Marrakech: climbing up to heaven - Have this woman washed and brought to my tent - CycleBlaze

Marrakech: climbing up to heaven

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I SEE NOW why we rode such a long and awful road yesterday. It set us up for a long and glorious climb to Immouzer, a village of cascades 1 500m higher than where we started.

The road rose from the start and, other than one short descent, rose all day. It climbed through stunning cliffs of alternating brown and green and sometimes near-white, with yellow flowers and dark green bushes and men leading laden donkeys. Every so often the unguarded edge of the narrow road, on which only the central path had kept its hard surface, opened on to an unprotected fall into the valley hundreds of metres below.

Small villages did little trade but mint tea, fossils and knickknacks for tourists. Small plains held thriving green crops or clustered graceful palm trees that swayed like dignified old ladies in the

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wind. Otherwise the only activity was in small sheds of plastered breeze block, yet more of the sources of argan oil that are the preserve of women's co-operatives.

Sadly we saw all this not from bikes but from an old Mercedes taxi. I fell ill last night, unable to eat, my heart thumping so hard that it delayed an exhausted sleep. I felt better in the morning but in no shape to ride 50km downhill let alone up.

From Immouzer, though, I rode, deeper now into donkey country. For every car, four donkeys have come the other way. They are loaded with sacks, impossible to deduce, sometimes so generously that the owners sit sideways because they can no longer sit conventionally.

The owners are dark-skinned men with long, etched faces. Many have ragged beards. They look old and tired, but while at first appearance they suggest the traditional méfiance of the remote, traditional countryman towards strangers, their faces light with long, irregular teeth as they smile and shout a warm bonjour.

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Lone men and sometimes women, each in long robes with pointed hoods, sit in the shade of argan trees. They're not taking a break from work, though. They wait patiently for cars, probably taxis, to pick them up. It is all arranged, the secret rhythm of the countryside.

A loaded taxi rarely has fewer than five passengers. This isn't a land where women are treated noticeably differently, at any rate in cities, but we make a mental note to see if those crushed into such makeshift familiarity are all of the same sex.

Our road climbed for an hour, probably more. We stopped to gaze over the tumbling countryside - trees, shrub-like trees, empty fields and semi-cultivated scrub - to a distant ridge as high as our own. Mysterious areas were walled in thick ochre, perhaps of dried mud piled on... piled on what? Wattle, you'd call it anywhere else, I think.

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Steph's in this picture. Can you see her?
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Houses with high blank walls and slit windows and flat roofs - all buildings here have flat roofs - stood improbably distant from roads or tracks.

I stopped to take a picture of a donkey against a mosque and we climbed a two-kilometre ridge through road resurfacing. I struggled up the tight gradient without help, watched by the expressionless road crew. The same road crew that ran into the road to give Steph a push.

And then the glorious slalom of the descent...
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And then the glorious slalom of the descent, its views as breathtaking as its hairpins, down a thousand metres from where there had been no flowers into fields of red poppies and yellow heather. It had been a day to remember.

Tonight we are back in Marrakech, our loop-with-the-group finished. We have a day off tomorrow and then we set off for our long ride north.

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