I go for a walk, passing unusual dwellings designed to slide downhill in the event of an earthquake.
Not a place to stagger back to late one night, fumbling for your keys.
We go for a ride back up the cliff
Rob tries out his new Touratech Arai-iPhone adapter mount, called a Digital Utility Camera Transom. You’d think they could come up with a snappier name.
Down below, a carefully tended mosaic of gardens lap up the autumn sun.
We take a walk over to the kasbah (fortified dwelling) at Assaragh
Then ride back down…
… to the auberge for lunch. It was built by a local who did well abroad, and chose to return something to his community. A common practise in Morocco.
After a siesta we head out to a curious ruined tsar (similar to a kasbah but more castle-like) which I passed last year.
We wind out way up into a maze of crumbling walls and collapsed palm-trunk beams.
But at the doorway it looks a bit dodgy to go further without a hardhat and full body armour.
Next day we’re back on the piste.
Heading up over Jebel Timouka, Route MA6 in my book.
Into the ranges.
Some oueds (creeks) are hard work on the heavy 650s. So we stop to cool off and let Elisa and Mustapha catch up.
The climb begins.
Deeper Steeper Higher I don’t know about the others, but the occasional landslide repairs with football-sized rocks are barely rideable on the Terra. The suspension shoves the weight back at you in all directions nd you can tell that point is coming where it’s easier to fall than fight it. When I came this way in 2008 I broke a spring on my pickup. I’m up ahead and eventually pull over weak-kneed, strip off and empty my 3-pint bottle. The others catch up and Elisa hands out power bars. Andy’s Sertao is even more of a dog than the Husky and Patrick got pinned negotiating a gnarly hairpin, but is nevertheless amazed at the beating the XR can take. Rob finds his XR a breeze up here.
We carry on to an amazing view back south towards Jebel Bani, now only 80 miles away
Thankfully the track eases up and we reach the equally amazing Timouka Pass overlooking the Issil plain. In the many tiny Berber villages below (the green clumps) women dye wool and work ancient looms to produce the fine carpets you’ll find in the souks of Marrakech and Tangier
We drop off the pass, race across the plain to the highway and ride into Tazenacht for a late lunch, babbling about our awesome morning’s ride. Freshly-chopped Moroccan salad (a bit like Mexican salsa), omelette, chips and bread + tea. That’ll be $3 Down the road, plenty of room at the Hotel Sahara.
Night falls over Tazenacht.
While inside the infidels, some in fancy dress, gathered for the feast and then retire to their chilly suites.
This is us: Rob UK, Patrick NYC, Andy (ex Desert Rider), Elisa NYC and me, having some sort of ministroke. Rob and Patrick were part of a group that trekked with me in Algeria last year. With another planned moto tour having fallen through, off-road newb Patrick asked me to put together a run through Morocco. OK I said if you can find some people to cover my costs. This he did and here we were.
I strap a satnav over the dash, a water bottle holder to the crash bar and tuck my book under the tanknet.
Other than Andy, I wasn’t sure of the others’ ability so recommend XR250 Tornados.
This is a great little machine: an air-cooled, four-valve, big oil cooler, 5 speed, electric start, carb-fed, drum rear dirt bike. It stacks up very well alongside the CRF250L I ran around the Southwest USA earlier this year; as economical, as good suspension, as pokey and it felt lighter, though there’s only some 6kg in it according to online stats.
Trouble is, it’s made in Brazil (and sold in Argentina) and AFAIK is only available in countries with I presume have slack emissions regs. None have ridden off road but Rob once ran a 996 so he’ll catch up and Patrick learned fast. Only Elisa found the learning curve of Morocco + piste a bit steep so switched to a jeep which actually served us all well as a baggage carrier.
Before we even leave the agency, Mustapha the driver dashes off with Elisa. His silver SUV soon disappears in a sea of silver SUVs. Rob gets the guy at the servo to bring him back.
The first day was scheduled as easy as we expected faffing around at the rental place. Just 100 clicks down the road to a lodge up in the High Atlas.
Notice the sagging front tyre on the Husky; a slow puncture which led to overheating and a faster puncture on the rough road into the Atlas. Next morning it’s flat as, and no tools under the seat. The Sertao’s wheel wrench fits but one Torx fitting is mashed and none of mine fit.
I nip down the road to chisel it off while the village vulcaniser irons on bits of rubber with blue goo, literally with an old electric clothes iron and a screw press. It looked impressive but also kind of crap. May work OK on a local moped but on the 650 the repair lasted 20 mins on the first piste a couple of days later.
Anyway, on the crest of the High Atlas at Tizi n Test pass (6860’) we stop for lunch then enjoy a great ride down into the sunny southlands. Notice the ridge on the far horizon: that’s Jebel Bani about 130 miles away; the last of the Atlas mountain ranges. Beyond that, unbroken Sahara for a 1000 miles all the way to Timbuktu.
With half a day lost chiselling nuts and ironing rubber, we make an unplanned stop over in Taliouine, famous for its saffron which we’re assured is the best in the world and cures all maladies. I sprinkle some on my front tyre, also my front brake and efi which are playing up.
As expected, the Husky is the thirstiest bike by 20%, but also the most powerful and with the best soundtrack which = a whole lot of fun in the twisty blacktop canyons of the Anti Atlas. Let me tell you, all this ‘ad-venture motorcycling’ is a lost cause, carting your junk around like a mule and camping out bush like some vagrant. Hire a jeep, check into roadside lodges at half board and enjoy Bourgeois Motorcycling!
Patrick tries the Sertao and declares it’s the best motorcycle ever made. It’s certainly more comfy than the others, has a mellower engine than the TR and some days even used less fuel than the XRs. But when the dirt gets gnarly it’s a dog.
That’s several thousand dirhams worth of saffron right there.
Carefully picked from these crocuses, or is it crocii?
Patrick and Elisa pose with some $10 jars.
Two hundred clicks out of Marrakech we take to the piste into the Anti Atlas, the arid range south of the High Atlas which for me adds up to the best riding in Morocco. Soon the Husky front tube pops its corks so I slot our only new 21” in and hope for the best.
Dirtnewb Patrick is getting into the swing but next time I’m going to levy a surcharge for all black outfits.
Desert Rider Andy runs an 1190 + his old trans-Africa 640 back home so for him it’s all in a day’s work. That’s his 11-year old Darien Light that Aero made for us, still as good as new.
Into the valley.
Past hilltop Berber villages.
Up ahead a dramatic descent down a tufa waterfall. Andy sets off on the Husky and we follow.
We ride through the palmerie and arrive at our lodge where we’ll spend two nights.
Night falls across the tranquil oasis. ‘Allaaaaahu Ak-bar’ rings from the minarets.
While inside the three infidels sit transfixed as the guy pours a shot of whisky.