Day 1: Agadir Airport to Tafingoult

Sunday April 7, 2013, 137 km (85 miles) – Total so far: 137 km (85 miles)

As the plane descended over the misty Atlas mountains with the last of the sun shining brilliantly on the edge of the horizon I knew I had made the right decision choosing Morocco. We dropped into Agadir airport just as the sun finally disappeared from sight. It was Saturday evening and after a 3 hour+ flight I had finally arrived in Morocco.

As I was arriving into the country so late I decided there was no point on heading into Agadir itself to spend the night there. The airport was on the way out of town in the direction I was heading so it seemed kind of pointless. While having a look on the Agadir Airport website I noticed a page on accommodation. This was all it had to say:

There are no hotel at the airport or in the near… so sleeping at the airport is a good option. Testimoniy from tow girls: “Although being completely deserted and offering only Metal-Benches (but without armrests) no one hasseled us”.

Trusting the mysterious testimony from the two girls I decided to spend the night on one of the luxurious metal benches. Before heading to bed I grabbed some food, stocked up on supplies, packed my panniers and rebuilt my bike. It seemed to have arrived undamaged. The front wheel was rubbing against the brakes after reattaching it, so I spent 20 minutes truing the spokes to get it just right. I later realised I had just put it on the wrong way around! (The wheel had previously been warped and was trued afterwards so that it ran through the brakes okay the opposite way around.) With all of this sorted I headed to bed and tried to drift off in between the voice of the usual threatening woman on the intercom obsessed with incinerating luggage.

The sun setting as the plane descends over Morocco
My bed for the night in the Airport

Rising early, I packed up and stepped out into the bright morning sunshine, a world away from the usual April morning back in Ireland. The temperature was already hitting 20°C and it wasn’t even 7am. I took a wrong turn straight away and ended up at a metal barrier. Lost before I had even left the grounds of the airport, probably not the best sign! Back on track I exited the airport and was dropped out on a perfect, smooth dual carriageway which would bring me all the way to my first town, Taroudant, 65km away. Along this road I was thinking back to my trip to Egypt two years ago, the North African atmosphere and culture here seemed just the same. Donkeys and carts were a common sight along the main road, food stalls lined the villages and every village I passed through was absolute chaos with cars, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians all fighting for space. It takes a while to get used to this culture but once you immerse yourself in it, it’s easy to embrace it for what it is.

First road in Morocco
The snowcapped High Atlas mountains in the distance

I stopped off in the first village I reached and was amazed at how cheap everything was. For a bit over a euro I had 2 loaves of bread, a large bottle of water and a load of chocolates/biscuits for the road ahead. And amazingly I wasn’t ripped off which would have happened quite a bit in Egypt. Leaving this village, I had a huge tailwind behind me and a perfect smooth road ahead of me. There was very little traffic and I was full of energy so I pushed on at a good speed, flying across the flat Souss plain towards the High Atlas mountains in the distance. In most of the villages I passed through I would get a challenge of a race from a Moroccan kid on a bicycle, these would be fun sprints against each other along the length of the main road through the village. One lad managed to hold over 30km/h on a rusty bike with wide tyres, all the way through one of the villages. He got some pretty good cheers and laughs from the people lining the streets as he kept ahead of me!

The first few hours of the day continued like this and within no time I had eaten up the 65km to Taroudant. I glided into the town looking for a nice lunch to fuel me for the second half of the day. Taroudant is best known for it’s town walls which surround the old town or the “medina” as they’re called in Morocco. It is viewed as being one of the more authentic towns in Morocco and hasn’t been taken over by tourism to anywhere near the extent of similarly sized towns like Ouarzazate or Zagora. I got lost in the maze of streets in this town but finally found my way into the chaos of the medina. Every sort of vehicle was fighting for space on the narrow streets in here. Fighting through the chaos I emerged on a slightly quieter road and found a small restaurant where I pulled over for some food.

The main dish of Morocco is the tagine. This is generally a chicken/beef/lamb stew cooked on an earthenware plate surrounded by potatoes and other various vegetables and fruit. The earthenware plate the tagine is cooked in is covered by a conical top which allows all condensation to return to the plate. This means that once the dish has finished cooking, it can be served directly to you on the plate it was cooked in with a hot broth still bubbling at the bottom of the plate. All in all, it makes excellent cycling fuel. So with the plate emptied I got back on the bike and made my way out of the medina again. I headed east out of town in the direction of the High Atlas mountains. I was making my way towards the base of the Tizi n Test pass where I hoped to find somewhere off the road to camp for the night.

Tarroudant Medina Walls
The first of many tagines in Morocco
Tarroudant Medina
Tarroudant Square

The road continued to be good and I motored on closing in closer and closer on the huge snowcapped mountains now lying ahead of me. I had planned the trip in such a way that I needed to reach Zagora, 650km from Agadir airport in 6 days. In these 6 days I would have to cross two of the highest paved passes in North Africa, lying at 2100 and 2260m high. I had booked one hotel before I left in Ait Benhaddou, 440km from the airport so that I would force myself to follow this plan! With this motivation in place I tried to put in as many miles as possible before sunset. I arrived into the town of Ouled Berhil feeling low on energy after pushing hard all day. Cycling in this sort of 25-30°C heat would take some getting used to again.

The High Atlas and a desolate soccer pitch
A Moroccan who stopped to talk while I was eating lunch
The High Atlas

I was feeling a bit knackered so checked out the hotel options in town, one was a typical slightly overpriced Moroccan hotel and the other was an expensive tourist spot which was well out of my price range! So I headed back into the centre of the town and looked for somewhere to grab some food. This was a real Moroccan town, there was no sign of any tourists anywhere and I doubt many stop off here as there’s not too much to see.

In countries like this you have to be careful where you eat as you can get sick quite easy out here. So I did my usual trick of looking for the place that had the most local customers, if it was doing good business, the chances are there would be pretty good food that’d be safe to eat. I quickly found a nice spot down a side street. No one there spoke English but I was able to point at what I wanted. I ended up having to go to the butcher’s next door to buy some meat which they then cooked for me and added vegetables, bread and spices to. It was a proper Moroccan restaurant, no sign of any knives or forks, flies everywhere and cats begging for food at your feet. The food ended up being great and ended up giving me the energy I needed to keep going. As I was leaving the restaurant a fight broke out which I took a photo of by mistake, luckily they didn’t notice!

Waiting for scraps of food
Sidestreet in Ouled Berhil
The typical Moroccan restaurant – I didn’t notice the fight breaking out here until after the photo

I left town in the setting sun and soon reached the turn off onto the country road that wound its way up the Tizi n Test pass. It was starting to get dark as I climbed up this road looking for a place to camp near the base of the pass. As I passed one junction I was stopped by two guys on motorcycles who asked where I was going. They said that there were no hotels up in the mountains and that I would have nowhere to sleep! So, with that one of them offered to let me stay at this place. They seemed like nice honest guys so I took them up on their offer. I followed them back to the first guys village which was just a short bit back down the road. As I followed the motorcycles down another back road I passed a dusty football pitch with loads of kids out playing on it. There was a huge red African sunset behind it which reflected off all the dust being thrown up in the air. It’s hard to describe but it made for a pretty amazing sight.

On my way to the Mountains
Evening Sun

Arriving at the first guys family home I got a chance to talk to the two guys properly. I was in Mohammed’s house now and met each of his family, the mother, father, sister and brother. His mother laid out a nice meal of bread, cheeses and honey for us along with loads of tea. We shared a nice meal here in the courtyard of the house. Mohammed spoke good English as did his friend Noureddin. So between them we were able to translate for the rest of the family. After a nice meal and a long chat it was decided that we would spend the night in Noureddin’s place up the road in the next village. I said my goodbyes to the family, thanked them for the food and followed Noureddin and Mohammed outside.

It was now completely dark out so it would be a sketchy cycle to the next village on these country roads. Both Mohammed and Noureddin went on the one motorbike this time and followed just behind me so I had the headlight of the motorbike to guide me. The next 3-4km flew by as I sped up the hills and along the dark country roads trying to keep ahead of the motorbike so I had enough light to see the road. After a nice adrenaline fueled cycle we arrived at Noureddin’s place in Tafingoult.

We spent the night talking and hit to bed after a good midnight snack of an omelette and mushrooms. I had a good comfortable night’s sleep indoors as we heard rain rushing down from the mountains high above us. I was very lucky to run into some very hospitable people on my first night here, the exact same as happened on my first night in Egypt. It gave me a great impression of the country and the people straight away and meant I was immediately immersed in the culture. This kind of hospitality and generosity is one of the things that makes travelling in this part of the world so special.

Mohammed and Noureddin
Myself and Mohammed

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