Morocco 2009

A 600 mile, 17 day cycle tour of the High Atlas and Anti-Atlas mountains. 

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My first time in Africa and our tour of Morocco started with culture shock. I gripped the handlebars as we pedaled the outskirts of Marrakesh, riding through dust and potholes, past bleak shops and donkey carts. The February sun on my face, the tarmac white, and a sweating Western tourist dumped outside of his comfort zone on a bike.

But three days later we were high in the High Atlas mountains, standing below a blue sky, flushed at the top of the Tizi n Test pass on Valentine’s Day in the snow. 2200 metres above sea level looking down into a valley, following the line of the road with misty eyes. No architect could have designed this, no engineer could build it. This had to have just happened, something climbing out of the Earth or falling from the sky, something as epic as the outcome. The High Atlas deserve a grand name because they are grand. Truly grand.

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As we freewheeled down through the mountains, the foliage changed, the temperature rose and we came into the Sous Valley, where they grow oranges all the way to Taroudant. Or so it seemed. Bloated pick-ups passed us dropping fruit, and walled groves lined the straight road. The wind was behind us, the coast ahead.

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When we reached the sea, we took the road from Inezgane to Tiznit, before turning inland to climb the Anti-Atlas mountains on the way to Tafraoute, a 90 mile day where the last 20 were under nightfall, and where every bend in the road fed our paranoia with poison. When the lights of Tafraoute appeared, the paranoia passed and we drifted into town tired and relieved.

A gradual and warm descent a couple of days later took us through the Anti-Atlas, north east on a road that clung to the mountainside and took us gently onto the plains and into Ait Baha.

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Then we met the dogs on the road from Agadir to Essaouira. They guard the goats that eat the Argan that makes the oil that in turn makes the money, and these dogs take their jobs seriously. They didn’t know we were coming but they were ready. We weren’t.

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Crepes with honey, coffee and fresh orange juice were waiting when we arrived back in Marrakesh. Followed by vegetable tagine. Our hotel had a tiled courtyard, a roof terrace where we had a thunderstorm finale to our first African tour.

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Morocco wasn’t something I could rehearse. It wrote it’s own story as we pedaled through it’s landscape, haggled at it’s Souks, got angry at it’s animal abuse, drank it’s sweet tea and coffee and ate it’s dates and olives. Morocco opened my eyes to a different way of life, a different landscape. It gave me new layers of cynicism and intrigue towards the human race. Morocco affected me in lots of ways, but it never bored me.

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