Tag Archives: Chez Moha

The Spiral Tunnel of Tagountsa

spirtunaHigh up on the side of a remote High Atlas valley is an engineering marvel – hewn through the cliff face a spiral tunnel manages to curl down through the rock and emerge underneath itself.
spirmohaI was told about this curiosity in 2012 by the chap at the cozy Chez Moha auberge (right) in Aït Youb while researching the second edition of Morocco Overland. Riding a BMW F650GS, I followed his directions with the usual route-finding issues and then, beyond the last village, hacked up a stony disused track to the 2250-m (7340′) Tagountsa Pass. From the cliff edge I recall the timeless view stretching east up the Plain d’Amane valley towards Rich, pictured below and on p128 in the current book. A short distance later I spun through the tunnel and rolled down a series of switchbacks back to the valley floor and a tasty tajine back at the auberge.

tang

Spiral tunnels have been a long-established solution to constricted route building challenges across mountains. You could even say that your typical complex freeway intersection where the road winds back under itself to change direction tightly is the same thing in flyover form. But you must admit that hacking out any type of tunnel – let alone one where there’s no room to dig out a regular switchback – is an impressive task.

spirplakyvromNot for the first time on this website, I’m able to benefit from research of Yves Rohmer (right) on his always fascinating collection of old Saharan curiosities at Saharayro, including the Tagountsa tunnel. Viewed on Google Earth, the big picture is more vividly rendered setting View > Historical Imagery back a few years.

spir

spirplanspirtunaEven then it’s hard to visualise what’s happening until you look at the old plan, right. You can see the anticlockwise descent of the bore and just work out that it starts with a short separate concrete bridge over the lower mouth of the tunnel. The daylight streaming down the gap can be seen in the image repeated on the left (and as a slim shadow in the round inset, above)

spirimitBuilt in 1933 over a period of just three months by some 3000 labourers from local and French regiments, few realise that at this time the French were still fighting to subdue renegade Berber tribes in the mountains of Morocco.
As you can see on Yves pages, the engineers, sapeurs and legionnaires passed their spare time commemorating their achievement by engraving regimental emblems in and around the structure. I was told the motivation for all this effort was to enable a secure, high transit of the valley, so avoiding protracted Berber ambushes at the narrow Imiter Gorge (left; ~KM70) with legionit’s Mesa Verde-like dwellings.
The same crew probably built the better known 62-metre Tunnel de Legionnaires five years earlier at Foum Zabel now on the main N13 highway north of Errachidia. A plaque there boldly states:
The mountain barred the way.
Nonetheless the order was given to pass…
The Legion executed it.”

spirtunThe Tagountsa tunnel the Legion helped build is at KM102 on Route MH13 in the book, though if you reverse the route it’s only a 10-km off-road drive off the Rich road just east of Amellago, turning north onto the dirt at KM113. Depending on storm damage, an ordinary car or a big bike should manage it, but note that you’ll be negotiating all those hairpins on the Google image above. From the west side (as Route MH13 describes the loop) it was a rougher and slightly more complicated ride on the BMW up to the pass.

spirdramPerhaps because trains can’t negotiate hairpins or climb very steep grades, it seems that spiral or helicoidal tunnels have been a much more common feature on mountain railways than roads, particularly in the Rockies.

Norway’s Drammen Spiral (left), some 50km southwest of Oslo is a notable example, dug we’re told, as an alternative to disfiguring effects of open quarrying on the landscape back in the 1950s while at the same time producing a revenue-producing tourist attraction in the process.

Ten Days in Morocco ~ Husky • Sertao • XR ~ Final part

Parts One and Two here.
mk3-01As two of the group are actors and Americans, from Tazenacht we take an excursion north to Gas Haven, a surviving film set from a 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s 1970s mutant hillbilly slasher The Hills Have Eyes. If nothing else it’s a great ride north through the Tizi n Bachkoum pass, chasing Andy on the Sertao.

mk3-02Southwest American roadhouse an hour out of Ouarzazate. Even that boulder by the sign is fibreglass and wire.

mk3-03Being an actor, Patrick knows a lot about about working behind bars.

mk3-04Outside, desiccated, severed limbs swing in the desert sun.

mk3-05There’s even a Wall of Death, but not the fairground one where a bloke rides round and round until he gets dizzy.

mk3-06Chubby-cheeked babies charred by a nuclear experiment that went tragically wrong. Or something like that.

mk3-07Lunch in Agdz – pronounced like ‘Agadez’ in Niger.

mk3-08Rob takes a swing on the Husky.

mk3-09Mustapha leads us to a viewpoint over Agdz palmerie with the Draa river in there somewhere. We’re riding up that hill tomorrow.

mk3-10We arrive at the lovely Ksar Jenna on Nekob westside. We’re spending two nights here.

mk3-11Night falls over Nekob.

mk3-12Inside, following another fine feast, the Kindles glow.

mk3-13Next day Rob, Andy and I take a ride up MH14 ‘Sarhro West’ which I tried last year on the BMW 650 twin.

mk3-14Patrick is doing his own thing today on the Sertao and Andy snatched his XR250 before I could.

mk3-16We stop for a tea and snack at the last dwelling up the valley. Hassan sits with young Ahmed in his woolly hoodie.

mk3-17At the summit junction, KM46, I invoke the droite d’accompagnateur and depose Andy from the XR250.

mk3-35Undaunted, Andy hurtles off into the afternoon sun on the TR650, following an untried Olaf track which descends to the N9/N12 near the Draa river.

mk3-18Once it drops off the plateau this piste proves to be as spectacular and exposed as I imagined. Morocco at its best.

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mk3-21Back on the N12 road a short distance out of Nekob, another palm-ringed kasbah shimmers in the crepuscular glow.

mk3-22And another lavish breakfast at Ksar Jenna.

mk3-23Today we’re moving on, off up the well-known 112-km piste over Jebel Sarhro to Tinerhir; MH4.

mk3-24Just a week on a dirt bike and Patrick already has his arse-end aflame.

mk3-25A rare shot of me on a motorcycle. I’m trying out the Sertao, but on the piste its characteristics are distinctly canine compared to the Terra. Nice engine but feels 20kg heavier.

mk3-26This was all the ‘camping’ we could manage.

mk3-27A coke stop near the pass.

mk3-28Up past Iknioun the track becomes a wide and fast motorway and I blast along on the Husky in top gear for a while. But the classic piste (MH4) is now in the shadow of the amazing Sarhro West piste we did yesterday.

mk3-29We haul 100km over to Chez Moha at Ait Youb hamlet in the High Atlas. A lovely spot all made of mayd and straw, but a bit chilly compared to what we’re used to.

mk3-30Maybe better in the spring when I was here last time. Even then, we enjoy a fabulous cous-cous feast huddled by an electric heater.

mk3-31Next day a cool morning but I enjoy a fantastic burn up down the Todra Gorge on the Husky, fix a quick nail puncture then we have a lavish grill in Tinerhir. A hundred miles down the road we check into the Vallee hotel in Ouarzazate southside. A little past it prime, but they have wifi and heating and beer and yet more great food.

mk3-32Our room boasts some rather creepy psycho-erotic art. The longer you look at it, the more disturbing it gets. Or perhaps it’s just depicting the desecration of our Mother Earth. Either way, I do believe ‘Salah 07’ might be in dire need of some female company.

Next day, yet more brake warming, bend swinging action over the Tizi n Tichka pass back to Marrakech and a plane home.

mk3-34So there we have it. A great group and a fab time buzzing around Morocco over 10 days enjoying a little bit of everything: cosy lodgings, amazing views, delicious fresh food, all linked by great blacktop and piste. I’ll offer something similar as a tour next November 2014 when the weather seems just right. Have a look at the Tours page around mid-December.