Day 2: Tafingoult to Ouirgane
Monday April 8, 2013, 102 km (63 miles) – Total so far: 239 km (148 miles)
After a good night’s sleep I woke up to a nice clear morning. Luckily the day I was in Tafingoult coincided with the one day of the week that the market was held(or the souk as it’s called in Morocco.) Mohammed and Noureddin wanted to show me the souk so we took a trip there for breakfast. There was a nice buzz around the place as the various stalls were being set up and people were arriving from all over the surrounding countryside. We headed into the one stall/hut there doing breakfast which already had 10 or so others packed in there. There were no seats so everyone sat on benches lined around the edge of the hut. Breakfast was an affair of eggs, bread, cheese and mint tea. I picked up the bill to repay Mohammed and Noureddin for their great hospitality. After this proper Moroccan breakfast I said my goodbyes to the two lads and set off into the now baking morning sun.
I soon rejoined the country road leading up to the top of the pass. I lowered the gears and set into a good climbing pace as I now had 1600+m of climbing ahead of me to the top of the pass. The road was incredibly quiet with only one car passing every 10 minutes or so and as I started to rise higher and higher above the Souss plains, the views really opened up. The scenery was beautiful here and the higher I got the more I stopped for photos. It was getting pretty ridiculous how much I was stopping, at one stage it was nearly at every turn in the road! I spent the entire morning like this, winding my way up this quiet road up into the mountains. The weather was perfect, the road was quiet and the scenery was amazing, this was exactly what I had come to Morocco for.
The heat was again proving tough on this climb, I had my helmet off while I worked my way upwards. The gradient wasn’t too steep though so it wasn’t the most difficult climb I’ve done and I noticed myself gaining altitude pretty easily. The climb up was fairly uneventful. On one of the blind turns though halfway up the pass, there was a queue of 2 or 3 cars backed up behind each other. It turned out a jeep and a car had crashed into each other on the blind turn and now the occupants of each car were out shouting at each other about whose fault it was. I slipped quietly by on the bicycle unnoticed as the two men screamed in Arabic at each other!
The way the road was built meant that for nearly the entire length of the climb it had a steep cliff rising high on one side and a steep drop away on the other. There were no safety barriers so it’s not a place you would want to crash or take your mind off the road. These sheer drops, combined with the scenery and quietness is what makes it such a good road for cycling on.
After several hours of this I finally neared the top of the climb where I ran into my first cyclists on the road. Two Moroccans who were descending down the way I had come. I was able to have a pretty good chat to Hicham and Yusef and learnt a good bit about the road ahead and what to expect. They had very good English so we had a nice long chat before I continued up the last few bends and reached the top of the pass at 2100m.
I relaxed here taking in a lunch of bread and nutella, much needed after a full 1600m of climbing behind me. After a nice long lunch and some snaps at the top I was looking forward to the long descent out of the mountains that awaited me.
Hicham and Yusef had let me know that the descent had a lot of ascents thrown into the mix so I knew what to expect. The road levelled out for a while before it started descending, slowly at first and then straight down the mountain. This was a proper hair raising descent, a bit more technical and dangerous than I had imagined. The majority of the descent had no barriers so you had to get your braking on the tight corners just right. To make things even more trickier, on each of the bends half of the inside of the road was eroded away. This meant you had no option but to swing out onto the opposite side of the road around the blind corner before trying to pull in as quickly as possible in case a car came around the bend. All of this kept me on my toes and made for a thrilling descent out of the high mountains and down into a steep river valley further below.
Once I had descended into the steep valley the road rose and fell as it contoured along the side of the valley, usually staying high above the river. I had spent a lot of time climbing the pass in the morning, mainly due to stopping for so many photos. This meant I was behind schedule and had to make as much distance as possible before dark. Still though, it was hard not to appreciate the scenery here and I found myself stopping repeatedly for more photos. I badly needed to kick this habit!
I flew down the descents that lay ahead of me and grinded up the climbs trying to cover some good ground. I ran into two more pairs of cyclists along the road, two Germans and two Norwegians so I stopped to have a quick chat with them along the way. As it started to get dark I started looking for camping spots but there was absolutely nothing here. I was surrounded by high cliffs on one side (prone to rock slides by the looks of it!) and a steep drop down to a river on the other side. With nowhere to camp I continued on to the first village of any size since the top of the pass, Ouirgane. I arrived into the village just as darkness was falling. I went on a bit of a wild goose chase looking for either a campsite or a room in a cheap hotel. I turned up nothing apart from a room for 150 Dirham(DH) which was a bit over what I was looking to spend. I decided to cycle a bit outside the village and see if I could find a good spot to wild camp.
It was fully dark at this stage so I pulled off the road whenever I heard a car coming, luckily for me the road was pretty quiet. I searched both sides of the road on the way out of town but couldn’t find anywhere good to camp. I thought I had found the perfect spot until I noticed another road passing right above it. The road kept climbing away into the distance so I called it quits and beat a hasty retreat into the village again. I wandered into the main cafe and found a man who knew someone who was letting out a room. He beckoned me to follow him down one of the back alleys which led away from the cafe. I would have been wary except for the fact that he was quite old, so I reckoned I’d be pretty safe! He led me down some alleys and up to the front door of a house where a Berber woman greeted me, she had converted a kind of outside shed into a small guesthouse and offered it out to travellers passing through the village. The room wasn’t too bad and I was able to get it for 100DH including breakfast the next morning. I didn’t have much choice otherwise so I took this option.
The woman who ran the house offered me some bread and honey with tea in her main house. After finishing this I was left to my own devices and I was able to have a much needed shower and relax for the evening.