Tag Archives: morocco overland

MH23 – New Jebel Saghro crossing

MH23
Nekob > Skoura • 104km

October 2021 – Honda CRF1000L

Description
The southern sections of MH14 and 15 have offered challenging crossings of the western Saghro mountains for years. This newish route provides an easier way to access the range, following a well-maintained haul route west into the hills and out the other side.
You get all the distinctive drama which make the volcanic ranges of Jebel Saghro so unique, but can manage it in any vehicle, including a pushbike. As with the other two routes, the drama subsides once on the north side of the ranges around KM70 and heading towards Bou Skoura, but in that time, above 1600m you’ll have passed several epic vistas that make it all worthwhile. Thanks to local geologist Saad B for pointing out this route. In 2017 I came up MH15 and to the new haul road at KM34 and wondered where it went to the east. I assumed some mine; now I know it’s all the way down to Nekob.

Away from either end, the only village of substance is Tagmout (KM43), a few smallholdings strung along the oued and overshadowed by the gold/copper excavation just to the north. This new mine must be why the eastbound part of the track got built; it’s not like there are a string of lonesome Berber hamlets up here needing a link to the outside world. The whole of the Saghro massif is especially rich in high-value minerals and cross-crossed with dead-end prospecting tracks.

Mapping
There’s nothing on paper of course, unless you print it yourself, but you can track it clearly on Google satellite and Apple Maps, as well as free digitals like the particularly good GarminOpenTopo and less clearly on the better-known OSM. There were only a few scraps of trail showing on my v3 Garmin Topo (v4 is current).

Off-Road
Because it is used by mining dump trucks (I saw three just as I left Nekob), at least east of Bou Skour or Tagmout, this track is in great shape and so remains doable with any car or bike. On an Africa Twin I did find the countless switchbacks – ground down to powder by trucks’ scrubbing tyres – needed to be inched around, but that was alone on a heavy bike. A 4×4 will barely break into a sweat.

Route finding
After studying Google satellite I traced a putative kml along what looked like the clearest route, and it all panned out fine with no wrong turns. Westbound, you can’t go wrong up to the blue sign in the Tagmout basin (KM42) and beyond here most forks are right turns passing north of Bou Skour village and mine site (which you don’t see) to the big village of Sidi Flah.
I saw no other traffic bar the three dump trucks rolling into Nekob.

Suggested duration
From three hours non-stop on a bike to half a day in a car.

Route Description
0km
 (104) Nekob west Afriquia fuel. On the other side of the main road, 200m to the west, a side road leads north to villages. Follow it; the tarmac ends in 2km.

6 (98) Track forks, stay left (the red, righthand piste soon joins up anyway). Soon you cross a oued and enter a small palm gorge after which the climb begins.

19 (85) Col at 1420m.

25 (79) Approach some impressive buttes to the southwest (below). More noteworthy vistas follow.

33 (71) Reach the junction where MH14 and 15 come up from the south and which you now follow north for 9km. Soon you pass the 2004-m high point and may have great views of the snowy High Atlas (below), if the season and conditions are right.
You then swing round above the Tagmout basin with a mine on its northern flank and where tracks diverge.

Looking over the Tagmout Basin (March 2017)

42 (62) Blue sign junction just east of Tagmout village, such as it is. Turn left for both Kelaa (as signed; MH14/15) and almost immediately, turn left again up to the Tachbouft Pass (KM45; 1805m) visible to the southwest for the run west to Bou Skour (no sign).
Over the next 20km the track rises and drops over the ranges and several impressive viewpoints (below).

65 (39) Fork right. (Left leads down to Bou Skour village south of the mine). The most dramatic part of the crossing is over as the terrain loses elevation and eases up.

69 (35) Fork right again north of Bou Skour mine. In a kilometre keep right again near some machinery, and soon (around KM70) the main track from the mine (P1514 on Google) joins up from the left (south). You now follow the P1514 north then west.

79 (25) Fork. Keep left on main track.

86 (18) Converge with a minor track coming from your left and where a red sign says ‘Bouskour 18,4km’ (pointing the way you’ve come from).

88 (16) Track joins from your right.

91 (13) Just after a sandy passage alongside a farm fence, you cross a tributary of the nearby Oued Dades and swing north. Soon you pass through the small town of Sidi Flah. In 3km cross a bridge over the Oued Dades.

103 (1). At the pylons keep right to reach the N10 visible up ahead. Once there, turn right for the Inov roadhouse on the eastern outskirts of Skoura. Left is for Skoura town and the N10 to Ouarzazate. Straight across and a leads up to Amzeria (Amerzi; see update Update 3.0.14 – May 2019)

104 Inov roadhouse.

Tis the Spiral Tunnel of Tagountsa

Part of the Sahara A to Z series

spirtuna
spirmoha

High 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.
I 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.

spirplak
yvrom

Not 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.

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spirplan
spirtuna

Even 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)

spirimit
legion

Built 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 it’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.”

spirtun

The 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.

spirdram

Perhaps 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.

Morocco Overland: Route MH20 + MH21 + MH212 bypass

Updated October 2021

Trans Atlas: MH20
Talat n Yacoub (Ijoukak) > Ouneine basin > Ouaougdimt valley > Aoulouz • 88km

April 2018 – BMW G310GS, Honda XR250 Tornado
April 2019; Enfield Himalayan
February 2020; BMW Sertao

a310-7

Description
Another High Atlas crossing to try alongside MH19 (also an online addition to the guidebook). This one only rises to 2200m, steeply climbing some 500m in 8km after leaving the road SE of Ijoukak (right). Initially, you may find the looser parts of this climb a struggle in a 2WD or on a heavy. wide bike. It’s probable that local 2WD vans only do it northbound (downhill) to Ijoukak.
From the pass the incline abates and the track smoothes out as it rolls down towards the villages of the Ouneine basin and the P1735 whose extension eastwards to Igli (Iguidi) on MH6 is now sealed (above).

You carry on SW along the P1735, and at Sidi ali ou Brahim village swing sharp left off the road, cross the stream and follow the Ouaougdimt valley piste 24km SE (not fully shown on most paper maps) to join the MH6 road coming down from Aguim on the N9 Marrakech–Ouarzazate road.
If you’re in a rush or heading towards Taroudant, at Sidi ali ou Brahim carry on 23km south on the ever-bendy P1735 to Sidi Ouaziz on the N10. Otherwise, it would be a shame to miss out on the scenic Ouaougdimt valley stage, as it rises onto a terrace high above the valley floor.

mhh20

Mapping
Parts of the route are just about legible on paper maps, least badly on the inset ‘High Atlas’ panel on the Michelin. But none show the full Ouaougdimt valley route. It’s all on Google and the OSM/Garmin digitals.

Off-Road
The climb up to the 2200-m Tizi n Oulaoune pass from KM11 starts a little steep and loose and about as hard as it gets, but we saw local 125s two-up and minivans, albeit heading the other way (ie: descending). From the pass, the gradient eases off while you’ll find the Ouaougdimt valley stage no harder than anything you’ve just done. Carefully ridden, a big bike could manage the loose hairpins; so could a 2WD with clearance, though as always these mountain tracks require concentration. On an MTB it will be a slog if not a push up to the Tizi n Oulaoune, followed by your freewheeling reward and no more steep grades.

Route finding
Easy enough. We winged it just by studying Google satellite imagery beforehand, jotting down some distances between junctions. That’s now all listed below. Download the MH20kml file.

Suggested duration
Half a day will do you.

Route Description
0km (88) Talat n Yacoub fuel station on the R203 Tizi n Test road. Head north to Ijoukak.

3 (85) Pass through Ijoukak, cross the bridge and turn right up the side road. Soon you’ll pass a nice-looking auberge.

11 (77) At the fork before a village turn right, drop down over a bridge and carry on. Soon there’s a sign right: ‘Ouadouz/Ouneine? 24km’ (it’s something with ‘O’). The 500m climb to the pass begins.

19 (69) Tizi n Oulaoune 2200-m high point. The track now eases off as it descends. (Photo, bottom of the page.)

feb20 - 36

23 (65) Fork with sign (photo below: ‘Map Junction’). East at this fork is a rough track which in 9km joins the new road to Igli as mentioned above (MH21). Keep right (south) to continue descending to the villages in the Ouneine basin visible to the west. Eventually, at a junction around KM35 you join the new extension of the P1735 which goes E towards Igli over a 2500-m terrace. This is a spectacular road (left).
Meanwhile, the P1735 crosses the Ouneine basin SW and threads through a small pass back into the hills.

mh20km23
KM23 Map Junction
mh20ouaval

54 (34) Sidi ali ou Brahim. The tarmac carries on 22km to Sidi Ouaziz (fuel) on the N10 but you turn sharp left, drop down to the stream and up the other side. The track is initially a bit eroded and loose as it climbs to the first village, but that’s why they invented suspension. It then eases off as it rises above the valley on a terrace (right) with great views down to the villages below. You could be in the Cevennes or the Pyrenees, but you’re in the High Atlas. It could be worse.

78 (10) Join the tarmac (MH6) by the reservoir.

83 (5) Roundabout on the N10.

88 Aoulouz fuel station/s.

mh20desc

Trans Atlas: MH21

Ijoukak > Igli > Askaoun > Taliouine • 170km
April 2019; Enfield Himalayan
Updated October 2021; Honda Africa Twin

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mh21short

At the old ‘Afra’ sign at KM23, a rough but Transit-able track runs east 9km to join the Igli road; see map right. The new road soon rises to over 2550m or 8300 feet and is now all sealed and descends spectacularly down to Igli on MH6. From here carry on southwest.
Above the Moktar Soussi reservoir, in October 2021 I tried to follow the 5-km short cut as shown on Google (above right in blue and below in red) over the Asif Tifnoute, but I’m pretty sure it does not exist. I did manage to get close enough to scramble up to the track on the south bank of the Asif.

Like many reservoirs hereabouts, the level has been low for years, way below what some maps show. I reached a promising new wide track alongside the reservoir’s northeastern shore (yellow, above) and which led to the sandy Asif Tifnoute alongside some parked-up diggers.
One formed track crossed the riverbed’s former mouth but was blocked by a mound of pushed-up dirt just above the sandy south bank. Scooters had squeezed past then crossed fields on the now exposed lakebed; the Google track (red above) was very close but out of sight up the hillside. If you can get up that sandy bank and over the fields, the green dots will probably link up to the village and the ford for the road up to Askaoun. But it was late and hot and I didn’t want to risk getting bogged on my heavy AT.

So close and yet…

Other tracks got close to where the southside track was visible; a 50-m scramble on foot up a couple of banks (above). But once on the track it was clear it was only used by mopeds and donkeys. That meant it was unlikely there’s any regularly used crossing of the Oued Tifnoute further upstream, so I left it at that.

So carry on along the tarmac route shown in blue above, cross the river below the dam wall and head up to Askaoun (KM120) then down to Taliouine.
Total 170KM, fuel to fuel.
We did this in February 2020 twice with a lunch in Igli. A great ride with a dizzying number of bends in one day.

A few photos   A few more

MH212 Bypass • 12km
October 2021 • Honda Africa Twin

At the ‘Ouadouz/Ouneine’ turn-off (MH20KM11.5), carry on southeast along the tarmac for a few km until it ends at a village (green mark on map below). Keep going along an easy piste up the valley and past a couple more villages, as it climbs to meet the end of the MH21 link track close to the Ouneine-Igli tarmac.
At the tarmac it’s right and mostly down to Ouneine, or up to over 2550m then down to Igli on the Aquim-Aoulouz road.

Blue = tarmac

This new track cuts 20km off the 170km fuel-to-fuel distance of MH21 and is much easier than the steep climb up to Tizi n Oulaoune; anything can manage it.

Looking down on the new bypass from the high route

MH19 – a new High Atlas crossing

Updated 2021

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kelaa-aitbou1

Over the years there was talk of a High Atlas crossing in 100-km span between the MH12 Demnate backroad (above) and MH1 via Agoudal. The 4000-m ridge of the Mgoun massif separated them.
There are trekking trails which probably could be threaded together on a light bike, but now Moroccan road builders have completed what I’ve dubbed ‘MH19‘, a route usable in any vehicle as long as conditions allow. I heard about it too late to describe fully in the 2017 edition, although it is mapped on page 110 (below left).

mh19

I got to ride the route on a 250 just as the book was published in October 2017, and again about a month later southbound in a 4×4. Like many Morocco routes it’s a straightforward drive once you find the start points, doable without much of a description or GPS.
Northbound, all you need to know is:
1. Fork right, off the road at the top end of Alemdoun village for the old route through the gorge, or stay on the tarmac over the pass. Southbound, just east of Tabant turn right (south) over the ford for the easy 17-km climb to the Ait Imi pass.
2. Have a 200km fuel range.

mh199
mh19dr

Elevation profiles show the road climbing steeply from the south up to the Aït Hamad pass, but the gradient on the entire route is never extreme, and as long as the surface remains smooth, the route is doable in a regular car or a fully loaded big adv bike.
It took us 3 hours to ride the 80-km of piste from Alemdoun to Tabant, and about the same southbound in a 4×4.

mh19gg

At Amelgag we chose the gorge route (right) instead of the new climb over the pass, a great diversion (and the original route) which is still used by local Merc taxivans. Coming north, turn off right at the bend as you enter Amejgag village and wind your way north through the village to the gorge.

Wikiloc map and kml

mh19 - 1
Alemdoun

‘MH19’ links the book’s two Jebel Sarhro west routes, MH14 and 15 which end near Kelaa, with routes MH16, 17 and 18 in the Aït Bouguemaze valley on the north slopes of the High Atlas.

The route passes Alemdoun (cafes, fuel at the shop if you ask). On the way you’ll pass many Rose Valley auberges in the villages. At the start of Alemdoun keep on the bypass west of the village for Amejgag. Here on as bend, the original piste splits right (north) for the Amejgag Gorge and the river to join up in the Ameskar valley in about 10km. Most local traffic uses this narrow route.

mh19tizihamad

Otherwise, the new route takes you up over a 2350-m ‘Amejgag Pass‘ (KM50) before dropping down to Ameskar and joining the gorge route (KM56). Now the steep climb begins to the 3042-metre Tizi n’Ait Hamad (~KM65). From the top of this pass (left; telecom tower; bloke in a hut) Jebel Mgoun summit (4071m; second only to Toubkal) is a 16km walk to the west. This was the rougher part of the crossing, but still smooth enough to be doable in a 2WD or a heavy bike.

mh193 - 1


You descend from the Ait Hamad (above), climb an intermediate pass then descend into the valley of the Mgoun river, bypassing some remote villages of El Mrabitine. This descent is on a broader, metalled road, which should be sealed by now.  You cross the Mgoun stream (KM83) and climb less steeply to the Tizi n’Aït Imi (2898m; ~KM98). At the top Aït Bouguemaze valley lies 20km below.
Busy Tabant village (KM117) has shops and basic bap cafes before you join MH18 (if heading west). As the whole area is popular with trekkers, there are several auberges hereabouts.

Fuel
There is a small Total just west of the Rose roundabout in Kella; the point where you turn north off the N10. At the Aït Bouguemaze end, the nearest fuel is either Azilal, 79km to the north via MH17 – a fabulous drop from the pine forests. Or stay on MH18 west to Demnate; 83km – about 90 mins of near-constant bends.
Total fuel-to-fuel distance from Kelaa to either is around 200km, but there is drum fuel at the shop at the top end of Alemdoun.

Morocco Maps

Updated October 2021

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m3regions

Reviews below only relate to the ‘Morocco Overland zone’ (left) and only the most useful maps are mentioned. The north of Morocco is not considered, although you assume any map will be OK up there too.
Med ferries and Morocco port access maps here. For Sahara maps click this.

Short version:
Get the latest (2019) Michelin 742 map to use in a car, or more robust and waterproof 2019 Reise Know-How (RK-H) map for a bike. Then, for your GPS/satnav/phone?, easily download this free 500mb map or get Garmin’s North Africa Light  (£20).

About paper Morocco country maps

Get a paper map of Morocco: they’re inexpensive, light, compact, don’t need recharging and give you the big picture which is great for planning at home, or deciding where to go next once out there. You can’t do that on your smartphone or GPS, handy though they are.

MoroccoMountains

There are up to a dozen Morocco country maps in print and taking into account scale, price, clarity, date of publication, presence of a long/lat grid and so on, the maps below are recommended for on and off-highway travel in the south of Morocco.
One thing quickly becomes clear: while you won’t get lost and die of thirst relying these maps, they’re all surprisingly inaccurate and tend to copy each other’s errors. Some minor routes shown as sealed are in fact little-used pistes, and more commonly pistes depicted identically on several maps do not match the orientation shown, or don’t exist at all. Elsewhere roads sealed for years are not shown at all.
What also becomes evident is how many interesting and easily navigable pistes there are in Morocco which don’t appear on these paper maps. The same can be said for villages; many established settlements on a par with other locally depicted places are missing, while some towns are given excessive prominence for what you’ll find there. This inconsistency with road and place ‘hierarchy’ is probably as old a complaint as mapping itself.
For navigating along the main ‘N’ highways in a motorhome the recommended maps are fine. But using them for reliable navigation and accurate position-finding on more obscure southern Moroccan back roads or tracks may be a hit and miss affair. For that a GPS or phone with a map is better (see below). Once you accept these limitations paper maps not so bad.

rkh-19

Reise Know-How 1:1m 2019
Best for regular use and motos – £9.95

The 11th edition published in 2019 may have the same ‘old man in the mountains’ cover but appears to be a genuine update while retaining the usual errors.

The main changes:
• New Moroccan road numbers given alongside old ones. Nice touch
• Many more red RN roads added, finally
• Provincial names and boundaries shown (not so useful)

Flaws
• Fuel station info inconsistent (unless they mean ‘village fuel‘)
• Many tracks (grey) are easy-to-drive gravel roads/pistes (white)
• Many well-established pistes are missing; others are sealed roads (yellow or red)
• Some sealed roads are tracks (eg: RN14; off-limits, anyway)
• Some villages missing or misaligned

rkh19-2up

In the end, recognising all these paper maps are flawed in some way, the German RKH was the one I use most. Why? Because unlike the Michelin, it won’t fall apart after less than an hour’s accumulated use, the accuracy and clarity are good enough once you know the pitfalls, and the double-sided printing makes it compact and easy to use in a crowded lift, shove in a bike’s tank net (right) or open out in a gale. I also find the intuitive 1:1m scale good for quick distance estimates (1mm = 1km) and the grid lines work well for estimating a position on the map off a GPS. They even squeeze an index round the edges and now, some pretty, touristic pictures.
Cartographically, the RKH isn’t the best design for me, but the 2019 is a bit lighter and if necessary you can eat your lunch off it, use it as an umbrella, origami it into a bowl and generally rough it up without it ending up like Michelin confetti. Plastic paper maps are the way to go.

rkh-rodney

The biggest drawback with the RKH was the vague alignment of roads and tracks and not keeping with pistes which were sealed years ago. For regular tourists heading out in rental cars or campervans towards a sealed road on the map which turns out to be a piste is irritating. But they’re also missing out on many great backroad drives.
This map is hard to find as a digital download. RK-H don’t sell it anymore but this place does the 2013 edition for $8.

Michelin 742 1:1m 2019
Only £5.99 and best for planning, but fragile

Michelin, the best map for Morocco, right? It’s OK but the thin paper doesn’t lend itself to regular use, not helped by the fact that at over 1.5m wide, the 742 is a big map.

mich-router

Rather than city insets you get five useful sub-regions at 600k scale (notably Jebel Sirwa south of Marrakech), and even some useful climate stats. What I like most about this map is the intuitive 1:1m scale (a millimetre = a kilometre), the clear, functional Michelin design and the fact that it goes right down to Laayoune which means you can view all the book’s routes on one sheet (apart from the lower halves of Routes MO2 and MW6). And at £5.99 in the UK, it’s the cheapest of the recommended Morocco maps.
Roads and pistes wind around with believable intricacy (unlike the lazier RKH) and we get Michelin’s well-known scenic ‘green road’ feature which is pretty reliable. In places the forest and dune coverage isn’t to be relied on and it’s this sort of detail that you feel never gets updated.
As for the accuracy of secondary roads and pistes – a common failing on all these maps – look carefully at the Key (in five languages including Arabic). Unconventionally, uncoloured (white) roads with 
solid borders on both sides signify ‘road surfaced’, but one dashed edge means an all-out piste liable to the weather, though they’ve added a new designation: one dotted edge which means unsealed but usable in all-weather by all vehicles. Being vague about the type of surface is a conveniently ambiguous way of saying they could be surfaced with asphalt, gravel, egg mayonnaise or rocks. And of course some of these solid-edged ‘white roads’ are major two-lane highways where the regular yellow colouring would be more appropriate. And as on other maps, plenty of tracks mentioned in the book or on the digital maps below are missing and some white roads don’t exist. In places this data is years out of date but overall they don’t get it as badly or as conspicuously wrong as the RKH, below.
Note that so-called ‘new editions’ often add up to no more than a new cover design but in my experience the 742 is still one of the lest bad maps for overlanding in Morocco.

satnavorgps

Free digital maps for your GPS

Garmin Open Topo
This is my new favourite Morocco map, stumbled across online while looking for OSM. It uses the same user-updated OSM data, but not only is it a simple, single 500mb download of the whole country, which you then unzip and put on the SD card of your GPS, but the design or cartography are the best I’ve seen: proper shading for relief and so much clearer to read than anything else I’ve tried. The only problem is I haven’t found a way of making this map show up in BaseCamp, even with the Montana connected. I am sure someone will come up with a way of doing this.
Have a look: you will not be disappointed.

garminmap

Open Source Mapping (OSM)
It’s hard to think why you’d get this compared to the map above, even if they both use the same data.

On the link select ‘Morocco’ in the ‘Africa’ menu and choose to add or remove tiles as needed (less tiles may mean quicker map). You will need Garmin’s free MapInstall and Basecamp software.
Of the three digital map options for Morocco, this is the one I refer to last – and you can see why on the four-screen comparison below. The absence of topographic detail makes it harder to visualise the landscape, compared to the Garmin or Garmin Topo.

Garmin North Africa Topo £20
You will need Garmin’s free MapInstall and Basecamp software. This map is locked in your GPS unit so only shows and becomes editable with Basecamp on a computer screen when your GPS is attached to the computer. Click the link for a full review. Below the same region shown on four digital maps discussed here

Note: zooming in on some of these maps will give much more detail

Google, Bing and Apple Maps online maps

How lucky we are today today to have brilliant WYSIWYG satellite imagery for free. Used as a pre-planning map, Googles’ map page can be misleading on southern Morocco compared to the more detailed paper maps reviewed above. Click between ‘map’ and ‘satellite’ and you’ll often see how inaccurate the highway overlay is compared to the true satellite image, although the Terrain page is much improved. Pistes and roads are as out-of-date, incomplete, not labeled with the standard Moroccan N- or R- road/track designations, inaccurate in hierarchy (closed piste and two-lane blacktop shown as the same) or are non-existent, just like the worst paper maps above. Furthermore, many town and village names are unrecognisable, presumably taken from non-standard US sources. Zoomed in, you can look at the Google map of Morocco a long time before you find a name you recognise and work out where you are.
However, Google Map’s satellite page (or Google Earth) is particularly effective in vividly dramatising and navigating the arid topography of a place like southern Morocco, even if resolution/clarity on some of the segments appear shot through the bottom of a Coke bottle. In that case, check out Bing Maps’ Aerial view; zoom in close enough and suddenly it jumps to eye-popping clarity.
Apple Maps is another mapping resource that must have been on my Mac for years before I bothered looking. Clarity and accuracy is surprisingly good, but there is very little detail (which includes what you might all ‘commercial clutter’ on Google). It’s also slow to load. Goof as a last alternative if the above two are not delivering.

All three platforms at best look as crisp as peering down from a hot air balloon. On Erg Chebbi you can even spot the tourist bivouacs in the dunes. Google Earth needs many of the layers unchecked which often contain wildly inaccurate ‘user-added’ junk, but with Bing Aerial or Google Sat you have a ‘map’ that cannot lie. With a Google account, in ‘Your Places’ you can build a network of routes to easily export as a .gpx for your GPOS device, as well as discover new areas and generally be thrilled at the bird’s eye view of Morocco.

… and your smartphone or phablet

I don’t use a mobile phone for mapping so am not an expert on this, but apart from OSM / Garmin Open Topo,  you can now download Google Maps for offline use your phone’s GPS. You may not be able to download all of Morocco before the mb limit is reached, but it’s free and familiar. Other than that, search the internet for map apps which cover Morocco.

Morocco one-week fly/ride moto tours

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Morocco fly/ride moto tours ~ FAQ

Tours front page • Tours FAQ

Ten Days in Morocco ~ Husky • Sertao • XR ~ 2/3

Continuing our short ride through southern Morocco. Part 1 was here. Part 3 right here.


Sunrise at the oasis.


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.

Final part right here

Ten Days in Morocco ~ Husky • Sertao • XR ~ 1/3

mk13101

Husky TR650 review here
Next fly-in tour here

2upmkThis 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.

mk13102We rent bikes from Loc2Roues Marrakech (more details here).

mk13103Andy gets a well-used Sertao with about 45,000km.

trI pick a sexy Terra. My review here.

mk13105I strap a satnav over the dash, a water bottle holder to the crash bar and tuck my book under the tanknet.

mk13106Other than Andy, I wasn’t sure of the others’ ability so recommend XR250 Tornados.

mk13107

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.

mk13108Trouble 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.

mk13109Before 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.

mk13110The 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.

mk13111Notice 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.

mk13112I 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.

mk13113Anyway, 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.

mk13114With 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.

mk13115As 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!

mk13116Patrick 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.

mk13117That’s several thousand dirhams worth of saffron right there.

mk13118Carefully picked from these crocuses, or is it crocii?

mk13119Patrick and Elisa pose with some $10 jars.

mk13120Two 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.

mk13121Dirtnewb Patrick is getting into the swing but next time I’m going to levy a surcharge for all black outfits.

mk13122Desert 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.

mk13123Into the valley.

mk13125Past hilltop Berber villages.

mk13126Up ahead a dramatic descent down a tufa waterfall. Andy sets off on the Husky and we follow.

mk13127mk13131mk13133mk13132

mk13136We ride through the palmerie and arrive at our lodge where we’ll spend two nights.

mk13137Night falls across the tranquil oasis. ‘Allaaaaahu Ak-bar’ rings from the minarets.

mk13138While inside the three infidels sit transfixed as the guy pours a shot of whisky.

mk1ruta Our route so far.

Part Two of Three

Morocco Overland videos

ma6-7gmorocco22sHere’s Ian Chappel’s short video as he reaches the impressive overlook at KM78 on Route MA7. You look down from the top of Jebel Timouka over the Issil Plain following a couple of hours rough riding. Good work on a hefty GS12! MA6 proved even tougher on the BMW but can also surprise you with a similarly impressive vista at KM48 if you’re heading north.

Ian’s other vids include pistes from the book and thankfully cut to the action.

We’re back in this area over the next few days with a few small XRs plus a couple of 650 singles. They’ll be a report here or on the AMWebsite. And maybe some vids too.