Tag Archives: morocco overland

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.

Morocco Overland: Route MH20 + MH21

M3acoverTrans Atlas: MH20

Talat n Yacoub (Ijoukak) > Ouneine basin > Ouaougdimt valley > Aoulouz • 88km
April 2018 – BMW G310GS, Honda XR250 Tornado
Updated April 2019; Enfield Himalayan
Updated February 2020; BMW Sertao


Description
MH2021
Another High Atlas crossing to try alongside MH19 (also an online addition to the guidebook). This one only rises to 2200m, initially steeply climbing some 500m in 8km after leaving the road SE of Ijoukak (below right). Initially, you may find the looser parts of this climb a struggle in a 2WD or on a heavy bike. It’s probable that local 2WD vans only do it northbound 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.

mhh20Mapping
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, Olaf and the OSM digitals.

Off-Road
The climb up to the 2200-m Tizi n Oulaoune pass from KM11 is 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, a310-7the 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 - 3623 (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. 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

mh20ouaval54 (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 February 2020; BMW Sertao

mh20-igliAt the old ‘Afra’ sign at KM23, a rough but Transit-able track goes east 9km to join the new 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 (Iguidi; KM70) on MH6.
From here carry on south. Amh21shortbove the reservoir, I don’t think the 5-km short cut as shown on Google (right) exists. There is a river bed to cross, which may be possible. So carry on with the red arrows for a couple of clicks, 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 Iguidi. A great ride with a dizzying number of bends in one day.

A few photos   A few more

MH19 – a new High Atlas crossing

demdem
kelaa-aitbou1

Over the years there’s been 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 separates 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 Ouzighimte, (aka: El Mrabitine). Southbound, just east of Tabant turn right (south) over the ford (right) 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 Ouzighimte (aka Ameksar?) 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 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 is sealed for the first 40km to Alemdoun (cafes, fuel at the shop if you ask; diesel 60dh/5L). On the way you’ll pass many Rose Valley auberges in the villages Kasbah Agoulzi recommended). At the end of Alemdoun, leave the road and keep right (north), not west with the tarmac. Now on the dirt, climb up to Amejgag village. Here the original piste splits right (east) to pass through the village and follow the Amejgag Gorge and the river north 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 to a 2350-m 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, though it was still covered in loose gravel in 2017.  You cross the Mgoun stream (KM83; ford) and climb less steeply to the Tizi n’Aït Imi (2898m; ~KM98). At the top Aït Bouguemaze valley lies 20km below. Near busy Tabant village (KM117) the tarmac resumes, with 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 Summer 2020
M3-cover
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 current Michelin 742 map to use in a car, or a grided, more robust and waterproof 2019 Reise Know-How (RK-H) map for a bike. Then, for your GPS/satnav, import as much free OSM as you can bear, do the same with offline Google Maps, or get Garmin’s bargain 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 mistakes. Some minor routes shown as sealed are in fact little-used pistes, and some pistes depicted identically on several maps do not match the orientation shown, or don’t exist at all.
What also becomes evident is how many more 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 also available for around €15 as a pre-calibrated digital download direct from RK-H (PC apps only, last time I looked).

mich742-2015

Michelin 742 1:1m
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. What’s also missing is a Long/Lat grid. Why? Here’s a possible explanation*.

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 millimeter = 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 
sol 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 best maps for overlanding in Morocco.

* Try and draw on a grid and it soon becomes clear the 742 is tilted quite a few degrees east of north, probably because it’s extracted from the top left of their ‘North and West Africa’ 953 map which is north-centred on E16°. Without presumably expensive correction, putting a grid over a 742 would expose this lean all the more clearly and might put customers off. Don’t know what on earth I’m on about? Don’t worry it’s not that important.

satnavorgps

Digital maps for your GPS

garminmap

Open Source Mapping (OSM)
Similar to the much-loved Olaf (below) but now more up to date. 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 and Olaf

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

gar-msd

olaffer

Marokko Topo GPS – ‘Olaf map’ 
(now superseded by Garmin and OSM)
Free download
‘Olaf’ is the adopted abbreviation for the free downloadable Marokko Topo GPS vector map produced by a guy called Olaf Kähler – don’t ask me how he did it, but updating ended in 2009. Olaf was fast and easy and gave you many more routes than the book plus usable city maps. It’s said the Garmin North Africa Topo took many Olaf originals, and it’s probably the same case with the OSMs which have now superseded Olaf.
Olaf obviously improved on a base map of Morocco you got in a standard GPS (see comparison above), and was enhanced by featuring tracks sent in as track logs by contributors to his project. But Olaf merrily published everything his contributors sent in, whether they were blundering around or following regular tracks, so not all routes are kosher.

satnavbmw

Sometimes an Olaf track can be out by a couple hundred metres and other tracks appear to be dead ends. Using Olaf on a Nuvi satnav (left), tracks appear as ‘fat’ orange and ‘thin’ grey lines. GPSs like Montanas may display them more clearly, but you can expect problems importing Olaf into Montanas and the like if you’re not that techy. Problems importing Olaf (not unusual)? Read this.

… and your smartphone or phablet?

apart from OSM,  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.

Other paper and digital/online mapping 

Google and Bing Maps
Can be brilliant for planning 
Used as a pre-planning road map, Google Maps‘ map page can be misleading on southern Morocco compared to the more detailed paper maps reviewed above. Click between ‘map’ to ‘satellite’ and you’ll often see how inaccurate the highway overlay is compared to the true satellite image, although the Terrain page can be illuminating. 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 – the same flaw as TPCs) 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 on 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 at F1.8. In that case, check out Bing Maps’ Aerial view; zoom in close enough and suddenly it jumps from what looks like overboiled spinach soup to eye-popping clarity.

cheggers
Bing Chegara (left) • Google Chegaga ®ght) 

Either platform at its 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 Bing or Google, on the ground at last you have a WYSIWYG ‘map’ that cannot lie. With My Places you can preview your route or cook up new links between pistes, discover new areas and generally be thrilled at the bird’s eye view of Morocco. Where the res is good, it’s brilliant.

Morocco one-week fly/ride moto tours

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Please click this

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.

Morocco Overland II

morocco22Morocco Overland II is now in the shops shortly. Here’s some blurb to be getting on with:

Morocco Overland 2 is the new Trailblazer title from Chris Scott, author of Sahara OverlandThe Adventure Motorcycling Handbook and the Overlanders’ Handbook.

The updated edition is the route guide to exploring southern Morocco’s spectacular landscapes; from the snow-clad High Atlas to the dunes of the Sahara and the Mauritanian border beyond.

Whether with your own van, 4WD, motorcycle or a mountain bike, or are flying in to rent locallyMorocco  2 covers everything the regular guide books miss out to help make the most of your adventure in southern Morocco on road and track.

• 56 routes covering over 10,000km with hundreds of GPS waypoints
• Scenic byways suitable for all vehicles, including campervans
• Expert guidance on 4WD, 2WD, motorcycle or MTB choice and preparation
• Off-road riding and driving guidelines
• Moroccan ferries, border procedures, port maps and fly-drive options
• Author’s recommendations on places to stay
• Additional online content including mapping and imagery

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