Days 8-9 Todra Gorge and the highest village in Morocco - All Around The Atlas - Morocco 2019 - CycleBlaze

December 19, 2019 to December 20, 2019

Days 8-9 Todra Gorge and the highest village in Morocco

Fezna to Agoudal

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Day 7 - Fezna to Tinghir - 70 miles

Another poor night sleep, this time the cold was accompanied by wild dogs that would bark at each other near my tent for hours on end. As I was getting ready to leave, my campsite host asked me to write a TripAdvisor review and it took a while before I realised what he meant. Instead of a review for the underground canals, he wanted a fake review written for a completely unrelated desert tour company that presumably a family member owns. I was still tired and didn't want to deal with any awkward moments so just handed him my phone to write out a review while I finished packing up. A few miles down the road and I had a look what he'd come up with- it was some nonsense about how I've been in Morocco for a month with my wife (I'm fairly sure I don't have a wife) and this tour company was the best I've ever seen yadda yadda yadda. I didn't hesitate in deleting the fraudulent review!

There wasn't much wind but I was still finding the initial cycling quite hard, barely being able to break 10mph on the flat. Tinghir was my goal for today, 70 miles away, so I prepared myself for a long 7/8 hour slog. Shortly into the ride I decided to stop for food because I hadn't really eaten properly in a while, and found a touristy-looking cafe in the middle of nowhere. The meal was a bit pricey, but the brochette kebab skewers were delicious and it was just what I needed. Back on the road, my energy had recovered and the cycling became so much easier.

Choosing a more upmarket meal than my usual bread and snacks.
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The long stretch to Tinejdad was really uneventuful and there wasn't much civilisation at all around these parts. That all changed when I joined back onto the road from Errachidia and suddenly towns and traffic sprung up all over the place. Just like Jorf yesterday, the road through the centre of Tinejdad was a muddy mess and health & safety seemed non-existent. Cars and pedestrians were passing right under construction vehicles, and I saw one car get showered with dirt and gravel as the JCB completely missed a truck trailer and emptied the load onto the car instead. That was very disconcerting because I was only 3 vehicles behind and it could well have been me.  

Such beautiful scenery. Morocco was really surpassing expectations on how picturesque the landscape would be!
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Disappointingly, my legs were starting to ache as I neared Tinghir but still made the last 5 miles in good time. There was a large walled park in the town centre on my map which I was planning to rest up at, but the gates were firmly locked up when I got there. Instead the plan was to find a cheap restaurant with WiFi, but I got called over by a Berber man who spoke the best English I've heard so far. After my experiences with Merzouga, I was expecting him to try and sell me something, but he just wanted my advice on bicycles. Unfortunately he was after an electric bike which I have absolutely zero knowledge of, so wasn't a great help. I asked him which of the town's many restaurants were the cheapest and he got me to follow him to a unmarked hole-in-the-wall down a side street. The guys running the place cooked me up some delicious shawarma but I made my first rookie error and forgot to enquire about the price before ordering. After eating, they tried to charge me 90 MAD which works out at £7.20 and is over 3x what I expected to pay. It was a crap situation because I was annoyed they were overcharging me but I didn't speak enough French to argue, so just resigned to paying the full amount while shaking my head and trying to the point across that I was angry through body language. This was the only time someone tried to rip me off in Morocco and although it wasn't for much, it still left a sour taste.

Wheeling the bike down the winding alleys of the Jewish quarter.
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The Berber guy from earlier had also recommended a cheap hostel which thankfully turned out to be a lot better than his cafe choice! It was tricky to find though, hidden away down a tiny narrow street in the town's Jewish quarter, with barely any markings to show that it was a hostel at all. Once inside, I asked the young lad how much it was and a private room turned out to be really cheap so I took that option instead of a dorm. The place seemed really friendly and I heard people from lots of different nationalities coming and going.   

Cheap room to myself in the hostel
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Colourful courtyard of Retour Au Calme hostel. Managed to handwash some clothes and hang them on the line, but they didn't dry at all in the cold night.
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Day 8 - Tighir to Agoudal - 55 miles

The hostel offered an inexpensive 'unlimited' breakfast so I took advantage of this and ate as much bread, pastries and fruit and I could stomach. It was going to be a whole day of uphill and I needed the energy! On the first short steep climb out of Tinghir, I stopped to take some photos and was approached by a couple of scarf sellers around my age who were curious about my cycle trip. They also offered to take a picture of me and the bike and I initially declined, expecting they wanted money, but turns out they were just being friendly and took it for free.

Friendly scarf sellers that wanted a photo.
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A rare photo of me with the bike. I really should use my tripod to get some more self shots.
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Todra (or Todgha) Gorge is most well-known for a really narrow section in the canyon, and this is what I'd be heading through first. Approaching the gorge was a breathtaking sight, a huge wall of rock rising either side of the road, up to 160m high. The walls began to close in, and the narrowest section squeezed down to only 10m across, the road barely wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass each other. It was perfect for photography and I got off the bike to take a ton of photos, spending ages chatting to a friendly German couple nearby. There were a lot of tourists around, the most I'd seen all trip, but weirdly it seems like no one bothers to head further up the gorge after the narrow section, missing out on some amazing scenery.

A dizzying wall of rock rising out of the valley floor.
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You can just about see somebody rock climbing in the centre of the photo.
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Into the narrowest part of the gorge. I was lucky the river had dried up, the road is quite often impassible when it floods after heavy rain.
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Towards the end of the gorge where the traffic disappeared almost completely.
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Climbing up through the gorge, I reached a section where a steep road had been built around a newly-constructed dam, and I couldn't believe it when I saw 2 familiar shapes in the distance. Cycle tourers! This couple were from Switzerland and we had a long chat on the side of the road on the usual routes/cycling/weather topics. Meeting other cyclists on the road always puts me in a good mood and this was certainly no exception; the distance into 
Aït Hani flew by after this. 

With only 10 miles until the top of Tizi n'Tirherhouzine pass, the road really steepened and it was pushing 10% with a headwind. I never usually have to stop on climbs thanks to good fitness + a really low gear ratio, but this was the most tiring section I've done in any country. On one particularly steep switchback, my chain snapped again, and I'm sure a piece of my sanity snapped along with it. I was already racing to get to Agoudal before dark and this was a setback I really didn't need. It was 4 miles to the top and I contemplated pushing the bike to fix it at the summit, but this wasn't any easier (and a whole lot slower), so stripped off all the luggage and got to work. With the previous chain-fixing mistakes clear in my mind, this repair was so much quicker, although it did use up my last spare missing link. The chain had now been separated a total of 4 times due to snaps or repairs, and I was terrified that it would break again, especially considering I still had 2 big climbs left after today. 

In the middle of the High Atlas. The vastness of the mountains and plateaus was incredible.
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The 15 minutes off the bike worked wonders and the last push didn't feel quite as hard. Tizi n'Tirherhouzine's summit was at an elevation of 2709m, a new heighest point cycling for me, smashing my previous record of 2300m at the Swiss Alps. It was all downhill for the last 10 miles into Agoudal, the highest inhabitated village in Morocco. Although the freewheeling descent felt amazing after climbing for hours, I think I would have preferred it to be flat considering I had to climb all the way back over the mountains tomorrow!

I headed to Auberge Ibrahim on the edge of Agoudal and decided to pay for another room because I didn't fancy camping at 2300m in winter. It was another young guy about my age looking after the place, who was super friendly and I don't think he ever stopped smiling! I paid a little extra for an evening meal and it was absolutely huge again, just like the one I'd had in Ziz valley. After Merzouga's disappointment, this tajine was really tasty with loads of spicy vegetables and a large chicken breast. My room had a warm fire in the corner which was perfect for drying the still-damp clothes from last night.

Nearing the top of the Tizi n'Tirherhouzine pass. I was surpised to find the road completely clear of snow.
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The warm main room at my hotel for the night. Lot of campervan and motorbike overland tours have stopped here over the years, their stickers are all over the blue door.
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Today's ride: 125 miles (201 km)
Total: 472 miles (760 km)

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