Day 4: Toufliat to Ait Benhaddou

Wednesday April 10, 2013, 110 km (68 miles) – Total so far: 452 km (281 miles)

Leaving the hotel I was instantly faced with a steep climb which would continue for the majority of the day. With the sun already beating down I made my steady way upwards coated in a fine layer of sweat! I soon emerged from the treeline and a beautiful view opened out before me overlooking a deep valley. These great views continued for the majority of the climb as I wound my way higher into the mountains.

Poring over the map in the morning over some Moroccan mint tea
The view over the valley behind me after a few kilometres of climbing in the morning
Loading grain onto a donkey for transport
A deeper section of the valley east of the main climb
Climbing higher and higher towards the Tizi n Tichka

I would pass through a small village every half an hour or so. These villages would be full of small shops, cafes and restaurants. The restaurants would usually have a barbecue going outside. The enticing smells as I passed through these villages made it hard to keep cycling by and in one of the higher up villages I eventually gave in and had some barbecued meat with various spices. This fueled me for the rest of the climb.

One of the typical small villages with cafes which were scattered throughout the climb
Heading towards the snowcapped mountains again
Village perched on the side of the hill
A sample of the spices that come with some meals here

After yet more climbing, the landscape became noticeably more barren until all foliage had disappeared and I was left with steep scree slopes all around me. The road wound its way up these steep slopes with sheer drops down the side. The road near the top of the climb was like something you would see in Top Gear. A perfect tarmac road winding its way back and forth miles into the distance.

As I made my way up this barren section the road got quite a bit steeper. A lot of passing cars and trucks beeped their horns at me and gave me thumbs up during this section willing me on towards the top. Finally after a full morning of climbing I rounded a corner to see the top, I stood up, giving one last effort and sprinted to the top reaching the altitude marker of 2260m. The effort of the last 3 days in the heat accompanied by this morning had taken its toll and I was exhausted as I reached the top. After talking to some of the tourists at the top I took the obligatory photo with the sign and fought off the touts trying to sell their various wares as best as I could! I made my way to a spot out of range of the touts and took a good long rest there, shoveling down as much bread and nutella as I could to regain some energy!

The barren landscape near the top of the Tizi n Tichka
The road winding its way to the top of the pass
Reaching the top of the Tizi n Tichka after a tough morning of climbing

I continued down the far side for another 5km before spotting the turn off I wanted to take, a country road led off the main N9. This country road passed through some high plains with small villages all the way to the palace at Ait Benhaddou. I could have continued along the N9 but on tours like this you have the most to gain by taking the quieter more scenic roads.

It was on these roads that I experienced something that I had missed so badly since my last trip to the Middle East, something so integral to the culture here…getting chased by kids screaming at me to give them money and bon bons… I’m not sure how I had gone 3 full days in Morocco without this happening to me before! This happened a few times but they always gave up after trying to keep up with me for a while. The tourists who come through here handing out sweets and money while passing by really should know better but that’s a rant for another day. After outrunning a few of these kids I arrived in the small village of Telouet. There is a famous ruined Kasbah located here but with daylight running out and a hotel to reach I had to speed on.

The view down the far side
The N9 road curving around a cliff
The back road that leads away from the main N9 road and on towards Telouet
A small village on the way to Telouet

After Telouet, the landscape opened up and the road crossed a wide highland plain to the start of a canyon which would lead me down to the next village of Anmiter. Upon reaching the canyon, the smooth tarmac road turned into something resembling a battlefield. Huge crater like potholes covered the vast majority of the tarmac and it was near impossible to pick a line to avoid them. The road was downhill and went on for something like 10km like this. The only option was to inch downhill aiming for the most shallow potholes hoping my bike would hold up to the abuse. It’s worth mentioning that the bike I bring on these trips is a cheap ‘Land Rover’ bike that was only designed for city use, I was really pushing it’s limits here!

While inching along, concentrating on picking the smoothest line possible I got overtaken by two motorbikes. They pulled over just ahead and I was able to pull over and give my arms a much needed rest. I was envious of the machines they were on, they were eating up this road with no issues whatsoever. I got chatting to the two Spanish motorcyclists, Jaime and his friend Pablo. They had just left Marrakech that morning and were heading to Ouarzazate that day. A journey that would take 3 days by bicycle. We had a good chat about each others trips and wished each other well before they sped off past me down the crater filled road.

A hilltop village
Wide plains after Telouet
The incredibly potholed road to Anmiter
Descending on a rare good piece of tarmac to Anmiter
Jaime and Pablo, the two Spanish motorcyclists I met

Soon after this encounter I emerged beaten and battered onto a nice new smooth tarmac road. This continued past Anmiter all the way to my finishing point for the day, Ait Benhaddou. The road was built high on the eastern side of a canyon and I spent the next hour sweeping up and down along its edge. I passed through plenty of small villages where the kids were much more friendly than before, this time shouting ‘Bonjour!’ and giving me high fives as I passed by! I sped along above the canyon in the setting sun chasing my shadow all the way to the village of Ait Benhaddou. I arrived into Ait Benhaddou, just as it was starting to get dark.

Another Moroccan village blending into the hillside
The road descending alongside a canyon
The last big descent into Ait Benhaddou
A steep switchback descent to the bottom of the canyon

It was another tough day in the saddle with 110km covered and nearly 2000m climbed. This was the last of my harshest days in the saddle though. I had aimed to speed through this section in 4 days so I would have more time to spare for the rest of the trip. It was hard work but it had paid off. Once I got to the hotel I did the usual thing so far on this holiday of crashing on the bed immediately and napping for 2-3 hours. I emerged to get some food and stock up on supplies before getting back to the hotel and crashing on the bed yet again for the night.

The GPS logs of my first four days are here if anyone is looking to follow a similar route over the Tizi n Test and Tizi n Tichka passes.

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