Day 3: Ouirgane to Toufliat

Tuesday April 9, 2013, 103 km (64 miles) – Total so far: 342 km (213 miles)

After a good night’s rest I got up to the worst possible start, I couldn’t get out of the shed I was sleeping in! The door latch was ridiculously awkward to open and no matter how much I pushed and pulled on it, it would not budge. I searched the different rooms for a window I could climb out but they were all barred! I made my may back to the door and after 10 minutes of trying, eventually managed to get the heavy metal door open and escape.

Back on the bike, the sun was already high in the sky and the temperatures were well on their way to 30 degrees again. On the way out of the village a shop owner tried to charge me double the going rate for some water. This was a fairly usual occurrence in Egypt so I was always keeping an eye out so I wouldn’t be deceived. After laughing at the price he had told me, he reluctantly accepted the actual price. He seemed a bit defeated at this! This is a fairly regular ploy that is used on tourists so it’s always important to keep an eye on it.

The road climbed up and out of Ouirgane and made it’s way through rolling countryside, arriving in a river valley before traversing along it’s side all the way to the small village of Tahnaout.

The building where I spent the night
Nice countryside on the way to Asni
Workers panning for some sort of precious stones near the river
The road winding it’s way along another river valley
Small village in the distance

By chance I passed through Tahnaout on the one day of the week that the souk was on. This souk was much larger than the one I had visited already in Tafingoult and was bursting with hundreds of stalls and many more people fighting their way between them through the narrow walkways.

I plunged into the beating throng of people with my bicycle beside me and followed the scent of food coming from the far end of the souk. After some wandering I found a nice small food stall selling skewers of chicken and turkey. I picked up two skewers of turkey with bread for only €0.50, street food in this country is insanely cheap. Eating inside the stall I got chatting to a Moroccan with good English from Marrakech, so I was able to pass my meal while having a good chat about what life is like in both the cities and and the countryside of Morocco.

Tahnaout Souk
Inside the Souk
Souk Stalls
The stand where I had lunch

Finishing my meal I battled my way out of the souk again and onto the main road to Marrakech. I wasn’t too far from Marrakech here and could easily have continued into the city but my plan involved getting to Zagora in 6 days and I couldn’t afford to spend an extra day in Marrakech. While planning the route for this trip I had decided to avoid all the big cities of Morocco and focus instead on the countryside and the small villages of Southern Morocco. For this reason I worked out a route that would cut through the countryside south of Marrakech avoiding the city itself.

Soon after leaving Tahnaout I turned off onto a quiet country road which passed through rolling countryside and small villages for it’s entire length. After some very pleasant cycling I arrived in the village of Douar Ouriki where I stocked up on food and water and had a nice large tagine to keep me going.

Beautiful countryside outside Marrakech
Backroad through the rolling countryside
The view from the village of Douar Ouriki
The river running through Douar Ouriki
Kasbah on the banks of the river
The last few market stalls on the way out of Douar Ouriki

The road from Douar Ouriki to the next town Ait Ourir was slightly busier but still pretty pleasant cycling. It was on this road that I was reminded to never ever lose my concentration on the roads out here. Cycling along a two lane road I was looking to my right admiring the views of the countryside. I had no cars behind me, there were only a couple of oncoming cars so I thought I was safe enough to take my eyes off the road. I was completely in my own world when I caught sight of a car heading straight for me out of the corner of my eye. One of the oncoming cars had decided to overtake another oncoming car, completely taking over the lane of the road I was on. By the time I noticed this, the car was hurtling straight for me. I had a second or so to react and pulled hard to the right into the gravelly hard shoulder, thankfully avoiding any contact. It was a scarily close call.

This had happened me before in Croatia but the overtake usually happened further in the distance so I usually had a good bit of time to pull in but this was a far riskier move. Soon after I had another close call with a truck overtaking me when a car was oncoming. I was a bit freaked out by this and made sure I was on full alert now. Many people think I’m a bit crazy to be going to these places by bike in case I get robbed but in reality the biggest risk in these countries isn’t crime, it’s getting taken out by traffic. I had no close call previous to this so maybe it’s a good thing this happened as I sharpened up after these incidents.

Heading through the countryside towards Ait Ourir
The usual mix of traffic on Morocco’s main roads

Soon enough I reached the turn off for the climb up Tizi n Tichka, a 2260m pass over the High Atlas mountains and apparently the highest paved road in North Africa. 75km and 2000 vertical metres of climbing lay ahead of me which I would have to tackle all evening and most of the next morning. Tizi n Tichka roughly translates as “difficult pass” so I had a tough old climb ahead of me.

Heading for the Tizi n Tichka pass
Slightly dodgy footbridge!
Lush scenery
One of the many overloaded trucks that are always speeding around Morocco
The main N9 road to Ouarzazate

I pushed higher and higher into the mountains taking in the evening sun and enjoying the beautiful lush scenery. I climbed as much as I could before sunset, still eager to make up as much ground as possible. I expected to have to cycle until after dark before I reached a suitable wild camp spot or a mountain hotel. With the sun setting there were none in sight so I kept up my rhythm and kept climbing in the fading light. Surprisingly just before the sun set properly I rounded a corner to find the Toufliat mountain hotel. It was a relief to find this here as I hadn’t seen many suitable wild camping spots on the climb so far that evening. It ended up being 100DH for the night so it wasn’t too bad. I settled down here for the night and prepared for another tough day tomorrow. The last 3 days had been very tough on the body and I was fairly exhausted. I had covered approximately 340km in the past 3 days with a lot of climbing thrown in for good measure. I had one more tough day ahead of me before things levelled out a bit, so I got as much rest as possible before my assault on the Tizi n Tichka pass the next morning.

Climbing over the lower foothills and into the mountains
The sun setting as I near Toufliat
The view of Toufliat village from the hotel balcony

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