Days 4-5 Headwinds and a route through the palm oasis - All Around The Atlas - Morocco 2019 - CycleBlaze

December 15, 2019 to December 16, 2019

Days 4-5 Headwinds and a route through the palm oasis

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Day 3 - Midelt to hotel in Ziz Gorge - 62 miles

Another pretty dodgy night sleep, this time to due to a combination of the call to prayer, and annoying dogs barking for hours. I had heard the call to prayer before when I've cycled through the various small villages, but I was camping just around the corner from a mosque, and they all seem to have loudspeakers mounted on the minaret to blast out the <i>Adhan</i>. This keeps puzzling me- the streets can be packed when the call sounds, but no one seems to react and instead just carries on with their daily lives. I've always assumed the prayer to be obligatory, but evidently this isn't the case.

On my way out of Midelt, I met a few characters, the first being an odd looking elderly man who raised his hands and shouted some gibberish before lunging at the bike. He missed horrendously and I reckon he was probably drunk or disabled. The second guy was older too, but he spoke decent english which surprised me. He was curious about my journey and we had a brief chat about the hills to come. As I was ready to hit the road again, he brandished a few small fossils from his pocket to try and sell me, but I just politely declined and he apologised for wasting my time. That wasn't how I thought it would go, I was expecting to be subject to an insistent sales pitch!

The road climbed steeply after Midelt just like the guy had promised, and vegetation briefly appeared again. This time it was juniper trees and clusters of olive vineyards, giving a very Mediterranean feel. Looking back over Midelt was stunning with the whole plateau stretching out far onto the horizon. My body had already got used to being on a bike after the first day's struggles, and the unmarked Tizi n'Talghaumt pass didn't provide much hassle. That was the first of a series of High Atlas foothills to be crossed, each with another spectacular plateau inbetween. Seconds after cresting the summit, I was exposed to the headwind and wasn't able to enjoy the long straight downhill because I was having pedal hard in order to keep speed up. 12mph was my average for this downhill, even though it should have been 20mph+ for miles. 

Climbing into the High Atlas foothills, looking back over Midelt plain
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Villages on this side of the mountain seemed even more ragtag than before and some of the houses people were living in were just crazy. Literally huts made from piles of rocks and dried mud with sacks tied together as makeshift roofs or curtains, yet many seemed to have satellite dishes. It was a really intriguing sight, and made me feel way further from home than just a 3 hour flight. There were children playing around in the streets here and once one of them spotted me approaching, the word quickly got around and soon there were loads of them lined up on the roadside chatting away excitedly. A few asked for bonbons or stylo (sweets and pens) which was an unfortunate side-effect of some tourists handing out presents from campervans, but most stuck out their hand for a high-five. It was good fun to cycle one handed trying to high-five as many of the children as possible! 

Strange looking buildings in this desolate landscape. Abandoned places always fascinate me.
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The wind picked up another notch, and I was reduced to an even slower pace temporarily until reaching the shelter of the first Ziz valley gorge. The rock formations are just incredible here, it's a geologist's dream. The entire south of Morocco is filled with gorges, towering mesas, huge rock folds, mineral fields, fossil deposits etc. Here the road clung precipitously to the walls of the gorge and passed through one of the very few tunnels in Morocco. A campsite overlooking the river was a good place to stop for the night and I found the owner to enquire how much the stay in a tent would be. It was around the same price as before but he also offered me a room inside the small hotel as the wind was meant to be quite strong tonight. I decided to have my first ever attempt at haggling and managed to get the price down to the equivalent of £15 which seemed great value considering it included dinner and breakfast the next day. A quick check on TripAdvisor afterwards showed a much higher price so I happy with the reuslt.

The road funneled into a beautiful gorge, a nice respite from the wind.
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A local man fishing in the Ziz river below.
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I hadn't been expecting much, but the staff brought out some huge plates of chips, bread and salad. This was quite filling in its own right, but then came a dish of egg and meatball kefta mkaouara, followed by yoghurt, tea, and a selection of fruit. This was amazing considering it was just a meal included with the price of the room, and I bagged up the leftover fruit and bread as snacks for the days to come. There was even decent WiFi in the reception so I caught half of a Premier League match on my phone before bed.

Already a huge meal, and this was before the yoghurt, fruit, and tea came out!
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Day 4 - Ziz Gorge to Erfoud - 67 miles

Finally a good night sleep. Despite the fact most Moroccan accommodation doesn't have heating for each room, there was a huge pile of blankets on the bed so I had a very cosy night. The breakfast included was just as generous as dinner, so I decided to tip them some extra when I came to pay. It was 20 miles to the city of Errachidia and I had contemplated trying to cycle there in the 1.5 hours before sunset yesterday, but it's a good job I didn't as the journey today took well over 2 hours. There was a steep climb out from the gorge and something caught my eye on the side of the road. A perfect length of bamboo, lightweight and strong, which would now be my anti-dog stick if they decided to chase me again. It doubled up as a bike stand on some days! I also have no idea how my tyres aren't puncturing. The Schwalbe Marathons are awesome, but I've cycled through so much glass- I'm amazed any tyre could survive that without a puncture. Seriously, the side of the road has so many tiny fragments of broken glass, especially at stopping places like scenic viewpoints. This climb also marked the closest I've come to crashing when a moron truck driver overtook a jeep heading towards me, and the wing mirror whistled past inches from my helmet causing me to veer sharply into the gutter. 

The gorge around the hotel was very photogenic.
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Long abandoned houses overlooking the road. It's crazy that people used to live in those ramshackle stone huts up there.
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At the top, there were views of the Barrage Al-Hassan Addakhil reservoir and the canyon flowing into it. Here it was a nice smooth downhill straight into the city. Errachidia was good fun to cycle through, and I've decided that I really enjoy the routes through Moroccan urban areas because there is so much to see with all the cultural differences. A couple of campervans passed me in the centre and I spotted the first vehicle with a 'GB' registration plate. Mostly it's French, Spanish, Italian, German and Portuguese travellers, so it was nice to see a fellow British one. 

Every village, no matter how small, seems to have a football pitch. This one was in the middle of nowhere with no civilisation around.
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I was on the route to the sandy desert at Merzouga, and straight out of Errachidia the scenery changed once again to a flat lifeless landscape as far as the eye could see. It brought on a real sense of adventure to be pedalling a bicycle through this incredibly vast scenery. Around midday the headwind picked up again and was even stronger than before. Normally my bike gearing suits me just fine, but I struggled to find a comfortable gear today. Trying to pedal into the wind on the biggest chainring was exhausting, but dropping down onto my small ring, and my legs were spinning round where it felt like I wasn't going anywhere. I tucked into my drop bars to push through the barren terrain for an hour, when the road suddenly descended a hundred metres straight into canyon which I hadn't been expecting at all. The view at the first switchback took my breath away- a dense forest of palm trees were lining the canyon floor, flanked by a series of villages that blended perfectly into the rock. It was a such a stunning vista that I pulled over to experiment with the tripod again. There was nowhere to stand my small folding tripod apart from straight on the floor, but then the camera was looking upwards and couldn't capture the palm oases (that's the weird looking plural of oasis). Later, I realised that I'd accidentally applied some weird blue filter to the photo too, and so marked another unsuccessfully foray into 'self shots'. 

The surreal scenes of Ziz oasis. Spot my 'anti-dog stick' stashed on the back rack!
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Tried to get a photo of me and the bike, but there was nowhere higher up for my tripod to stand, and I managed to add some weird blue tint by accident.
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I'm not sure what the yellow trees are, but they provided a great contrast to the green sea of palm leaves.
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15 or so miles of beautiful sheltered canyon was all I got before the road rose back up once again to the open plain. The wind was howling straight towards me just as strong as before and this was the final nail in the coffin of my chances to make it to the outskirts of Merzouga. The long road into the desert was at a slight downhill the whole way, and I had hoped for some big mileage days averaging 14mph+ but this wasn't going to happen when I'm scraping half that speed. Wind like this is one thing that completely destroyed my motivation in Australia, yet I somehow remained really upbeat through the whole grind today.

Barren sandy terrain on the way to Merzouga. Not pictured: the horrible headwind.
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I picked a campsite just outside Erfoud and negotiated the price down from 75 MAD to 60 MAD in french. It wasn't much, but it felt like a cool personal achievement to have got my point across in another language, however laughably basic my french sentences may have been! The main owner returned later in the evening to fill in the weird tourist passport forms and it turns out he could speak 6/7 languages which is crazy- I'm very jealous. He asked me if I was going on a desert safari and I replied "yes" without thinking. Before I realised my mistake, he had poured us both cups of mint tea and I was on the end of a sales pitch for one of his desert tours. It finally dawned on me that the desert safari question meant an actual paid-for desert safari and not just "are you going on an adventure into the desert?". I let him continue for a few minutes, which was another rookie mistake, and I started to feel a bit awkward having to decline his offers after I had basically just told him I was in fact interested in a desert tour. To make it worse, he had dropped his price down to well under what I know is the going rate for these tours, so no wonder he couldn't understand why I was declining. There was still a slight communication barrier and I struggled to explain that I just intended to go into the desert and camp on my own, which I presume isn't something that people comprehend doing around here. A pair of Italian motorbikers arrived in the campsite reception and this was the perfect opportunity to draw the 'negotiations' to a close and head to bed.

My spot in the campsite for the night. This solid rocky ground is a lot more suited for campervans than tents.
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Today's ride: 129 miles (208 km)
Total: 256 miles (412 km)

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