On a windy morning, my wife and I left behind the Rock of Gibraltar and were staring at the continent of Africa once again. We never dreamed of coming to Morocco. Our original ‘round-the-world itinerary already changed many times, as I had expected from the beginning. Morocco came about as a forced detour, because our European visas were expiring and we needed to get out of the European Union somewhere and come back for another 90 days stay. I never like “forced” anything so I wasn’t looking forward to Morocco. I thought: “Let’s get it over with, so we can come back and proceed north!”
However, as I sat there on the ferry looking at the coast of Africa, my heart was telling me something else. I was getting excited and didn’t know why. Maybe because I was coming to Africa once more, or maybe the new frontier ahead was tickling my adventure spirit. In any case, I was curious to see how this detour would turn out.
We arrived in Tangier, one hour away from Tarifa and even though it is so close to Europe, the moment you step on the dock from the ferry you are hit by the noises, smells and sights that only Africa can produce. I was back into familiar waters!
Passing quickly through customs and Immigration (quite a surprise for an African country), we headed straight for the Tangier Medina, the first place to see because that is where the action is in every city. Small streets, tiny houses and lots of people, children and little shops as well as the food places make up the fabric of any Medina. As Medinas go in Morocco, we realize soon that Tangier is not one of the best, but it made a strong impression on us because it was our first one. We settle for the only night in Tangier (locals say, forget the north and head for the south and center) and we had our first tajine, couscous and a local taste of the spiced drinks. I loved them from the first taste. Nothing better than spices in an exotic food.
Early the next morning we jumped on our bike and headed south to Casablanca. The road is perfect, the sights beautiful and Africa was pulsating in front of me again. We camped in Mohammedia, a town 25 km (15 miles) north of Casablanca, to avoid the traffic and congestion on the road.
Once settled in Mohammedia, we visited the beautiful Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world. It is an impressive sight and, in my opinion, one of the few things worth visiting in Casablanca.
Two days later we headed east for Marrakesh; this was high on our list, especially for the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square, its beautiful medina, gardens and palaces, as well as the nearby Atlas Mountains. It is hard to explain in words when photos say so much more. Check out the photo gallery and you will understand why.
In Marrakesh we stayed at the famous Relais de Marrakesh, a beautiful campsite located inside La Palmeraie Conservation and a few km outside Marrakesh. The city is beautifully designed, clean and pleasant to the eyes.
While at the Relais, I spotted a small brochure with a place called: Les Cascades D’Ouzoud and I felt compelled to read it. This little brochure proved to be the beginning of an experience that would almost pop our eyes out as we discovered a Morocco that I never dreamed of, with places that seem unreal and people with more than 3000 years of history behind them.
Ouzoud is a little Berber village in the High Atlas Mountains, where farmers and shepherds made their living for many centuries. I found their place a paradise, hidden in the mountains and providing them with everything needed for survival; the soil is fertile (I saw the most almond trees I have ever seen before), the water and air pure and the landscapes out of a Swiss story book. On top of all that, they have the spectacular Ouzoud Falls, fed by the small Ouzoud River that looks quite unimpressive but creates a spectacle when it hits the canyon right below the village. Again, the photos will, hopefully, say more.
We explored this place, with its amazing villages, canyons, caves, system of waterfalls and olive groves for four days. We camped at the neat and perfectly located Zebra camping, owned by Paul and Renate from Netherlands. Their camp is a perfect spot to enjoy the silence and the sights of the Ouzoud Village.
When we left Ouzoud, Renate recommended that we take the road less traveled to Ouarzazate, crossing the High Atlas on a mountain road, 2200 meters high (7200 feet). “You will never regret it” she said. “You will not see more than five cars and the landscapes will shock you.”
What an understatement! There were no more than three cars during our seven hours on that road – a tiny, mountain track through isolated villages located high up in the mountains. It was challenging riding, soft terrain at times, high passes with snow on the mountain and lots of curves. But it was the best experience to date as far as biking was concerned.
Our Yamaha Super Tenere arrived in the Dades Valley late at night. We were tired and dusty, but super excited. In front of us was the Sahara and my nostrils were flaring like a camel’s nose in the desert wind. Deserts will always stir me to the depths of my soul and Sahara is one I wanted to encounter since I read of her in my childhood. I slept uneasy that night, knowing that the next day we would leave the high Atlas behind and enter the largest desert on the planet.
The morning was cold and brisk, as only the desert mornings are and the Gorges de Dades were shining brightly in the sun. The road was winding through spectacular scenery, with rugged rocks on each side and oases in the middle, following ancient riverbeds to the desert. As soon as we cleared Errachidia we could see the horizons opening up and the winds of Sahara rising in the east.
My deep love for Africa and the desert compelled me to open up the throttle until I felt Carmen’s fingers pushing deeper into my side, signaling a slight stress level increase on her part. “It would look stupid” she said, “if we die within reach of Sahara and not ever see her.” Her logic seemed impressive.
A few hours later, we saw yellow dunes rising on the eastern horizon and my heart started to pump harder. I was coming to Sahara on my own two wheels, a little like the Berbers on their dromedaries (camels), who are the first and true nomads of our world, self-sufficient and free.
We ended up camping at Oceans de Dunes, a simple campground owned by five Berber brothers. We loved it from the first moment, not only because it is walking distance from the dunes, but also because these people did everything themselves, from building it, to cooking the food, to making expeditions into the desert. All together, they speak English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic and a couple of Berber dialects.
Not even two days from our arrival, we asked Hussin to get us a couple of dromedaries and Berber clothing so we can get into the desert and sleep in their “bivouac”, a desert dwelling of the nomads. To ride into the Sahara on these amazing animals, to sleep under the stars and to eat a slow-cooked tajine, prepared by two Berber men, was more than I expected. I knew the feeling of the desert from the Kalahari, the Namib and the North American Deserts, but Sahara blew me away! The peace, the camels, the colors and the miracle of water in the desert, not even two meters underground, are just a few of Sahara’s attributes.
More on: www.nomadsportsacademy.blogspot.com
Nomad’s World Ride: Tanzania & Kenya
Nomad’s World Ride: Zambia
Nomad’s World Ride: Tanzania & Kenya
Nomad’s World Ride: Morocco
Nomad’s World Ride: Norway
Nomad’s World Ride: Baltics & Russia
Nomad’s World Ride: Moscow
Nomad’s World Ride: Moscow to Ufa
Nomad’s World Ride: Ufa to Krasnoyarsk
Nomad’s World Ride: Norway