Morocco un-planned

 

It was in the March of 2016 that I was asked if I would like to join some cycling colleagues on a mini-tour of Morocco - March is a time of year when I am normally engrossed in a sort of "heavy" training routine in readiness for club and open 10 mile Time Trials and my preoccupation with such matters overwhelms all other duties.  My wife can vouch for that , having gone through the same routine every year since 1970, much to her "mild" annoyance.  Needless to say, I declined the offer.

 

Come the following September, after another season of declining performances in the season of TT's, I was alerted to the fact that a space was now available on the Exodus tour, due an untimely injury to one of the intended participants and would I like to consider it again!  Two hours later, my flights were booked and a November tour was secured, thanks to the efficient people at Exodus.[(Tony Smith)]   I departed from LHR on the 5th November on an early evening flight, in a cloud-free sky, so my  window seat afforded a good view of hundreds of fire work displays in southern England. 

 

I arrived at Marrakesh's refurbished Airport and was collected by one of the Exodus drivers - one of the team of three who would be looking after the group for the full duration of the tour - they would be responsible for carrying our suitcases, preparing and serving the mid-route refreshments and generally looking after most of our daily needs whilst the rest of us just pedalled !   It was straight to bed, after arrival the hotel, in anticipation of an early start the following day.  A breakfast meeting had been arranged, by Jon, the Exodus team leader, for 8am, so shut-eye time was paramount.  The overall route and general guidelines were spelt-out and the plan for the day explained; it included a 4-wheel transfer, out of Marrakesh and into the countryside, well away from any traffic and after we disembarked from our Taxis the bikes were unloaded (brand new hybrids), set-up to our individual needs and we were off!

 

Day 1 started in warm dry weather and we were in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.  We were surrounded by wild countryside and a parched landscape but, best of all, no traffic and fairly good roads - very few potholes.  The daily mileages were never great but that was not a problem - this was a time for sightseeing and chatting to friends, old and new.  The daily routine entailed riding for about 90 minutes, have some mid-morning refreshments, ride for 60 to 90minutes, have Lunch, ride for another 60 to 90 minutes, and have mid-afternoon snack, ride a bit more, then arrive at the overnight stop-over. 

 

By the time we arrived at the auberge , however, it was raining!  Well, we were in the Atlas Mountains, what did we expect?  We all showered and sat down to our 1st rustic Moroccan dinner: a soup, chicken tagine, copious amounts of local bread, fresh fruit and, as you might guess, imported larger (or fruit juice for the ladies!)

 

 

Day 2 did not look inviting! Heavy, no, torrential overnight rain had turned the trickling mountain streams into raging torrents but, at least, it was warm rain.  Not to be deterred, we donned our rainwear (luckily, I had taken my summer overshoes) and we set off for the 2,100m Tizi'n Test Pass.  The sky was heavily laden with the wet stuff but occasional breaks in the cloud grave us views of the mountain tops, which were all covered in snow!  I was not expecting that.  Those breaks in the cloud also gave us a preview of the climb that led to the Tizi'n - much like the view you get when climbing the Galibier.  The cafe at the top of the pass gave us some relief and the descent led us to our hotel.  It was only when I got in the shower that I realised I had not "caught the sun", more a case of caught the terracotta mud (covering every inch of my body and clothing!

 

 

Day 3 started in warm, dry weather - as was the rest of our tour - and we headed out of the Atlas range and off towards the min-Atlas Mountains.  By now we could see Morocco at its best: super hilly / barren scenery, some beautiful villages and tree goats.  Yes, that is goats that climb trees!  The Argan tree/ bush is unique to Morocco and the goats devour the beans.  Argan Oil is a much prized commodity and a good means income for the locals.

 

 

Days 4, 5, 6 and 7 took us over less demanding terrain and included overnight stays at some interesting coastal towns:  Agadir and Essaouria.  At these destinations we had time to look around the fishing ports, the resorts, shops and historic buildings. 

 

Not one department store in sight but very many small independent shop selling everything from Oranges, Dates, Leather goods and various forms of Viagra, whatever that is?

 

The final day was spent in Marrakesh and we were able to witness the all-day, and night, open market and displays in the central square (Snake charming, etc.) and marvel at the famous 12thc. Koutoubia Mosque before final shut-eye and departure back to Blighty.