carved over the hills. Servo blokes were right: there is tar to Tounfite after all.
So back I go, over the unnamed 2650-m pass.
Down the other side.
Past some old seabed at 7000’.
And right here. This is your turn for Tounfite, though you’d never know, so I made a big sign.
Just up the road I meet Mario again, kindly helping a local biker with a jammed gearbox on a moped not worth 20 quid. Mario’s lost his mojo. He made the same mistake I did, but got stuck early where some kids helped him pick up and turn his bike round. He spent the night in an Agoudim auberge, but got the shits eating local, his ignition key chip played up so he had to climb the hillside to call home for advice (‘try the spare key’).
But he still wants to do the Cirque. I tell him I’ve not done it for years and it’s become a pretty gnarly 4×4 route and has been closed lately. If you fall over on that thing, you better hope there’s someone around to help or it doesn’t land on you as you slide down the hill. He seems despondent. In Imilchil yesterday some kids threw a football at him and just missed him.
I know that feeling – bad aura – call it what you like, but it can ruin many first trips in Mk. I give advice on how to dodge it in the book (eg: avoid cities until you’ve got the swing of things) but no one really takes it in. We all learn best from our own experiences – which may later happen to concur with received opinion. But you need to find out for yourself.
Make no mistake: the hassle in mainstream tourist Morocco is truly world class, but is a lot less bad than it used to be.
Next door in Algeria – nada. Tunisia, lame! Libya, Niger (pre-2011) – nothing. Mauritania, small time.
We ride together for a bit then split at a roundabout with a wave. I come round a bend and suddenly the Atlas goes flat.
Next stop: Middle Atlas.
Unfortunately the elevation does not abate and I’m getting chilled to the bone. Again. That is biking; you just endure (or you foresee the need for appropriate clothing).
I need a hot feed and stop in Timahdite to the aroma of grilling brochettes, but before the stand is down a grinning bloke walks up to me with outstretched hand, ‘Hellomyfriend. Whereareyoufrom?’
F-the-f-off, pal, I’m not in the mood. I take off.
I ride on to Azrou, bound to be worse there. Pull in at a Ziz with a resto, but can tell from the bloke’s face that he is normal. A sizzling chicken taj with a vachette wedge on top for long life and many sons.
With a coffee, 3 quid. Keep the change, amilago.
Fes is near but I don’t fancy doing battle there. Maybe somewhere on the outskirts? I pass a huge, flash Relais for Fes yuppies. Sod it, I’ve earned it. My rationale for roughing it (not that there’s always a choice) is that you can justify the odd splurge later. Friendly folk, 300ds room-only, wifi’s out and telly controls indecipherable, but I cook up some room self-service. Fyi flavoured cous-cous is great travel food: just 200ml of boiling water then 3 mins stewing. Add some laughing vachish and a tuna and you’re as good as fed.
It’s over it’s over (except when it’s not, obviously) so even though the clocks have gone forward, I try to make the 5 o’clock boat out of TanMed. Should be doable if I press on. It’s springtime in the Rif, the warm air is like a light Nivea spray and I’m finally out of the chilly mountains. My hands remained numb for days.
It’s not an easy ride from Fes via Ouazzane to TanMed: hundreds of bends, more traffic, more roadside hazards and more aggressive driving compared to the laid back south. But the WR is humming away. I wouldn’t want anything faster – better brakes and road tyres maybe.
I get to TanMed at 4 but there’s no 5 o’clock. Next boat is 8pm, there’s no wifi, a squall blows the bike over and settles into rain. The 8pm departure drags on to 9.30.
But I am nearly Out Of Dodge! No matter how much you may have enjoyed your travels, it sure is good to leave the AMZ and especially North Africa. The stresses, frustrations and fatigue suppressed for nearly 4 weeks begin to bubble to the surface. That, in a nutshell, is why they call it ‘adventure motorcycling’ and not a touring holiday with full AA back up.
Leaving a port around midnight with the rain streaming down a bug-splattered visor and not knowing quite where you’re going is a recipe for riding into a ditch, as I learned hard on my very first night in North Africa back in 1982. But better this way coming back to familiar Costa del Sol than heading out into northern Morocco. Thanks heavens for my Montana. After a few false starts, I rock up at a hotel, not an expansive golf resort with ornamental marble ponies.
It’s late but the watchman is up and there is room at the inn.
Next morning the WR is can’t be stopped: was it breakfast? is it the softer, more humid air, no wind. Repsol 95 octane?
More like: the end is in sight.
I drop the WR off at Fly and Ride’s Malaga warehouse…
… then ditch the Bell in a bin and walk through the light-industrial roadside trash to the airport.